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  Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever Forget me not
Year: 1986
Director: Kazuo Yamazaki
Stars: Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Issei Futamata, Kazue Komiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Saeko Shimazu, Shigeru Chiba, Shinji Nomura, Akira Muruyama, Bin Shimada, Ichiro Nagai, Kenichi Ogata, Natsumi Sakuma
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Animated, Science Fiction, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is an unusually quiet Springtime in Tomobiki, the town more often besieged by monsters and aliens ever since gravity-defying space bikini babe Lum (voiced by Fumi Hirano) set her heart on feckless teen horn-dog Ataru Moroboshi (Toshio Furukawa). Billionaire love rival Mendo (Akira Kamiya) casts Lum as the lead in a school film project based on a traditional folk tale, directed by equally smitten hapless nerd Megane (Shigeru Chiba) with all their friends, both human and alien, working as part of the crew. Dopey Ataru also lands a role and the script calls for him to chop down a large, aging cherry tree nicknamed 'Tarozakura' that stood for centuries. Afterwards a string of strange incidents occur around Tomobiki: spring gives way to winter, an enormous mountain rises out of the ground, Lum loses her powers and her friends start acting like she does not exist.

Urusei Yatsura creator Rumiko Takahashi took issue with the surreal tone of the second feature film spin-off from her popular television anime, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984), to the extent she removed director Mamoru Oshii from the series. Oddly it seems she had no problems at all with this fourth entry, one of the trippiest films in a series that was already pretty trippy. In some of its more audacious moments Lum the Forever is positively Lynchian, blurring dreams and reality, shifting from comedy into a mounting sense of unease, and merging linear narrative with parallel worlds confronting characters with alternate scenarios and incarnations.

At times it is as though the viewer is channel surfing through different movies, occasionally switching back to check up on the beloved sit-com regulars. Many sequences have a decidedly horrific flavour: the school is invaded by swarms of malevolent bugs, two of Mendo's bodyguards are terrified by a ghostly procession at midnight, violent tremors tear a huge fissure in the earth unleashing primordial slime, and in a sequence that can't help but recall Dario Argento's operatic nightmare Inferno (1980) characters delve underwater to confront the horrific corpse of a giant witch. Such scenes are played entirely straight, set to Bun Itakura's subtly jarring atonal score, and not what most would expect from this traditionally cuddly sci-fi rom-com. Even the aforementioned sequences pale by comparison with the moment that finds Lum trapped on escalator watching helplessly while only a few feet away two of her friends enact an alternate timeline. It is actually a hard scene to describe and yet so subtly off-kilter and intense it remains one of the most haunting sequences in anime or arguably even live action cinema, brilliantly handled by director Kazuo Yamazaki.

This shift into nightmare marked the first instance of Takahashi's interest in supernatural horror. In later years she ventured into straight horror with Mermaid's Forest (1991) and Inu Yasha (2000) (a successful franchise on film, television and manga in its own right) putting her own spin, as before, on traditional Japanese folk tales. Yamazaki and Takahashi do not neglect the gags. There is a laugh out loud sequence on a crowded commuter train where Megane fantasizes about an attractive schoolgirl only to realize he is talking out loud. The jarring third act flash-forward to a dystopian future parodying Fist of the North Star (1984) (where Mendo is an ultimate fighting champion with a hundred adoring groupies and Ataru as his obedient manservant) and climactic escalation into all-out war with the whole cast firing machine-guns and rocket-launchers are established comedic tropes in the Urusei Yatsura universe. Yet for the most part the plot abandons the manic pace of the early films and television episodes in favour of a slow burn that subtly messes with your mind. Dreams lurk within dreams, perspectives give way to counter-perspectives. Again and again the film pulls the rug out from under the viewer in a manner anticipating Satoshi Kon's celebrated mind-melting dream odyssey Paprika (2006) and thus, by proxy, Christopher Nolan's cerebral blockbuster Inception (2010).

It is heady stuff and even now, decades later, fans are not entirely sure what it is all about. Early into the film Shinobu (Saeko Shimazu), Ataru's long-suffering comically super-strong human girlfriend, delivers a surprisingly affecting lament about the passing of time, the loss of youth and innocence and the uncertain future. Throughout the tangled narrative Yamazaki, who co-wrote the screenplay, hints that the ancient tree spirit is confronting the citizens of Tomobiki with their own past, present and possible future so as to shock them out of their complacency in taking life for granted. Which is some pretty thought-provoking stuff for a comedy about a flying green-haired alien girl in a tiger-skin bikini.


Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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