Mamoru Oshii’s Beautiful Dreamer

August 2, 2009

Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awaked, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

– Zhuangzi

No doubt Mamoru Oshii is a great thinker, writer and director. Yet, he is also a beautiful dreamer. Inspired by Urashima Taro’s legend and Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream, Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer 2 is my favourite movie directed by Mamoru Oshii aside from Angel’s Egg for being, without any doubt, his most imaginative and enjoyable (yes, actually enjoyable) work to date.

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In many ways, Beautiful Dreamer is unlike his other works in that there is no longer that air of pretentions, or the emotionally empty characters that we have difficulty connecting to. Instead of trying to seriously answer a very complex question through heavy dialogues and exhausting direction, Oshii has ran off wild with Zhuangzi’s puzzle and painted an incredibly fantastic dreamscape. Before Zhungzi could achieve any higher understanding of Daoist philosophy, he had to first dream of being a butterfly just as Einstein had to first imagine a thought experiment of the trains before the Theory of Relativity. Oshii has recreated that very dream itself, that sense of drifting in and out of reality and imagination, where you can flutter like a butterfly without being aware of the reality, if such a thing exists at all. The rest is for us to interprete, not to be directly told. And with the help of quirky characters of the classic Urusei Yatsura franchise, this is just about the most fun and imaginative anime you are likely to watch.

I also want to present two memorable animated sequence from the movie, which just perfectly capture that feeling of being uncertain about the nature of reality and dream. The first is when a reflection of Ataru and his gang is slowly, and seamlessly transfigured into what is not a reflection, as what we see as puddle becomes sky, and almost without us ever noticing it because the transition is so sublime. Indeed, can we really say that the reflection we see in the puddle is less or more real as fluttering like a butterfly, or simply dreaming of fluttering like a butterfly?

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Another of my favourite is when they are trapped inside their own school building. One moment someone’s here, and then he’s there, and then what you see as the ceiling becomes the floor. Eventually few clueless morons try to escape the labyrinth by jumping out of the building, only to find themselves looking down at the sky, which is actually up (!), before the tragic realisation of their gravitational position registers through their poor brains. Their play of perspectives, camera angles and scales are so meticulous and the pacing is so well-controlled and rhythmic, you can’t help but be fully engaged to this long yet thrilling chaos of events.

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I guess it's worth mentioning the amazing 'mansion scene' from Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. It's when Togusa undergoes a loop of repeated experiences, before Batou saves him with a help of Motoko's guidance. Definitely one of the most mindfuck scenes x_X

I can think of few other dream/reality sequences in anime, that Ergo Proxy episode involving duplicate proxy of Re-aL for example. Other than that, I don’t think there are that much more, probably because it’s so hard to present such scenes without feeling like it’s manufactured.


8 Responses to “Mamoru Oshii’s Beautiful Dreamer”

  1. Kitsune Says:

    Satoshi Kon’s films often deal with dream/reality. Paprika is a good example ( I am still have not bought the book yet to finish my review >.< ).

  2. gaguri Says:

    Ah yes, I completely forgot about Satoshi Kon. I know what you mean, though I think his finest example of such case would be Millenium Actress.

  3. muhootsaver Says:

    I like this movie more than other Mamoru Oshii movies, mostly because of the attachment to the series. I’m not really a big fan of his style. When he was working on the TV series, he was pressured by the producers which meant less of his usual style. This actually worked better for me. ^^;;

  4. gaguri Says:

    Ah, was he pressured by the producers now…thanks for the info. I realise that his movies tend to divide the audience, and I think this one is humorous and fun enough for both groups to enjoy. If he was given 100% creative license to do whatever he wanted to with Urusei Yatsura tv series…I think we would have a very different classic anime series ^_^b

  5. Cello Says:

    and I call myself an anime fan…i haven’t even heard of this flick! I will defientely be checking it out. I reviewed Ponyo on my site today, but I’m sure you’ve seen it by now. Great post!

  6. gaguri Says:

    Don’t worry I haven’t watched Ponyo yet and I call myself a connoisseur of great anime 😦

  7. Milkymagic Says:

    Ah yes, Beautiful Dreamer, probably my…fourth favorite Oshii movie (only to Angel’s Egg, Patlabor 2, and Twilight Q 2: Labyrinthine Objects). This was a real eye-opener for me too, and I must say, it’s sad to think that fans of the UY series were so outraged by this movie’s approach that some actually sent him envelopes filled with razor blades in protest (yipe!). The theme of a labyrinth and folklore is a nice touch, especially since the focus is on Lum and the labyrinth everyone seems to be wandering through in direct correlation to her. The fact that Ataru does grow to understand Lum’s innermost thoughts by the end of the movie is also very endearing. Oshii even put in some commentary with the opening scene, as the city appears to have lost something, yet everyone seems to cling to a way of consumerism and live through their confusion clinging on to their materials to get by. This was intended as negative commentary about Japan’s growing Capitolism around the 1980s during that time. The meddling of time and space in this feature was the highlight for me though, you even see odd changes of season in certain segments of the film, and a bizarre allusion to the apocalyptic (Megane’s narrative during one sequence, mixed with them viewing Godzilla in a theatre). There’s a good amount to dig into, but as you mentioned, this is one of the more “viewer friendly” films he’s been a part of, as there’s still plenty of humor and other relatable elements that could be easily absorbed by many audiences out there. Good blog entry! 😀

  8. gaguri Says:

    Some really eye-opening thoughts in that comment, you certainly seem to know a lot more about this movie than me x_X (I wonder if you’ve watched Uruse TV series? I watched only one episode…before I decided it was going to be very long journey if I get sucked into it). But yo’ure right, there’s loads of stuff to dig into in this movie. And thanks for the compliment =D

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