Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Going Through The To-Watch List #2: Odin - Photon Space Sailer Starlight (1985)

From http://merryfrolics.files.wordpress.com/2006/04/odin12.jpg

Dirs. Eiichi Yamamoto, Takeshi Shirato, Toshio Masuda and Yoshinobu Nishioka

Odin... is a folly. Its negative legacy is understandable. It has so many problems. Tonal ones. Length related ones. Consistency ones. But I cannot hate it. I'm drawn to films this sincere in their failure. Plus there is much worse in existence. Really much worse in existence in animation and live action. This was a cakewalk for me for a film infamous for its length. When you get into world cinema through Satantango (1994), that's nearly eight hours long, you've jumped into the deep end of the cinematic swimming pool rather than start with the arm floats in the kiddy one. I can think of ninety minute films that have felt like dental operations compared to this one's lengthy stroll. The film, past this, is a mega budget folly in the truest sense. In anime there is a series called Space Battleship Yamato (1974-1975). One of the most well regarded anime ever made. One of the most loved. Ordinary people on the street in Japan, even if they are older now, know of the show not just a small club of otaku. One of the creators, Leiji Matsumoto, became incredibly famous. The other creator, the late Noboru Ishiguro, has contributed a great deal to the industry but he was also notorious with stories under his belt. One of which involved live howitzer shells. Odin... was supposed to be a landmark. One of the highest budgets for Japanese animation. It shows. The first part of a planned franchise. It failed miserably and the result is usually scorned.

A test flight of a new experimental spacecraft, designed to look like a sailboat but laser and gravity-based energy to propel its sails. The test is interrupted when the new crew get a distress signal on the other side of our galaxy. Finding only a female survivor, they are led on to a journey to a planet called Odin. The possibilities to travel light years ahead to a new civilisation are too tempting to the crew as they mutiny against their officers. Once on their way, they discover a threat to them and their own world. Pretty simple plot. The mentality of Star Trek for global exploration. Grandiose and for all mankind. The prologue is an elaborate story of the history of sailing on Earth. Vikings. Christopher Columbus. An ode to sea travel and discovering new land expanded to outer space for new cosmic sailors, with the mechanics for space travel in their world explained. All shown with a sombre narration and classical orchestration. Then suddenly the film proper starts. A space station where the test ship, the Starlight, will set off from. Someone suddenly appears on camera, pointing to the side and shouts "Go!". The young crew start running around like idiots on the ship for what feels like a whole music video. It is a music video. A cheesy and ridiculous glam metal job by Japanese band Loudness blares out over the images. Immediately there's a discrepancy. The orchestra has wandered off. Christopher Columbus's future generation are being propelled by eighties cock rock.

The schizoid tonal shifts stay. Serious melodrama at one moment, silly the next. It wants to be profound, fed by its high budget and wide eyed in its view of cosmic travel. But the music by Loudness  is there. And the rest of the score, while catnip for me, is still eighties dated synth. You immediately get the logic jumps in the script as it goes along. One key protagonist failed to get on the ship, punching his trainer in the final exam. Yet illegally commandeers  a personal spacecraft, gets on board the Starlight, and is not put in an improvised prison hold but allowed to help through the lark of the boatswain. The film cannot keep its point together. Its charmingly naive for me. So earnest and goofy at the same time. But you will laugh if the film doesn't drain you. Countless mentions of the "mizzenmast" will come as an improvised drinking game you will lose. The countless galactic navel laws broken in the name of exploring the universes have to be ignored completely. What's with the Norwegian references, alongside the ones of Viking mythology, and considering the sole female character is supposed to be Norwegian herself, Sarah Cyanbaker doesn't exactly sound Scandinavian either. When she screams she cannot take it, because it's too much, the film's fed a line into the hands of people whose brains were scrambled by the film and want to get revenge on it.

The film would have been good nonetheless for many, even unintentionally, if it kept itself focused. It has to be enforced how good it looks. When someone would be suicidal enough to do so much detail on each animation cel. The galaxies depicted are like that of acid rock music and someone staring at a lava lamp for too long. Pink nebulas. Strange machine men. Eighties hair. A random inclusion of blue, space snake-dragons made from blue fire passing through the stars that just looks awesome regardless. The ship's graveyard that exists out of time and dimension completely and looks likes the contents of a spinning colour wheel or of a Skittles bag. Action wise, the animation allows for dense, exhilarating combat sequences by themselves especially by the end. Yet the film is incredibly dumb alongside being this cool. It will have characters suddenly turned a function in the ship into, say, an improvised wave cannon just because. "Just because" is Odin's modus operandi. Usually it's a loved aspect of anime but here it's a complete jump required for some of the moments when whole plot trajectories are based around them. Then there is the bigger problem. The film is two hours, nineteen minutes long. I've said already that I have seen far longer work and that I resisted Odin...'s length and pace issues. I even like it's this long, when most anime is under ninety minutes feature length. But even I admit it feels too long, or actually, not put together well enough to justify the length. The film's not a piece of garbage as its reputation says it is, but for all its virtues, it's a structural mess. Four directors. Three screenwriters. I was grinning when the warp speed sequence for the Starlight was shown, golden orange glow blurring the entire screen, and still was each time, but having said that having this sequence five times at least in the film is overkill. It's not spectacular when the mutiny feels like when the crew ran around the ship like idiots in the beginning, with the same Loudness song, but funny. It's not a good idea to intercut the serious dramatics with unintentional humour. By its end its stating the obvious, naive views of human kindness and the coldness of machinery, while yet being about how great the robots look animated. And as archetypes the characters are barely detailed. Someone has a grandmother back on Earth, but he even calls her "Granny" and that's all we get of her or any person close to the characters. And at over two hours, it's going to feel long even for someone like me resistant to it, still able to feel the time pass despite being resistant to the brunt of the sensation. Even I confess to looking at the running time left at points and being amazed about how much more left there was of it.

The film is a folly of excess. It shines with beauty in its production. Its good intentions are nice. It's not a piece of excessive capitalist rubbish, wasting money for the sake of it, but a folly of someone wanting to make a work that moves metaphorical mountains. True mega budget films are like this. The virtues and the terrible mistakes both have to be admired to appreciate the whole film. When money was like tap water in the eighties, you got weird, obscure straight-to-video anime, it was possible for a film like Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg (1985) to be made and put in a cinema, and an attempt like Odin... at a spectacle wouldn't be seen as a really bad idea. But while I wish, too young and born in the wrong country to appreciate it from an eye witness's place, for this era to return, a large chunk of the remembered anime from that era, barring the few mainstream successes, weren't big hits. Even the big hits were hits for a cult fanbase of anime otaku. Its not dissimilar to live action cinema in the West at the same time. When Blade Runner (1982) was a film unsuccessful at the box office than a cult masterpiece.  Odin... tries to be something which makes it more rewarding. It's not merely being as average as possible. I can think of anime which is far more pointless in its existence than this one. I would rather have the majestic folly of this film, which tried its damned hardest but only failed. I can only enjoy its failure because it feels more genuine as well as being thick headed. The ending credits is live action footage of the band Loudness playing another song. Tight leather pants. Poodle hair. Fog machines turned up to eleven. A rudimental placement of the animated Starlight going over them. This is not how you're supposed to end a film trying to be serious, but what the hell? I have the song now on my iPod, knowing how ridiculous it is. The opening guitar riff is irresistible. It fits the amusing bombast of a film completely. The bombast of the film, no matter how misguided it was, was worth the spectacle. 

From http://operationrainfall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Odin-Screen-2.png

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