Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Twilight Q (1987)

This OVA in two independent parts was initially supposed to be the start of a whole series of episodes in the Twilight Zone mode, but, as so often happens, commercial problems got in the way of art and the project was canned before it could even begin properly.

Fortunately, it at least left us with two episodes that are showcases of two very different anime directors in the early stages of their careers.

Episode 1, usually called "Reflection", sees school girl Mayumi find a beat-up camera that must have been lying on the ocean floor for some time. The camera contains a roll of film with only one photo on it. Strangely enough, the photo turns out to show a slightly older Mayumi with a boy she has never met before. Research turns up a very peculiar fact about the camera - it is a model that hasn't gone into production yet. It's as if it came from the future. However, her finding the camera from the future is only the beginning of some strange occurrences surrounding Mayumi. Soon, she will find herself traveling through time, meeting her future husband in the future after her (future) death, and falling back into a parallel 1936. Is it all just a dream, or is time out of joint?

"Reflection" is the work of Tomomi Mochizuki, and clearly inspired by things like the inevitable Girl Who Leapt Through Time and thoughts about environmental destruction that may turn the laws of nature themselves against humanity. Stylistically, Mochizuki goes for a semi-realist anime style highly typical of 1987. The character designs are a bit too generic to cause any enthusiasm, but the animation is lively and presented with a good eye for the telling detail it should not skimp on, which is even more important in a story that tries to condense as many plot elements as your normal full-length movie has into less than thirty minutes. It's a small wonder - and a compliment to Mochizuki's ability to keep a visible through-line in a story like this - that the episode does not only not collapse under its own weight, but actually manages to evoke a mood that can only be described as bitter-sweet, seeing as it does include a feeling of youthful hope as well as one of preordained loss. Not bad for half an hour of anime.

The second episode, "File 538", concerns a private detective breaking into the room of a man and a child he has been watching for some time now while investigating the disappearance of airplanes (or, as the audience knows, the airplanes turning into carps) from the skies over a nameless city. In the room, the detective reads the story of the man, and learns that the man himself was a private detective hired to investigate a man and a child living in this room, and that man in his turn was a private detective hired to investigate a man and a child living in the room, and so on and so on.

This episode was directed and written by Mamoru Oshii. It shows Oshii at his strangest with a plot that clearly imagines itself to be a (Japanese) detective novel as written by Kafka and Borges (or it might all just be a Paul Auster influence - who knows?). The episode's execution is peculiar indeed - one third (the plane transformations and the story's intro and outro) are realized as typical Oshii animation, while the other two thirds are nearly static pictures of a guy reading from a print-out and completely static tracings of photographs. Clearly Oshii aims for a distancing effect fitting the alienation and distance of the circular story he tells. Unlike many of the director's other more surreal projects (especially the live action ones), this one works for me, probably because thirty minutes are just a better running time for the kind of emotional abstraction the director is going for than the two hours he prefers.


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