Lum the Forever
by Mason Proulx
What a wonderous and magical movie! I feel like I've just watched something life-altering and profound. Too bad it isn't actually about anything.
Okay, I'm being cynical here, but this movie is so much wasted potential that it's aggravating. Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever is a movie that leaves you scratching your head. For the common viewer, it leaves them scratching because they can't understand what it is they just watched. For those with some forsight, it's baffling because we wonder how such a well made movie could fail so utterly because of a director's misguided intentions.
To explain what I mean let me give some background into the creator. This movie was directed and co-written by Kazuo Yamazaki. A really great director of TV anime. He helped make Urusei Yatsura into one of the best Japanese TV shows of all time. But here at the end of the show's run, bedraggled by stress and disillusioned about anime, he wrote a sendoff movie that became a stream-of-consciousness tirade against his own creation, and a warning to those fans who support it. Pretty much, he wanted to create an allegory that tried to lift the veil of anime and show it was an illusion. That real life is going on all around while fans obsess over trivial things like an anime show.
Now, if Yamazaki had successfully imbued this message into the movie, while it might alienate fans, it'd still succeed as a powerful film. It might have matched Beautiful Dreamer in terms of lasting greatness. But the message isn't clear at all, and the movie fails on two levels: as entertainment and as an artistic statement. In the end it's neither. The movie is a cryptic collection of imagery, events and disorganized concepts that carry along the characters. There seems to be no logic to anything that happens and the characters (who are the most essential ingredient in UY's success) are totally superfluous here. Yes there's a wealth of deep meaning hidden throughout the film, but the metaphors are not weilded with any clairity so they're lost on their audience. Most of the creators don't really know what everything in the movie means. Even Yamazaki himself is often at a loss to explain it. He was simply going through a hard time, and it came out in the movie.
If the movie is filled with holes, the staff of the movie didn't seem to take much notice during production. The animation and cinematography (if you can call it that) are absolutely superb. The actors put in passionate performances. The soundtrack is perfectly moody, mysterious and a bit melancholy. This is a film that just oozes atmosphere. The whole staff seemed to put in so much effort into making a great movie. But it failed at the script level and I'm wondering how they all could have missed it.
It failed at the box office too. Being Urusei Yatsura it made good initial money, but dropped off soon after. Fans had no idea what to make of this movie. Some were even downright irate. Without the mass appeal that made the previous movies a success, it didn't grab audiences.
There is a plot there, if you care to look for it. While the metaphors are elusive and the plot is surreal, it can be fun to watch and draw your own conclusions. I have to admit that I had to watch it three times to actually enjoy myself. After finally understanding the film on my own terms, I do really love it. It's a film that shows a lot of creativity and a lot of passion. It's using a commercial product to present a totally un-commercial, almost renegade film experience. Now whenever I watch it, I'm totally enthralled. The subtext is so packed in this movie, that it'll keep you seeing new things every time. I personally like this movie more than UY3: Remember My Love. But as a reviewer I had to rate UY3 higher because it mostly succeeds at its goal while this movie doesn't. It breaks my heart to give such a fascinating movie a marginal rating, but there you go.
This movie is only reccomended for those who are familiar with UY. As long as you keep an open mind this will be a worthwhile experience. Just remember that the entire movie is meant as an allegory for the real world. As soon as you remember that, the movie begins to make a lot more sense.