Lum the Forever
Premiere: February 22, 1986
But First, A Brief Word From Your Narrator...
Lum the Forever is the undisputed champion of the "Really Weird Stories" list. You remember all the bizarre stuff you faced in Beautiful Dreamer? Well, it's back, and in quantities that put 2001: A Space Odessy to shame. But unlike the second movie, the true meaning of this film remains buried in the seemingly incomprehensible imagery it presents, leaving the actual message of the story up to personal viewpoint and debate.
Thus, it becomes extremely difficult to write about.
This summary, poorly named, will list the events and imagery as they are presented in the film, offering base interpretations when necessary and attempting to keep things as shallow as possible. The rest is up to you. All I can really say for certain is that you have to see this film for yourself. For we can offer it no justice here, and the experience just doesn't translate well in a web page summary.
Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever. It's a work of art.
The city at nighttime. Beneath the beating of the heavy rains, a pack of rats chews away at an electrical cable. Catching the the headlights of an oncoming car, they scatter. The van roars past, splashing water from a puddle onto the rats' frayed handiwork. Upon contact with the liquid, the wires short-circuit, crackling furiously for several seconds, then falling silent. The surrounding lamps flicker briefly.
We turn our attention to the traveling van. Within, Ataru, Lum, Mendo, and the Stormtroopers are on their way home after a planning session for their school movie. Coming up from behind it, the electrical surge from the short-circuit streaks across the adjacent power lines. It flashes across transformers and towers, cables and circuit boards. Tripping breakers across the city, the lights of the town slowly wink out, one by one. Only the light of the moon and the stars shines upon the street when Mendo drops Lum and Ataru off. That, and the sparking transformer overhead.
The next morning, everyone is talking about the previous night's blackout. Ataru and Lum walk to school, accompanied by a small flock of birds that Lum befriended while jogging this morning. They meet Ran near the gate, and the birds interfere when Ataru tries to grab her. Ran reassures the flock that Ataru is mostly harmless, explaining to Ataru that she and Lum can communicate with birds on a base level. They used to be able to "hear" them more clearly when they were younger, but that connection seems to have faded as they grew up.
That night, Mendo holds a cherry-blossom party under the branches of Tarouzakura, a colossal cherry tree on the fringes of the his estate. Having stood for almost three hundred years, the tree has stood as a sort of guardian angel to the Mendo family. Unfortunately, the trunk has started to rot inside, so he plans to chop it down as a prop for the school movie. Sakura causes something of a stir when she arrives with a small group of weird-looking spirits in her party who claim have a special relationship with the tree. After things calm down a bit, they notice Lum reclining by the base of the trunk. Lum says that she is listening to Tarouzakura's song, a soft melody radiated by its spirit. Shinobu marvels at the attitude displayed at the party, and ponders the nature of life as a lengthy journey, leaving dark memories in its wake.
A junkyard. Surrounded by disused appliances, two hoboes drink near a fire. Discussing the town and its varied opportunities, they turn to a pile of beat-up televisions. One of the men pulls at the switch of one the TV's, wondering if any of them still work. Suddenly, the screens of all the nearby sets light up, flashing a brief image of Lum through a field of static...
At school the next day, the gang begins shooting their movie. The film concerns the exploits of a young man (portrayed by Ataru) who finds refuge in a strange village after running from band of killers in the woods. That night, he awakens to hear the conversation of a council of trees that has met outside his window. The head tree, Tarouzakura, is suffering from a debilitating illness, but still manages to control the evil spirits it attached to the villagers and their elder. Arguing about the state his health, one of the trees mentions that the only way to destroy Tarouzakura is with a salted axe. The take ends and the cast adjourns.
Resuming on location beneath Tarouzakura's branches, Ataru proclaims to the villagers that he can chop down the tree, demanding a reward in exchange. He then slams his axe into the great trunk. Suddenly, the land grows strangely silent. Scores of birds rush out from the tree's branches, and the trunk begins to foam where Ataru drove the axe. A seam tears its way across the trunk, spewing foam and green liquid, and Tarouzakura, the greatest of the great trees, falls to the earth. The foam consumes the tree, burning away at its body until only a skeletal husk remains. Unfortunately, an inopportune blackout prevents any of this from being caught on film.
In her kitchen, Sakura busily prepares a huge meal for her extradimensional guests, complaining about the expenses of involved in having them around. Then a power failure knocks out her microwave and the spirits abruptly decide to leave, much to Sakura's bewilderment.
Megane (our director) is extremely frustrated by the loss of what obviously would have been a spectacular shot, but nobly presses onward to the next scene. The destruction of Tarouzakura does indeed free the villagers from their evil spirits, but without the tree to control them the spirits now run amuck. So the villagers gather together and pray for deliverance. They are answered by the appearance of the Oni Princess, a cosmic being who banishes the spirits into the earth with her holy light. In turn, villagers adopt the Princess as their local deity and hold a festival celebrating her powers. All goes well until Ataru trips into one of the flimsy wooden gates, causing the set to collapse. Megane and Mendo are extremely nonplussed, considering that this scene was supposed to be the highlight of their film, based on a legend that runs in Mendo's family. While they argue with Ataru, Shinobu notices that Lum seems to have spaced off. Lum wakes after a little encouragement, claiming to be a little tired.
That night, while patrolling the grounds of the movie's festival scene, two of Mendo's bodyguards are completely bewildered when the set seems to come alive. Moved by invisible hands, the props make their silent procession, accompanied by the mysterious forms of kimono-swathed oni women (in the more traditional sense). Bathing their heads in cold water, the men are nervously relieved as the vision slowly fades away...
The following day, strong winds buffet Ten around as he fights to reach the school building. Clinging to a branch, he wonders about Kotatsuneko, who has mysteriously disappeared.
At school, Ataru decides to round off his lunch period by doing a little in-class girl hunting. This angers Lum considerably, and she attempts to fry Ataru. But to everyone's alarm, her attack has almost no effect on him. Shortly thereafter, Lum walks by herself and contemplates her situation. As an experiment, she tries to electrocute Ran through a chain-link fence, but can only muster enough charge to tickle her. Meanwhile, Ataru runs into a tree while chasing a baseball, only to be confronted by swarms of locusts, then dragonflies. One of these alights on branch and stares downward, Lum's image reflected in every facet of its eyes.
That afternoon, Lum goes shopping with Ataru, hanging on his arm as they walk. She argues with him about his behavior, and when he shrugs her off she finds that she is unable to fly fast enough to catch up with him. When Ataru realizes this, he quickly runs off to hunt girls. Lum tries to pursue him, but she's just not fast enough. Even Ten flies faster than she can at the moment. From atop the roof of a nearby building, a twirling weathervane tracks Lum with its tin eye.
Lum searches for Ataru in a large department store, but there are only nameless faces to be found. On the escalator, Lum passes Mendo and Shinobu, calling out to them, but they only stare back blankly, their faces without recognition. We follow them as they continue on their date, first to the movies, then to a cafe. At the park, the action of the young couple is shared with that from a scene in the movie they viewed. And as Mendo raises Shinobu's face for a kiss, he suddenly remembers Lum. Asking Shinobu's forgiveness, he runs off into the night, much to her agitation.
The next morning is an abnormally cold one for the time of year. While traveling individually to school, Megane, Kakugari and Chibi each notice a girl they have a crush on, and follow them to their school at Butsumetsu, where they meet. The Stormtroopers beat up on each other, exchange accusations of treason, and finally wonder about the nature of this event. Until now, they had never paid attention to any girl other than Lum...
Lum goes to Sakura for an examination, but she is unable to explain Lum's strange symptoms. Sakura asks when they first surfaced, and if Lum knows of anything that might have triggered them. Lum responds that while she was filming the movie, she began get really scared. Having nothing else to go on, Sakura puts it down to stress and recommends that Lum take it easy for a little while. The checkup is suddenly interrupted when the ground starts shaking. At the Mendo estate, a mountain bursts into existence around the site where Tarouzakura used to stand, the actual spot sinking into a pit at its center. A water line bursts from the side of mountain, flooding the area within.
After dark, Lum sits in the park with Ten, thinking. Something is wrong. She feels as if she "had left something somewhere and forgotten it."
Lum is suddenly barraged with a myriad images and sounds, falling, screaming around her, forcing her to her knees as the vision fades. And she is alone in the park with Ten once more.
Morning. Lum gets up and goes jogging. The birds watch her as she passes by, with a hint of curiosity and more than a measure of concern.
Night. Mendo is relaxing at home, drinking tea, listening to music, and flipping through his photo album. Suddenly, he drops his teacup. He quickly phones Ataru, asking him to come to his house immediately, then sending kuroko to escort him there. Upon arrival, Ataru and Megane discuss recent events with Mendo: The strange weather, Lum's loss of power, their waning affections for her, etc. These, coupled with Mendo's Lumless photo album, leads them to conclude that an unknown force has begun to work actively against them. Noting that things first started happening while they were shooting their independent movie, they decide to consult with Mendo's grandfather about the original legend the film's story was based on.
At home, Lum decides to start keeping a diary, pleasantly scratching her thoughts away on the fresh, clean paper. She is interrupted when a bird flies in through her bedroom window and starts chirping at her. Unfortunately, Lum is no longer able to understand what it is saying. Later, Ten comes home after flying his jet scooter around in the falling snow. Noticing Lum's diary, he teases her by trying to get a look at it, leading her to jump out the window -- and fall to the ground below. Ten quickly follows to see if she is alright, and notices that Lum's horns have disappeared.
At the direction of his grandfather, Mendo flies to the "Tarouzakura Mountain" with Ataru and Megane. Hoping to gain further insight about the nature of recent events, they dive to the bottom of the lake and attempt to surface the remains of the cherry tree by winching them up with a helicopter. The investigation proceeds uneventfully until the roots of the tree are unearthed. Tangled in the roots is the shining skeleton of a woman, still wrapped in the tatters of an old kimono. The three panic and swim furiously for the surface.
Something calls, "Ra -- mu..."
Lum is no worse for the wear, but Ten seems to have caught a serious cold. Then, something draws Lum's attention to the window. Looking outside, she sees Ataru standing under a streetlamp with a younger version of herself. Quickly, she dresses and runs out into the street. Following the vision around a corner, she encounters a strange circus. Sporting painted faces and child versions of her friends, Lum is spellbound by the scene, and silently follows it into the night. Through the bluish mist of the morning fog, a car screams forward. Ataru, nearly strangling Mendo's driver in his haste, races through the door of his house, up the stairs, and into his room -- but Lum is gone. Noticing her diary on his desk, he picks it up and begins to flip through the pages. His mother appears and tells him how Lum ran out, calling his name...
Tarouzakura Mountain. Lum puts what appears to be a piece of gum into her mouth, and walks down into the water of the pool.
Mendo's apartments. Turning and tossing in his sleep, Mendo is haunted by the memories of what he has seen this night. These are eventually replaced by an only slightly less disturbing scenario...
In a shadowy, futuristic version of the Tomobiki he knows, Mendo is a celebrity fighter. Handsome, noble, and always competing fairly, Mendo is adored by the public. He has absolutely everything a man could want, including Ataru as his personal assistant. Yet something makes him restless. After destroying a cyborg version of Onsenmark at the stadium, he retires from professional combat. Something tugs at the corner of his mind... the image of a strange girl? But he brushes it off. He turns his attention to romance, wooing scores of women. And when this proves unfulfilling, he weds them all. Posing for the camera with his horde of new brides, he is startled to glimpse a young woman with green hair passing by the chapel door. Ataru pursues her at Mendo's insistence, but just when he has the girl cornered, Lum turns to face him -- and passes through a nearby wall. At the air terminal, about to depart on his honeymoon, Mendo suddenly remembers Lum. He rushes for the stairs, trips, and falls headlong out of bed.
Picking himself up from the floor, Mendo chides himself for getting so worked up over a mere dream. At breakfast, his father calls him to the window. Mendo looks out and sees... The city of his dream, packed into a tight corner of the map. He calls a meeting at the school building, and pausing only long enough to pick up Shinobu, hurries there by car. Discussing the situation with her enroute, he fails to notice the mist that drifts in through the window, enveloping Shinobu and carrying her into a deep slumber.
In her dream, Shinobu walks through the streets of a classical Japanese town. In her thoughts, she tries to sort out her feelings for two men: a loose, free man who runs through the town all the time, trying to talk to various women; and a more polished, handsome gentleman. Continuing on her way, she sees Mendo and walking by with Lum, each apparently enjoying the other's company.
Screeching to a halt in Tomobiki High's front yard, Mendo helps Shinobu out of the car. Sakura, who is standing nearby with a crowd of other people, directs their attention to the horizon, where they see the frozen town of Shinobu's dream intermixed with Mendo's. At the meeting, Mendo tries to impress his theories to the crowd. He believes that some great external consciousness had begun to exert its influence over the town, and that Lum (being foreign to Tomobiki's life matrix) has somehow fallen through the cracks. He is interrupted when Ataru bursts into the auditorium and announces Lum's disappearance.
Under the waters of Mt. Tarouzakura's pool, Lum sits on a ledge in the side of the pit. But her mind continues to sink, finally coming to rest on a strange plane far below...
Seeing the frozen dreams as an object of the consciousness disrupting Tomobiki, Mendo declares war on Tobimaro, in the hope that the ensuing battle will break down the dreams and somehow restore normality. The combat soon spreads to encompass the entire town, doing more damage to itself than to the dreams. Ataru, unwilling to participate and struggling to hold onto his memories of Lum, goes jogging while the town explodes about him.
In the subaquatic realm of the mind, deep within the bowels of Mt. Tarouzakura, Lum stands in wonder as circus performers prance about her, entertaining the kindergarten cast at its feet. Then there is light. Turning towards it, Lum beholds a pulsing, luminous fetal entity. When Lum demands that it identify itself, it responds:
I AM STILL NO MORE THAN THE MEMORIES OF THIS TOWN.
The children crowd about Lum, begging her to play with them. And the circus performers smile.
Tomobiki lies in ruins. Ataru jogs on, through wrecked homes and aircraft. Automatic weapons pop away, cannons fire, buildings collapse. The night is lit by the blossoming flame of detonating bombs, and the day is shaded with hazy smoke. And Ataru jogs on.
The night brings a gloomy peace, for the war has taken its toll on the people of Tomobiki. In a small camp in a ruined street, Mendo and Tobimaro agree to end the war. The students-come-soldiers are tired of fighting, the dreams still stand, and nothing has been accomplished save the further destruction of their lives. They long to return home, to the Tomobiki they knew, and set out.
Tired but running still, Ataru trips and falls to the ground.
In the world of memories, Lum plays with the children of her mind.
Lying on the ground, Ataru looks into the gathering fog, calls Lum's name, and collapses.
Lum suddenly stops. She realizes that she must return home, and the visions fade around her. They too, must return to where they belong. Then she feels the light, and looks back at the apparition of Memory.
IT'S ALL RIGHT. I CAN KEEP ON LIVING WITH THE MEMORIES ALONE. THE UPPER WORLD BELONGS TO ALL OF YOU.
Something shakes Ataru from his sleep. Tired and bruised, he brings himself to his feet... and into the eyes of Kotatsuneko, who is offering him a cup. His friends stand just behind the ghost cat, disheveled but smiling. Ataru takes the cup, and a cherry blossom drifts into it. The air is laden with the blossoms as they drift on the wind. The dreams begin to collapse, and Lum appears on the horizon. Ataru's runs towards her, at the encouragement of his friends.
As they watch Ataru run into the distance, the gang wonders: Is this the end? Will things return to the way they used to be? Sakura puts it best: "Even if the days go around, in a path of endlessly nearly concentric circles, as a whole, they should ultimately lead us to a new place." For no one knows their ultimate destination, and the future is still unwritten. At this, the Stormtroopers smile at one another. They charge after Ataru with weapons blazing, the rest of the cast just behind.
Ataru turns for a moment, and noticing the ground exploding behind him, runs faster. He jumps into Lum's arms as missiles detonate around them.
In a junkyard elsewhere, an old television set crackles with static, sputters a bit, then fades to black.
Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever
To gain a greater insight into the meaning and background of the movie, you might find it interesting to read this article here. It features segments from an interview with the director and analyzes some of this intentions with the film.