What is Urusei Yatsura?

Yamazaki on UY and "Lum the Forever"
information compiled by Paul Corrigan

Kazuo Yamazaki has let slip a few clues (though not as many as some might like) regarding Lum the Forever. When a guest at the 1997 Anime Expo, he was asked during a panel discussion about his tenure as director of Urusei Yatsura. "I'll speak honestly now," he facetiously began, then went on:

Urusei Yatsura was a show I signed up for, having wanted to do. I ended up for various reasons as the director on the fourth movie, Lum the Forever. I gave my thoughts to that movie--the work of a director is a really tough job, and about that time I was starting to want to get out of it. Around that time, working on the staff of UY, I was getting a lot of letters from fans, saying how much they loved Lum and whatnot. I wanted to tell them that they should not focus their entire lives on the series but that they should move out, get some exposure to real life, get a life. (1)

He had the good sense to laugh as he said it, given that he was in a room presumably full of the same sort of otaku he had just attacked--and UY arguably always had through (for instance) the characters of Megane and his gang.

Yamazaki went on to briefly explain Lum the Forever, at the same time revealing his present dissatisfaction with the film:

Life's too precious to be wasted: that's the kind of message I put into the movie. But in retrospect, I think I made a mistake there, and I regret it somewhat.

The story I'd wanted to tell was about the Urusei Yatsura world, the Tomobiki-cho, being one living organism. Within that organism, the foreign object called "Lum" would be intruding. There was the process of the various "immunological" responses of the organism called Tomobiki-cho trying to assimilate Lum, and the process of that turning into a synergy. I don't think I was as skilled back then, when I made Lum the Forever. When it came out in the theaters, I bought a ticket and went to see the movie. And when the movie was over, I was leaving the theater, and saw two boys, about 10 or eleven years old, come out, looking rather disappointed, and one of them kicked the floor and spat. Hence, I regretted what I made, and I've sworn never to make a work that lacked entertainment value, even if it had a serious message in it. (2)

Yamazaki did not think the lives of the otaku cheap enough to be wasted on UY; if the little short of hellish description of his daily routine as director he gave later in the discussion was accurate, he may well have considered that his own was being just so wasted, something he evidently did not want:

The typical work day would have been that we'd get up at 9 a.m. from the studio floor...and all the staff would be getting out of their sleeping bags. Aound 10 a.m., the cel painting staff, who were mostly girls, would be coming over, so we'd get up before then and go to a nearby cafe for breakfast, and then go to work until midnight. Around one or two a.m. we'd go get some dinner, and maybe something to drink, and then crawl back into our sleeping bags. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. The team consisted of about five or six members--for them, that's what it was like for two whole years. No "Happy New Year" or anything. (3)

"But it was fun," he was quick to add; but this repetitive schedule, with he and his fellows emerging only for food, must have perhaps seemed too much like his predecessor's Beautiful Dreamer for his liking, a life anybody would gladly be rid of. Signs of Yamazaki's fatigue with UY and its cult are clearly present in Lum the Forever, not least of which is the air of finality to the whole exercise. In the very last scene, the TVs that have been displaying Lum's face for five years finally shut off, as if to say the show's over. It is the spirit of Tomobiki itself that says it will be content to survive on the memories of Tomobiki alone--for memories are all that will remain of Urusei Yatsura.

To call Lum the Forever "lacking in entertainment" is probably exaggeration. It must be admitted, however, that a major problem with it is that it simply isn't very funny. UY is comedy, after all, and even at its most profound there were always plenty of laughs, even though in (say) Beautiful Dreamer they may have been secondary to the film's purpose. In Lum the Forever, however, Yamazaki's frustrations seem such as to make him forget to be lighthearted now and again. Also, even given the film's high intellectual level, much of it is highly confused and opaque even to the most attentive viewer, obscuring the message Yamazaki wished to convey. It is not clear in many places just what Yamazaki could have had in mind, for instance in describing the war of Mendo against Mizunokoji when his target was the frozen dreams.

Most ironically of all, though, the only ones who may have found the film enjoyable were the otaku the film had been intended to attack (though in many cases only by complete misinterpretation, coming to think of Lum as a goddess-like figure when Yamazaki had been at pains to deny anything that suggested Lum ought to dominate life even in Tomobiki, much less in real life). Not only did the film's level of cerebrality and its confused construction serve to alienate the audience at which it was supposedly directed (Takahashi's audience of middle-school age boys), but only the otaku of college age or even older would have had the will or ability to know UY well enough to catch all the obscure references from a series that had run at the end for four and a half years. In that time UY had, under Yamazaki as well as Oshii, had been increasingly constructed for the edification of often well-educated animation fans with much more refined cinematic tastes, ones who could appreciate something like Lum the Forever , in the end alienated the original manga's audience.

Lum the Forever may have been the reason Rumiko Takahashi, who had been unimpressed with Oshii's and Yamazaki's visions of UY from their films refused permission to make any more movies after The Final Chapter, and also, perhaps, why Viz decided to dub Ranma 1/2 instead of UY. The film helped to cement UY's reputation as definitely a series for connoiseurs of Japanese animation only. That Viz might have done a much better job with marketing UY than did AnimEigo is quite possible; but Ranma 1/2 is very accessible (if not always well plotted), and Viz, like most others in the industry (AnimEigo only got UY because nobody in the US was interested in it), may have feared that even a well-marketed UY would fail because "nobody would get it."

References

1. "Meet Kazuo Yamazaki." Animerica , vol. 5, no. 10 (October 1997), p. 8.

2. Ibid. (Emphasis supplied.)

3. Ibid., p. 24.

Paul Corrigan
pcorrig@uoft02.utoledo.edu

 

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