What is Urusei Yatsura?

Tomobiki, Lum, and the End of Forever:
An Analysis of Urusei Yatsura Movie 4

by Nathaniel Rudiak-Gould

PAGE 2

Interruptions

Interruptions are everywhere in this movie. I noticed this originally in few particular scenes, such as when Shinobu is interrupted by Mendou just before revealing the destination of the “S.S. Tomobiki”, and when the conference is interrupted and thrown into turmoil by Ataru bursting in and announcing that Lum is gone. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to see interruptions in every portion of the movie. In each case a sequence will develop in a certain manner that appears to lead towards a logical conclusion, but somehow the scene is invaded by a different theme, undermining the original logic, and the conclusion we expected is never reached. Moreover, most of these scenes can be sorted into two types, that follow my idea of the film’s thematic core - scenes in which Lum is interrupted, and scenes in which visions of Tomobiki without Lum are invaded by her and hence shattered. Because of this, I feel that these scenes of interruption are the principal battleground on which the Lum vs. Tomobiki dynamic is explored.

Let’s look at several examples of the first type, in which the town of Tomobiki undermines Lum. We understand Lum to include images or memories of her, her alien powers, and her dynamic alien personality that stimulates the original Urusei Yatsura comedy.

1. Effect on Images of Lum
In order to preserve their memories of her, several people in the movie try to record Lum in some fashion. All of these are somehow sabotaged. Take the early scene in which Megane, with the support of Mendou, is filming Lum in the attempt to create a perfect image of her: “The soft sunshine...the petals of cherry blossom drifting like in a dream...the green-haired beauty, who plays with the birds in the wind... Miss Lum”. At this point Ataru interrupts and ruins the shot by sticking his face in. Later, Mendou has written the ceremony scene of the movie to show off Lum’s beauty, but Ataru similarly shatters this fantasy by pulling down the set, letting in the sunlight and ruining the scene. Later, Mendou pores over his photo album only to notice that Lum is completely missing from it as well. Finally, there is the opening “Lum the Forever” credits sequence, which we see is being observed by Mendou’s satellite system, and hence is quite like the coming scenes of filming Lum. It seems appropriate that the movie’s title should be here, and the scene is often taken by fans as the ultimate expression of Lum’s beauty in the same way that the movie in the movie was supposed to show it. However, on closer examination, we see that the scene, which begins with Lum among the cherry blossoms, ends with a full view of the town. The scene may not be explicitly interrupted, but in consuming Lum into Tomobiki as an indistinguishable component, it still illustrates the main theme. None of these eternal recordings of Lum is allowed to last.

2. Effect on Lum’s Powers
This is most obvious subversion of Lum. First her electricity grows weak, followed by her powers of flight, and finally both disappear entirely with her horns. In each case her lack of powers is revealed suddenly, when she attempts to use them for her usual purpose and is unable to.

3. Effects on Lum’s Personality
This is the least noticed aspect of the sabotage of Lum - the decline in her own consciousness, and hence her distinctive personality. Some people take this movie as the ultimate tribute to Lum’s character. But while it is true that the movie is about her, it is absolutely not a paean to her character. The Lum here is not her usual self. She appears to be drugged through most of the movie, as though slowly being put to sleep along with her powers. This begins with Ataru slipping her a pickled plum under Tarouzakura, and becomes clear when she is struck into a trance during the film-making, and comes to a culmination with her hypnotic walk into the lake, popping something in her mouth as she sinks.

Every scene in which Lum seems to realize that there is something wrong with her is immediately interrupted by some explicit action of the town, and the train of thought is broken - Observe:

  • When she says internally “My powers are getting weaker”..., swarms of insects (part of the strange changes in the town) suddenly appear, one of which observes her as she now looks confusedly from side to side.
  • When she complains to Ataru that she is feeling out of shape and he runs off, a weather vane centers on her and its eye lights up. This marks her integration into the crowd. She’s bumped into by strangers, who no longer notice her as special (as opposed to the previous scene, where her flying and anger drew attention) and when she passes Mendou and Shinobu on the escalator, they do not even recognize her.
  • When she reports her problem to Sakura and mentions that the independent movie might be the cause, the ground of Tomobiki immediately upheaves and swallows the location of the movie as though attempting to protect it. Lum thus does not return there until the end of the movie.
  • When she mentions while climbing the mountain that “It feels like I’ve left something somewhere and forgotten it” suggesting she senses she is losing her consciousness, we see the town’s eye open, and she is suddenly bombarded by a disturbing alternate vision of Tomobiki as a nightmarish urban center. When she recovers, her only response is “I didn’t know there were so many sounds.” This is followed by her going jogging, observed by the birds, but no longer with the same distinctiveness as in the title screen.
  • When Ten discovers that Lum’s horns are missing while she lies unconscious on the snow, he is strangely struck by fever, so that in the next scene with them, they have switched positions. While he futilely tries to warn her, she is interrupted by the baby saying “Lum”, followed by the appearance of Ataru and the circus, more messengers of the town which she follows somnambulistically into the lake, her final melding into the town, and disappearance.

4. Interactions
So far I’ve listed several cases in which Lum’s image, power, or personality is subverted via a sudden interruption. The connection between these, however, has not been well established, nor has the idea that it is the town of Tomobiki that is causing this. Only in the case of personality have I firmly established Tomobiki as the agent. Ataru is usually the person who undermines the images, while I proposed no agent for the diminishing of Lum’s powers. In order to make my argument that all of these interruptions of Lum are part of the same dynamic, I must find links between each of these - scenes in which more than one are interrupted simultaneously and in the same manner:

4a. Interruptions of her Images and Powers:
Note how many cases of images of Lum being destroyed involve severing electrical current. Cutting off of electricity is linked to the town, as established by the opening blackout which depicts the town as a circuit, the second blackout after Ataru cuts down the cherry tree (from whose roots the consciousness is later seen growing), and the screen flickering out in the last scene. This sabotaging of electrical equipment may even be reflected in the early line by an unnamed Tomobiki High student, describing the blackout - “but just when I got to the best part...”. Not so different from the reaction of Megane and Mendou later in the scene when Ataru cuts into the picture. Electricity is also one of Lum’s prominent powers which disappears during the movie, and it is the power necessary for Urusei Yatsura to be shown, so the fact that images of Lum are interrupted by cutting off electric power has intense symbolic value. Destroying the powers of Lum and memories of Lum accomplish the same result.

4b. Interruption of her Powers and Personality:
The interruptions by which Lum’s power loss are revealed are all coupled with a diminution of Lum’s personality as well. Following the theory that Lum drives the Urusei Yatsura brand of wacky comedy, a standard comedy scene featuring Lum’s strong, rambunctious personality is interrupted and gives way to a scene in which she seems weak and lost. The standard is set by the classroom scene, in all ways the scene most typical of Urusei Yatsura. Ataru’s after-lunch workout of going after Shinobu and Ryunosuke heads towards its obvious, even axiomatic conclusion of a Lum-induced electrocution. It’s taken so much for granted that the other characters chant “Here it comes... Ultra Super Electric Attack”. And yet, to everyone’s shock, Lum’s electricity fails to have much effect, and Ataru even manages to push her back with it- unheard of! In the next scene, she is alone outside the school as eerie music begins to play.

Later on, Ataru, while complaining about Lum clinging to him in public, goes racing off after some woman, which normally would prompt another UY ritual - a high-speed chase by a furious, airborne Lum. Now, however she is too slow to fly after him and her anger has no effect. By the next scene, she is no longer flying, but walking as part of a crowd, and riding the elevator and escalator. Her search for Ataru takes the form of glancing from side to side rather pathetically as she wanders aimlessly, in stark contrast to her usual pursuit. The clichés of Urusei Yatsura are undermined with Lum’s dropping powers, and she is thus integrated into the town as just another member of the crowd - no longer an alien.

Later still, there’s a brief bit of UY comedy in which she tries to hide her diary from Ten’s probing eyes. She escapes by jumping out the window, but the tone suddenly switches as she falls to the ground below. Not only has her flight failed completely, but she is now missing her horns, the symbols of her power, and she has been literally knocked unconscious. The disruption of her powers and the mode of Urusei Yatsura itself go hand in hand.

4c. Interruption of her Personality and Images
The key scene here is the end of the independent movie, in which Ataru’s destruction of the parade in Lum’s honor strikes Lum into a trance. She stares distantly into space while Mendou harangues Ataru about the value of folklore (memories of the town), more evidence that this is indeed related to the Lum/Tomobiki dynamic. Looking at other scenes of interrupted images, the pattern repeats. The beautiful opening credits end with a more menacing picture of the entire city. When Mendou notices Lum has been expunged from the photographs, the pleasant classical music is cut off. Here it is the flip side of Lum’s personality, her beauty, and not her feisty nature that is cut off. Appropriate, then, that Ataru is the one who destroys these images of Lum, apparently without understanding their significance. This is one of the reasons that I suggested that one of the ways the Lum/Tomobiki theme could be viewed is as an abstraction of the dynamic between Lum and Ataru.

More Interruptions

So far we’ve looked at only one side of the coin - the special aspects of Lum being undermined and interrupted, so that she begins to no longer exist as a unique entity, but only as part of the town. Now let’s take a look at examples of the other side - scenes in which Lum or UY somehow invades and interrupts a vision of Tomobiki without her. I’ve written this section deliberately parallel to the last, with an important difference - I’ve integrated scenes that contain Lum’s interruption in more than one manner (image, power, personality) under the category whose interruption is most conspicuous, rather than performing a complete segregation as above. Why? Because in the last section, my arguments of what Lum represented were new and unsupported, and needed careful examination. Now that I have offered some evidence for the Lum/Tomobiki dynamic and linked together the various interruptions above, I think it is easy to understand why I would mention, for example, changes in the tone of a scene coupled with an appearance of Lum. The object here is to introduce scenes that appear strongly associated with Tomobiki, but become invaded by Lum.

1. Interruption by Images of Lum
This is the most obvious case and closely mirrors the destruction of images of Lum - the same images that were once interrupted by Tomobiki now themselves interrupt versions of Tomobiki. These appear in the surreal date sequence between Shinobu and Mendou and the corresponding dreams they have that night. Let’s start with the former. With the fancy, traditional clothes that both wear, capped with Mendou’s pure red rose and heart-shaped pink clouds in the sky, this is an exaggeration of a “normal date” between Mendou and Shinobu, as though taking place in a world where Lum does not exist, and when she passes them they completely fail to notice her. The date continues in its deliberately traditional way, with the obligatory sipping of drinks and playful tipping of Shinobu’s hat in a sunset cafe/, the sexist romance movie (in which a woman points a gun at a man, but becomes so overcome with emotion that she drops it and succumbs to his embrace) projected over their walk at dusk, and the windup for the concluding kiss. But just before the date reaches this predictable conclusion, the image of Lum that Mendou failed to recognize suddenly pops into his head. The dreamlike “real” date is suddenly shattered to return us to the familiar UY world where Mendou runs off obsessed with Lum, and Shinobu responds in frustration by using her strength to mutilate a (Tomobiki) street sign, in contrast to her role of only moments ago. Her stuttering here may also link this to Megane’s stuttering for a camera when he sees Lum approach the school.

The romance of the date scene is mirrored in the parallel dreams they have that night which reveal their real romantic intentions. Shinobu briefly discusses Ataru in her dream, with the summary that she doesn’t dislike him but doesn’t understand his actions either, but then moves to romantic ideas about Mendou, whereas in Mendou’s dream, Shinobu is relegated to just one grinning member of a crowd of wives, while Sakura, the most officially beautiful woman native to Tomobiki, who will have nothing to do with him in the series, gets top billing in the story to say things like “no woman can go on without loving you.” These dreams, like the date scene, are concerned with romance in a world where Lum does not exist. But in both dreams the logical sequence of the dream is interrupted by Lum’s appearance. Each scene of “romance” in Mendou’s dream (the women pouring into the stadium after his victory, his visit to Sakura, the wedding), he sees Lum in the distance, but is unable to reach her. Finally, as he prepares to leave on his honeymoon, he suddenly recalls that perfect image of Lum in the morning breeze that they tried to record on film, exactly as the date ended with him recalling Lum on the escalator. Again, he goes berserk, falling off the plane and out of the dream. In Shinobu’s dream, her feelings for Mendou have just reached the realization “Maybe I’m ... in love?”, seeming to lead inevitably to romance, but at precisely this moment, Lum appears, smiling together with Mendou, and another dream of Tomobiki is shattered.

2. Interruption By Lum’s Powers
Except for jolting Ran through the fence, Lum never really uses her powers explicitly against Tomobiki. For example, we never see Lum zap someone out of a dream of Tomobiki. But let’s see if there are some examples where her powers - electric charge and flight - seem to interrupt Tomobiki in other ways.

Electricity:
We have already established cutting of electricity as key method of undermining Lum, and linked it to Tomobiki from the first scene. How about the opposite? The opening image of rats gnawing among a giant refuse heap of everything that the townspeople have thrown away is interrupted by the headlights of the car carrying Lum. This soon becomes the only spot of light as the blackout hits the town, and as she exits the car, a transformer firing outside seems the only remaining electricity. Lum’s powers asserted?

More telling is a seemingly extraneous scene in which two bums converse among similar mounds of discarded trash. Both these characters and the detailed realism in depicting these decrepit surroundings seem out of place in the Urusei Yatsura universe. While such a junk heap in general suggests the accumulation of the town’s old memories, the discarded TV sets add to the feeling of a world after the Urusei Yatsura TV series, hence Lum, has ended. Such an interpretation is supported when at the end of the movie, a similar television screen flickers out. The characters discuss their opportunities in Tomobiki fairly seriously until they are suddenly shocked when the TV screens snap on, showing a picture of Lum and after which their calls “Mommy” and “I want to go home,” switch the tone to comedy as they now seem like pathetic losers. Again, a more realistic “world without Lum” becomes interrupted by her appearance - both an image of Lum and her powers are coupled in this interruption.

Flight:
Besides Lum, there are three other reappearing characters with the power of flight. One is the Oni Princess that Lum plays in the independent movie (besides being an Oni Princess herself). One is Ten, who embodies several of Lum’s alien characteristics, and does so throughout the movie. And then there are the birds - shown early to follow her around as her friends, a connection made stronger when it is revealed that she can’t understand them as well as she used to. They represent her old personality that is beginning to decline. Let’s look at some interruption scenes involving these characters.

One example that also incorporates electrical powers is the strange replay of the independent movie’s final scene the night. The lamps are relit and we see a procession of several ghostly figures of the Oni Princess, flying just as Lum did. The night watchmen are galvanized to comedy in the same manner as the two bums in the earlier scene.

More subtle is the diary-writing section. This perplexed me for quite some time. At first it seemed to be an example of a record of Lum being interrupted, her diary becoming as the last remnant that she left behind. According to this, the writing of the diary would provide some kind of defense against Tomobiki. But the more that I looked at it, the less it resembled other “recording” scenes. In contrast to earlier scenes, Lum displays no signs of being conscious of her plight here. Given that she was just hit with a bizarre vision in the last scene, she would not be merely sitting here writing if she were still in control of herself. And look how she describes the diary. Although she does say “I want to try to keep on writing forever and ever”, it’s a “pure white page... the scent of paper when it’s been opened for the first time, a new diary”, not a continuation of an old one, and she wants to write “as many words as there are falling snowflakes”, a direct connection to the town’s consciousness, which recall is made from the collection of memories “like plankton drifting to the bottom of the ocean,” and the Diary includes talk of trying a new shampoo. In other words, Lum seems not so much to be differentiating herself by writing her diary, as writing herself into the history of Tomobiki, another stage of her disappearance into the town. This is somewhat similar to the war sequence (which I’ll discuss later) in that it may be an attempt to “bring back Lum” that falls into the Tomobiki pattern. In fact, we see Ataru reading her diary as the war begins, before he renounces the others and begins jogging. Finally, if she were really preserving a memory of herself, in analogy with other cases, the town would take some kind of action. Instead, the interruptions to this scene are entirely Lum-related. She is first interrupted (her pencil lead snapping as she writes the word “Darling”) by the bird flying in from the outside. Her reaction to it reinforces my idea that she is barely conscious at this point - Note the little cry as it ruffles its feathers, the slightly sad “I’m sorry, but I can’t understand you anymore”, and the dazed look after it flies away. She continues on her diary (the bird failed to jolt her) until another messenger of her powers of flight, Ten, arrives, and in a spectacularly alien manner. He seems to momentarily bring Lum back to normal, but this is broken when she falls out the window, as already described.

3. Interruptions by Lum’s Personality
As for her powers, Lum almost never directly asserts her old personality onto a scene where it is lacking (and again, zapping Ran through the fence is an exception). However, in the examples above, in most cases, her zany comedy appears with her image/powers. Here’s an example of where it occurs alone:

The three converging stories of Megane, Kakugari, and Chibi follow the date scene in the movie and are quite similar. Continuing from the last scene, we see more images of power lines and normal Tomobiki life (the train, bus, and school), and the word “Tomobiki” appears several times (in newspapers, as the destination of the subway), as it did on the movie theater and street sign during the date. Although Lum does not explicitly interrupt these love stories, they nevertheless follow the same pattern of a dreamlike intensity followed by a sudden return to the UY status quo. None of them thinks of Lum or their conflict of interest while pursuing the girls, but when they finally unite at the gate to the girls’ school, becoming their old team again, it’s business as usual. They all laugh like hyenas until Megane screams them down, chastising them for forgetting their devotion to Lum.

Continue reading on page 3 >>

 

return to Articles


Home
An Intro to Urusei Yatsura
Cast of Characters
The Comic Book
The Animated Series
Questions and Answers
Articles and Reviews
ArticlesEditorialsInterviewsReviews
Art Gallery
Music Capsule
Odds and Ends
Links