What is Urusei Yatsura?

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

by Nathaniel Rudiak-Gould


Dreams that a Town Has

The various visions of Tomobiki in the movie provide some possibilities of what their lives might become. So far, I have only explored these so far as to establish that they do indeed represent Tomobiki. Now, let’s look at how they apply to each of the characters.

The visions Lum sees are unique in that they are thrust upon her, rather than being invaded by her. In one she falls down into a foreign city filled with assaulting stimuli, with traffic, shattering glass, shouting, violence, and police sirens. She ends cowering amid a maelstrom of flashing lights and when she recovers she says “I didn’t know there were so many sounds.” This is a hostile Tomobiki with no familiar faces and no place for her or Urusei Yatsura.

Lum’s other vision of Tomobiki is the circus which incorporates the younger versions of Tomobiki residents. When they say “Let’s play”, she becomes incorporated herself. Besides relating to the amusement park/circus from movie 3 (see the next section), I’ve seen this mentioned as a reference to Fellini’s circus symbolism. This is probably correct. While I’m no expert on Fellini, there are a few other similarities here. The film’s self-referential nature, including the making of a “nonsensical” movie within it is shared with 8 1/2. Also, Fellini often devised scenes that took place in limbo between the sky and ground, as the rocket set in 8 1/2, or the opening scene in “La Dolce Vita”. This also occurs in the form of Tarouzakura in Lum the Forever under my interpretation.

I’ve already discussed Mendou’s key role as driver of the plot through Tarouzakura, the independent movie, the war, etc. Now I’ll address his dream, by far the longest and most elaborate of the “dreams that a town has”. This is a Tomobiki after his own tastes, a futuristic, detailed, technologically advanced city with a police-state feel built over an older base, but it lacks Lum and seems hollow and pointless, and his nerves always on edge (e.g. the constant crushing of nuts in his hand). There’s a definite disgust for the city illustrated here. He casually cancels an appointment with the president and the rest of his appointments in Tomobiki, claiming he is “exhausted” and “searches for love”, traveling to the top of the lofty techno-tower somewhat resembling Tarouzakura (And note that Sakura (lit. cherry tree) lives here). Sakura seems a kind of unsuccessful substitute for Lum, a seemingly different person as mundane as all the characters except Lum in his dream. In many ways, he here identifies himself with the Lum-role. He appears as an elite figure with a massive following - “in these dark times that lack heroes suddenly a superstar appears, a white young noble who rises from the edge of nothingness...he touches our souls with the energy of a newborn supernova”, gallantly defeating ruthless, depraved Onsen-mark (who also appeared as town leader in the independent movie), “arising from the most notorious slum of the Tomobiki area”. The constant surveillance by overhead satellite, film crew, and photographers is now concentrated on himself rather than Lum. There are birds at the wedding ceremony. One gets the sense of a profound unease within a world without Lum, the origin of which he does not understand until she interrupts the dream: “Do you remember what I said...that lately, my heart aches for reasons unknown to me? I believe she is the person who can ease my pain.” He has hopelessly attempted to find substitutes for her within this Tomobiki.

Mendou’s dream also encapsulates one of the movie’s most disturbing scenes. Ataru without Lum appears initially as Mendou’s lackey, a harmless and seemingly insensate version of his usual self. But when he is sent out to follow Lum, the dream follows him instead of the dreamer. It’s an eerie transfer, as he runs through the streets of this mysterious city, with tension heightened by the warnings of closing gates, etc. He finally finds Lum, and when she turns, he recognizes her and calls her name, momentarily becoming himself. She slowly melts out of existence into the town, leaving Ataru shocked and terrified in the dark, the last we see of him in the dream. This is quite like his role in the larger movie. The plot follows Mendou’s leads, with Ataru oblivious to the mounting problem. When he finally recognizes the problem and rushes home in the fog to find her, it’s too late - she has just sunk into the lake to meet the town’s consciousness. Only after this, as he jogs during the war scene, does he finally become the movie’s protagonist, taking over from Mendou.

As part of Mendou’s dream, this reflects Mendou’s position in Urusei Yatsura - the seemingly unique elite member of the cast (from his point of view), who is never able to attract Lum. Instead, it is the spectacularly non-elite Ataru Moroboshi who alone commands her attention. Hence in the dream, Mendou’s visions of her are fleeting, and it is Ataru alone who meets her.

Shinobu’s outlooks on Lum and Tomobiki are unique. Besides Ataru’s parents (who have little role in the movie), Shinobu was the only character permanently hurt by Lum’s appearance, first by taking Ataru away, and later by capturing Mendou’s heart. Whereas for someone like Megane, Lum plunged the “normal” world into a dream, Lum’s appearance was more of a loss of innocence for Shinobu, inculcating the cynicism and bitterness that become part of her character. All this feeds into her dream of Tomobiki, which in contrast to Mendou’s detailed, futuristic, Tomobiki, is a simple, undetailed, romanticized vision of a Tomobiki of the past. She wants to avoid growing up, worrying that she “sighs just like some old lady”. She’s going to buy some girls’ manga (we see her reading some alone in the school scene). “My mother tells me to stop reading fairy tails and grow up, but I’m not going to.” She envisions city life in the most romantic manner: “An atelier in Paris... the hustle and bustle of Mont Parnasse... A fashionable, modern, stylish, coquettish, Parisienne in the floral city.” Instead of growing up, she’ll indulge in her budding love for Mendou. But when he appears with Lum at his side, her naiveté is swept away. It is an oversimplification to call her anti-Lum, however. Lum’s presence gives her a strength and cynical intelligence she might otherwise lack. She participates in the war for Lum along with the other characters. What she does resent is the obsession with and romanticism of Lum by the other characters (note her turn away while Megane and Mendou try to film Lum). While the others are spellbound, listening for the tune she hears inside the tree while the cherry petals pour over them, she responds ”What? A voice inside a tree? How unbelievable. Since when have they begun acting like tame sheep? How did this become such an overly gentle scene? Is this really the same town of Tomobiki where I have lived my whole life?” and then launches into her description of the settling memories of the town and describes it as an isolated ship set on a journey through space, pondering where they will all eventually end up. “The place we’re now bound for is...”As for all visions of Tomobiki, this is interrupted just before it reaches its conclusion. Mendou, not Lum interrupts her here, but this is exactly how Lum acts on Shinobu. From her point of view, it was Mendou who interrupts their date scene, and not Lum alone, but Mendou paired with Lum who interrupts her dream. For Shinobu, Lum’s effect is not directly, but through the effects that she has on the other characters, especially Mendou. It is through this attachment to the others that she is pulled into Urusei Yatsura’s insane universe.

The Bums:
Not recurring characters, but just another two Tomobiki inhabitants whose memories have nevertheless helped shape the town’s consciousness. In a sense, they’re the characters most similar to the audience, with no connection to Lum but a picture of her on an old TV screen. Their sequence seems to frame the visit to Tarouzakura, since we briefly see the fire glowing and the rats swarming before the pan-up to the tree, and the scene itself immediately follows Shinobu’s discussion of the town below. In addition, Lum is wearing her characteristic bikini both in the cherry tree scene (the only other time in this movie is the first scene), and in the picture that appears on the screen. Yes, this could be just a stereotypical image of Lum, but given the juxtaposition, and the fact that images of Lum elsewhere in the movie often reappear as interruptions (e.g. the date and Mendou’s dream), it seems that this may be a reflection of the “song in the tree” scene.

The Night Watchmen:
Two more nameless Tomobikians, whose ordinary duty is interrupted by a ghostly procession of the Oni Princess (associated with Lum). Like the bums, these two later collect in the town meeting hall along the everyone else in the town to testify. It truly is the collection of the whole town’s consciousness in a single place.

Megane is a surprisingly non-dynamic character in the movie. He is of course important as the quintessential Lum-obsessed Tomobikian, but all of his roles in the movie are subservient to Mendou in some way. Yes, he directs the independent movie, but it is Mendou who masterminded the plot. Megane is more of the brute force compositor of the film, getting props together, splicing the footage, yelling orders, etc., but not really guiding it. Even when he tries to film Lum near the beginning, it is Mendou who authorizes it, and Mendou already observed Lum by satellite still earlier. His romance scene comes after Mendou’s, and is not only his own, but occurs along with those of Chibi and Kakugari. After being summoned by Mendou about the erased pictures of Lum, he tags along in his plans but does not add to them, straight through to his “So, it has begun” reaction to the war. In Mendou’s dream, he appears only to marry Mendou to his many wives. In short, whereas Mendou’s dynamic guides the plot, Megane emerges as merely a follower, whose extreme obsession makes him never really accept that Lum might not last. “I swore to the setting sun” (an odd choice) “that my love for her had to be eternal! SOMETHING has begun working against us. Something dark, enormous, and ominous!” When Lum really does disappear, he goes insane during the war. When she returns, she does not appear to have learned his lesson at the end of the movie. With the comment, “It was foolish to approve for even a second... mistakes must be corrected at once” he uses the same weapons from the war to attack Ataru.

It is interesting that Perm does not go through a “romance” scene like the other three stormtroopers do. Perm is shown in the TV series to be the most independent and least obsessed of the four (For example in volume 11, episode 1, “Thrilling Springtime Date”). Has Perm already learned his lesson about giving up his fixation for Lum, and therefore does not need to appear here? On the other hand, we do see him competing with Ataru in the eating contest here, hardly the sign of someone giving up the UY universe...

Take another look at the examples of the town interrupting Lum’s personality. One trend that is striking is in how many Ten is present, and the concern he takes for her plight. He also interrupts the diary scene, and is interrupted by the circus. Ten, an unrepentant alien who flaunts his differences from Earthpeople tends to bring out Lum’s alien characteristics, and is seen as a minor threat by the town. Of all the characters, he is the one who never seems to become integrated into Tomobiki - We see him in this film buffeted around by the town’s weather as he flies, still counseling Lum to drop Ataru on the grounds that they have completely incompatible personalities, and riding his flying scooter even while Lum has taken to walking. He isn’t given a role in the independent movie, he doesn’t appear among the memories that Lum plays with in the lake, and in the final credits, he intrudes upon what are otherwise all memories, showing that he still has not assimilated into Tomobiki. It is not a surprise as he is, after all, by far the youngest character.

Ran is an alien resident who has become more integrated into the town. Although she still talks to the birds, she seems unconcerned that she can understand them less well. She seems to be going about normal life, without plotting against Lum. She says “Darling isn’t really a bad person”. She gets a “romance” scene like the other characters, in fact the only one explicitly interrupted by Lum, as she zaps her through the fence. The idea that she might also be a “beautiful foreign particle” is brushed off. She appears with the other characters among the memories in the lake. In short, her alien status has become forgotten. Ten and Ran thus provide another pair illustrating the Lum-Tomobiki dynamic.

Sakura’s role is not too well established. Her typical roles as Shinto priestess (the spirits she leads to the tree), huge eater (the food she prepares for them), counselor (she is also the only person that Lum confides her troubles to in the movie, a role carried over from the TV series), and beautiful woman (Mendou’s dream), each get one appearance. Besides the image of preserved specimens in her office (perhaps suggesting preserved memories), only in the final scene does she address dreams of Tomobiki, by intoning the final lines.

Prototypes For “Lum the Forever”

How much did Lum the Forever depart from previous Urusei Yatsura? I have not seen the late seasons of the TV series in which Yamazaki served as chief director, so I can not answer completely, but many of the themes here seem like the end products of its evolution. Consider Lum’s position as a “beautiful foreign particle” that somehow conjures up the Urusei Yatsura world. In Takahashi’s original work, it is clear that Ataru was intended to be the main character of the series, and the variety of strange and ridiculous mishaps that befell him (of which Lum’s appearance was only the first in a series) were a result of his boundlessly bad luck. The movement of Lum to center stage took place over time. The TV series incorporated her into the main cast in the first episode. “Beautiful Dreamer” suggested that the Urusei Yatsura world was hers by making the whole movie turn out to be Lum’s dream. “Remember My Love” took this farther by explicitly removing Lum from the series and showing the results. Not only does her absence signal the departure of the other aliens as well, but the remaining cast members sink into the routine of a more realistic and uneventful world, “almost as though a great festival had finally come to an end.” Shinobu loses her physical strength once Lum is gone. Time begins to pass without them really noticing it. There are no scenes of crazy comedy. In short, the world of Urusei Yatsura comes to an end as soon as Lum leaves it.

Thus, although “Remember My Love” is often dismissed as being essentially adherent to the original formula of slapstick comedy with a larger degree of romance, in fact there are a number of prototypes for the themes of UY4 within it. As in movie 4, Lum is removed from the town and Ataru by a force obsessed with her which is abstract yet has acquired a mind of its own. As in movie 4, this force grows stronger with time so that their eventual parting is inevitable - Indeed, the curse is pictured as an hourglass, reflecting the clock/hourglass image from the opening credits. As in movie 4, the denizens of Tomobiki are interrupted by the appearance of memories and dreams - Mendou’s attempt to watch Lum through binoculars is blocked by the appearance of his long-dead octopus, The Stormtroopers see younger versions of themselves while searching for Lum, and Ryunosuke sees herself as though raised as a girl. As in movie 4, The motif of a circus/carnival is a playground for these memories, and associated with the conscious force. As in movie 4, Lum is not explicitly removed at first but her connection to the town is weakened (Ataru, her main connection to the town, is turned into a hippopotamus), though this part of the movie is MUCH more elaborate in movie 4. As in movie 4, Lum is lured back to the “scene of the crime”, where the force is located and from there into a fantasy world created by the force, and she first really meets its physical manifestation. As in movie 4, the people of Tomobiki realize the crisis and are able to track down its origins, but are not able to solve it. As in movie 4, Lum’s absence causes the end of all things associated with Lum - the other aliens, the zany comedy, Shinobu’s strength, and static time. The characters are forced to grow up and abandon their memories of Lum. (Shinobu’s narration of this section and presence at the burning of the memorabilia proves that she does have some sympathy for Lum). As in movie 4, it is only after they give up, while Ataru concentrates on her, that she finally returns.

However, there are key thematic differences between the films. The force that operates to remove Lum in movie 3 is of a very different origin, and has nothing to do with the town of Tomobiki. Instead, it is linked to Lum herself - stemming from a misunderstanding involving her birth, and managed by the alien community that she brought to UY. The boy who commands it also has much more in common with both Lum and the usual Urusei Yatsura universe than with Tomobiki, and even turns out to be her descendant. He is also an alien, can fly, has special powers, pictures himself as a magician, is a klutz, has a shapeshifting assistant, and passes between worlds through a hall of mirrors. He is obsessed with Lum based on having seen her as a happy child, and sees Ataru, hence Tomobiki as the cause of her unhappiness, which Lum claims is just because she has grown up. “People are supposed to fall in love and lead their lives.” In short, the object was not so much to separate Lum from the town, but to separate the town from Lum. Instead of Lum being a “beautiful foreign particle” irritating Tomobiki, it is the cruel and pragmatic Tomobiki corrupting her free and joyful alien life: “With this, I’m gonna give her back the smile she used to have before she met Ataru Moroboshi.” Seeing the story this way, it is no surprise that the ending simply sets back the clock to when the story began. To underscore the return to the status quo, we are hit with possibly the most concentrated bit of Urusei Yatsura madness in history, featuring virtually every cliché of the series. The portion in which the characters were forced to abandon Lum and grow up is thus buried in an alternate universe. And why not? This was made while the TV series was still in full swing, and the need to give it up seemed distant. But it provided an ominous preview for the events of movie 4, made as the series ended. Lum returns at the end, but into the new town, still destroyed in the war. In contrast to movie 3, in which “what just happened should never have happened in the first place,” we learn that the passing days will eventually take them to a different place.

“After You’ve Gone”, the most famous of Yamazaki’s TV episodes provides an even earlier stage of the dynamic, though stripped almost entirely to the Ataru-Lum relationship. Lum departs Tomobiki, and Ataru, unbelieving at first but eventually convinced, descends into a nightmarish Tomobiki nighttown. Also as in movie 3, Lum is watching him the entire time, but he does not know it. Mendou’s crazed searches and some unusually serious scenes with Cherry and Shinobu are other similarities.


“Lum the Forever” is about the relation between Lum and the town of Tomobiki.

To explore this theme, Yamazaki uses the motif of interrupted dreams and memories, whether of Lum, or of Tomobiki, and interplay of the two characters in the Mendou/Tarouzakura/Independent Movie triad. To structure how the relationship changes in time, with Lum gradually disappearing into Tomobiki, only to briefly emerge at the end before her inevitable disappearance, he follows prototypes, both from his previous Urusei Yatsura productions, and the plot of the independent movie within “Lum the Forever”. The Lum-Tomobiki dynamic itself has several interpretations, which I promised to return to. Most of the evidence is found within the discussions above, but here is a summary of each:

  1. This, the literal interpretation of the Lum/Tomobiki dynamic is readily visible on watching the movie. My only addition was interpreting the Oni Princess as a literal embodiment of Lumlike characteristics and responsible for some of her interruptions.
  2. This is the “growing up” dynamic in which the struggle between the happy, unchanging world represented by Lum and going on with ordinary life that takes place within the heads of the characters. As time goes by, the people of Tomobiki (e.g. Mendou and Megane) begin to worry about the eventual parting with Lum and desperately try to preserve lasting memories of her. Nevertheless, over time they begin to forget her, and fall into new routines, new loves, new interests, that no longer involve her or the Urusei Yatsura community. But these new lives never completely unfold - the characters are always tantalizingly reminded of the past, and become obsessed with somehow reclaiming the dream-world of their old association with Lum. Ultimately, they destroy their lives (the war) in a screaming attempt to thwart fate. After finally giving up their cause as lost, they succeed in bringing back the past, but only very briefly can they relive it - their connection with Lum must again be abandoned, for it can not be an everlasting stage in their lives.
  3. This interprets the Lum/Tomobiki dynamic as being between the UY insane comedy paradigm and the more serious style that began to take it over. This interpretation is hard to firmly establish because the tendency in making the movie would be to throw in some comedy wherever possible in order to keep old fans relatively happy. Megane’s inadvertently externalized monologue on the train, going counter to the feel of the larger sequence, and all the strange people in the Tomobiki crowds are good examples. However, I believe there is enough evidence to justify this interpretation in the number of times a switch to wackiness is coupled to a Lum interruption, and the way the movie generally moves towards a more nightmarish seriousness, as well as the prototypical end of mirth with Lum’s departure in movie 3. The type of endlessly repeatable slapstick - Lum zapping Ataru, Ataru running from Lum, Megane attacking Ataru - must die out with the rest of the Urusei Yatsura universe.
  4. The Ataru-Lum relationship might properly be considered a subset of #2, which included analyses of how the other characters reacted to her. I considered it separately in analogy with the prototypical Yamazaki works. “After You’ve Gone” was about Ataru losing Lum. “Remember my Love” was again essentially about this, but developed ideas about Tomobiki and a conscious force removing Lum. Finally, in “Lum the Forever”, the conception of Tomobiki and the meaning of the dynamic expanded many-fold, so that the relationship between Ataru and Lum was limited to a small piece of the puzzle, showing up mainly the role Ataru plays first in preventing memories of Lum to be recorded (see the section on interruptions), then in trying to reclaim it (the jogging scene), and the key scene within Mendou’s dream. In considering the movie’s tone of finality, it should be noted that this is the only movie in which Ataru actually ends the movie running towards Lum instead of away, but that the movie ends just before he reaches her.
  5. The final interpretation takes the dynamic to the plane of the director and audience, who, like the characters in the movie, must go on after Urusei Yatsura ends. Yamazaki, in an interview with Animerica, describes the object of the movie as this: “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.” This is presumably true for Yamazaki as well, who was ending his long, grueling work on Urusei Yatsura. The independent movie as the main method of capturing memories of Lum and the flickering out of the screen at the end of the movie are the most direct references within the movie itself. In the closing credits, which may parallel the ghostly recreation of the parade scene in the independent movie, Urusei Yatsura is finally reduced to memories alone, in the form of a series of postcards of the TV series and movies, culminating in the final scenes of Movie Four that we have just seen. Ten alone exists outside the postcards and remains a remnant of the old Urusei Yatsura world that has finally come to an end.


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