A most blessed Easter to my regular readers and followers! Once again we commemorate the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his triumph over death. Through him, we all have a chance at salvation and eternal happiness, and it is my hope that we can one day achieve that.
That being said, this week’s Anime Review will take a look at what is purportedly a movie that was designed to challenge the concept of the virtue of Christian faith – which, as the Vatican Council of 1870 describes, is the assent of the intellect to belief in God as unquestionably true (Decrees Of The Vatican Council, Chapter 3 – On Faith). It is also one of the most cryptic anime films to have ever graced both existence and my own eyes, and dare I say it that the level at which this film has managed to boggle my mind far exceeds those of my favorite film, End of Evangelion – and that is saying something considering how the film made me react. Such is the case of Mamoru Oshii’s 1985 film, Angel’s Egg.
I’ve got nothing, absolutely nothing to say about the contents produced by this film. It is one of the most visually terrifying films I have seen in recent history, if not the most confusing. What do you expect me to say about a film named Angel’s Egg? Does that even sound like a blockbuster title? I watched this film sometime during the middle of Lent and it was 71 minutes of asking myself “What have I got myself into?” and “What kind of drugs were used during the making of this film?”. The funny part is, I was actually recommended of this film by someone on Twitter, a challenge which I accepted without having looked at the plot. Due to work and the antics of life, it would be over a month before I could finally feast my eyes on this film on an early Sunday morning at the same couch I used to watch End of Evangelion.
Directed by Mamoru Oshii and Yoshitaka Amano, of Ghost In The Shell and Speed Racer fame respectively, the film is particularly significant because it was done during a time when said director lost his faith in Evangelical Christianity. What started off as a movie idea turned into unquestionably the darkest anime visuals ever known to man. With the help of Studio DEEN, the folks who made classics like Urusei Yatsura (a series Oshii was influential on), Ranma 1/2, as well as recent series like Fate/stay night and Log Horizon (a.k.a Sword Art Online: The Ripoff), the film was released a week before Christmas 1985 and was so poorly received, that critics were left confused and nothing salvageable could be traced back by them at film’s end. Mamoru Oshii is on record saying that his experience with this film would keep him from producing another masterpiece until 10 years later. Truth be told, if I were one of those critics I’d probably can’t blame them. But what exactly is this movie about whose content is so edgy to the point it led to this predicament?
There isn’t any. Moving on
Our story begins in a dark world where our main character is a young girl with freakishly long white hair, who roams the world alone with a large egg that she carries around protectively. During one of her journeys, she stumbles upon the ruins of a Victorian-era town, largely deserted as she searches for food and a place to stay. Eventually, she comes across a boy who recovers her egg, and calmly tells her to be more careful of what she holds dear, questioning further why she clings fast to it despite not knowing what it contains. Despite some initial hesitation at the boy’s appearance, the two eventually warm up to each other and accompany themselves across the desolate world. (I’m just going to call the girl Sue and the boy Joe from this point on)
While hiding from a group of ghostly fishermen aimlessly hunting for imaginary whales, Joe and Sue flee them and arrive at the latter’s home: a large cave packed with hundreds of thousands of reserved bottles of water. They come across a large mural which depicts a tree, which Joe begins to reminiscence about as having seen it before. Still pressing Sue about the egg she holds, which she refuses to answer, they continue to explore her place as he recounts an apocalyptic version of Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6-8) where the dove Noah sent never returned, and the conditions aboard the ark became desolate and anarchic. To his surprise, Sue shows him the location of the alleged dove; or, at least its skeletal remains, now imbued within a stone. While Sue rejoices at the sight of this, and confirms her resolution that there’s something resting within the egg, Joe’s skepticism still remains, which transfers to later that night.
As Sue drifts off to sleep, she continues to imagine what might be in store within the egg, but Joe rebuffs her every claim; where she believes there’s sound within the egg, or the flapping of wings he dismisses as her breath or the passage of the wind. Once she lies dormant, Joe takes the egg from her and cracks it open to her, leaving nothing but an empty shell behind – thus confirming his premonitions. Sue doesn’t take this well, and when she wakes up, is despaired at the empty fruits of her labor, and drowns herself. Her sudden death leaves multiple eggs afloat, and earns her a place as a statue upon a giant celestial orb; the same orb which Joe observed at the beginning of the film, and once more gazes upon as if to say, “Whatever lol”.
WHAT I LIKED
- To quote Antonio Salieri from 1984’s Amadeus, regarding the film’s visuals: “It was terrifying and wonderful to watch”. This film made great use of the art to convey its story, and did it well. The ruined town, the desolate landscape of the world imbued by Angel’s Egg, the giant omnipotent sphere and the monochrome backgrounds was all the film needed to convey the atmosphere, moral, and main idea behind the show.
- Lack of characters made the film very easy to have a central focus on; namely, Joe and Sue. As a result, the story becomes somewhat straightforward if not for the extremely obscured theme. Very few lines of dialogue are shared between them as well. I counted a total of 33 lines throughout the whole movie, and as a matter of fact it would be 25 minutes into the film before we get someone talking!
- If there’s another thing that deserves praise in this film it’s the atmosphere. Creepy, intimidating, and altogether fittingly incorporated to its music, visuals and underlying themes. Not a single moment passed by where anything was out of place; like the pieces of a completed puzzle, the final product was consistent and firm-grounded.
WHAT I DISLIKED
- That being said, the film is not intended for the simple-minded. For those who are expecting a plot, riveting action, or something that keeps you away from using even 1% of your brain power, stay far away as you can from this film because it will not be kind to your senses. I was left utterly blindsided as to what the movie was meant to convey, and all the more at the “why” of certain things, particularly the whale-chasing scene being significant to the story’s premise. I had to watch the movie twice, the second time with supplemental online commentary, to figure out what the heck was even going on; hence why I gave this film the nickname of WTH Is This: The Movie.
- Likewise, do not attempt to play the film’s soundtrack on a nice sunny day; nor should you attempt to play it before you go to bed, because I guarantee you it will make you feel depressed. It’s haunting, melancholic, and downright dark. This is the music I’d expect to hear in my nightmares let alone in a desolate world where you’re practically the last survivor in a vast world of nothing.
BONUS STAGE: THE MEANING OF ANGEL’S EGG
Note: In normal Anime Reviews I would take this part to write about things like the film’s characters and the music. However, because this film lacks so much in this regard, and the movie absolutely pwned my mind I feel obligated to completely scrap this section and replace it with this bonus stage instead. This will be the only instance of an Anime Review where I do this, never again will you see this happen. Consider yourselves lucky, Joe/Sue/Yoshiro Kanno.
Much has been written by the millions of people who have seen Angel’s Egg over what this movie might be about. The lack of any coherent plot as well as the numerous mystical creatures have generated much discussion about what they could possibly mean to allegorize. As one would approach the Bible with the help of a trained Catholic scholar, one would normally try to seek out the meaning from the best guy; in this case, Mamoru Oshii himself. Sounds straightforward enough, until you realize that the director himself has absolutely no idea what the film is about. Instead, he lets the viewer make up what they think of the film.
Perhaps the most popular interpretation of this film concerns a subject which perfidious atheists often try to mock: Christian belief. To these people, Sue represents someone with the Christian faith (which is represented as the egg), while Joe is the skeptic; the whole film revolves around a deconstruction of Christian faith, as seen with Joe constantly pegging Sue about what the egg means to her. It seems to make sense given the big reference to Noah’s Ark midway to the film, the giant spherical object at the film being God and all, and Oshii’s own fallout with Evangelical Christianity. Some external blogs which convey this include:
- Angel’s Egg Analysis: Faith and the Passage of Time | Anime Amino (aminoapps.com)
- Nihon Cine Art: The Angel’s Egg Symbolism (eigageijutsu.blogspot.com)
- Angel’s Egg: We all have an egg to carry | Ha Neul Seom (wordpress.com)
What do I think is the film about? Not faith, as you’d expect; I think this film is representative about someone and their personal hell. Allow me to elaborate further.
- The setting of the story is a world where life is practically non-existent outside of the island, where the Sun never seems to shine upon it. Not to mention, the farmlands are desolate, the town is abandoned and in ruins, and civilization it seems has come to a full stop; there are no women save for Sue throughout the film, so it leaves me to wonder how the humanity here is able to keep up with declining birth rates. It’s fitting for a personal hell; because when you’re stuck in one, the view of the world is quite dim and nothing seems salvageable out of it; think back to Stan Marsh from the South Park episode “You’re Getting Old”, everybody and their misery in Neon Genesis Evangelion, or Yamato Ishida and Sora Takenouchi’s Dark Cave plight in Digimon Adventure.
- Speaking of the dwindling civilization, one of the most famous sequences in the film involve the humans chucking harpoons at invisible whales; Sue especially notes that this is done in spite of the fact that there are no more fish to be found around the vicinity. Some construe this to be a message of the dangers of blind faith; I digress. Someone in their own personal hell will often act irrationally out of a sense of desperation, driven by a taunting desire to achieve something that’s largely beyond their reach or control; and this sequence is no stranger to such.
- Joe and Sue, on the other hand, are also another unlucky bunch travelling across their own troubles; Sue on her quest to simply survive and cling to her egg, symbolizing the tiniest bit of consolation that keeps her going, and Joe who is trying to find his purpose in the world. What is characteristic of both folks is that neither of them show any emotion; it’s like they’ve had the life sucked out of them because of their dark experiences. (Or maybe they’re just stoned out of their minds. Either way, they’re practically lifeless) While Sue treats her life somewhat idyllically, Joe tries to get her to embrace this hellish reality, by constantly questioning and accompanying her throughout the journey. By destroying the egg Sue latches to, he effectively destroys the last speck of hope holding her together in this world. Unable to cope with this reality, this leads her to seek out a terrible end to her life, though by that she frees herself from her own hell.
- Now, for the large spherical element which Joe looks up at in the beginning and end of the film, to me, is another world; more figuratively, a way out of one’s personal hell. Whereas Sue managed to escape from that and found a place in that dimension, Joe can only long to live among that, and it’s for that reason why he keeps looking up at that place, somewhat in awe; he ponders to himself what it would be like to finally get out of this world and to some ethereal paradise, but only in his dreams can he aspire that.
Living in a personal hell can take a serious toll on one in various ways; affecting one’s behavior, distorting their priorities and abilities, dulling their will to live, and most importantly blackening their view of the world around them, to the point that all they can think about is a way out of this impediment. I know all this to well; I lived through one for about three years, starting with my junior year of high school, and ending just after Holy Week in my senior year. Angel’s Egg is the cinematic representation of this trope, best represented through the characters and their responses to everything in their world. (And no, I’m not going to answer any questions regarding my experience as it’s a very sensitive topic)
Favorite scene: It’s hard to pick out a scene that I could genuinely enjoy amidst this terror, because quite frankly this is not my kind of film. However I found the retelling of Noah’s Ark with the bad ending did quell my interest just a little, and made me double-think as to what I was hearing.
Favorite quote: Well, I mean if there’s anything good coming from this film in terms of its lackluster dialogue, it’s this small gem of the very first line of spoken dialogue from the film:
Keep precious things inside you or you will lose them.Joe’s advice as he returns Sue’s egg to her
With so much specks of symbolism littered around Angel’s Egg‘s landscape, this little-known gem truly deserves a title as a mindbender. The fact that 36 years have passed since the film transpired, and no one can get a definitive consensus on what it’s all about adds to the mystique of the film, and might just be another to the list of unsolved mysteries. Mamoru Oshii definitely exceeded himself through this work, and it’s definitely one of those underrated classics that certainly, in my view, outlived whatever negative things the critics had for it. Do make sure to have a lot of time and energy on your hands if you’re going to settle for this flick because once you step into it, there’s no erasing the experience from your head.
Final note: To brighten things up, please enjoy a rendition of Andre Campra’s motet, Au Christ Triomphant to remind ourselves about the joy that is Christ’s Resurrection, by which all our past troubles can find consolation in.