This Week: Open Your Mind (Mezame No Hakobune)
A production by Mamoru Oshii, of Mamoru Oshii, and perhaps to Mamoru Oshii.
Physical art installation animation pieces are interesting to me. They present a wide variety of problems to overcome, such as line of sight as well as often trying to tie the work into a larger theme for the overall show it is a part of. But, it also gives a vast toolset to explore, creators being able to approach their work in new and refreshing ways.
Open Your Mind was a part of Expo 2005, the World’s Fair which Japan was most recently in charge of. The overarching message for that entire event was “Nature’s Wisdom,” so the various booths were themed around ecological co-existence, sustainability, that sort of thing. This was the exhibition “Satsuki and Mei’s House,” the physical recreation of that location from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro, was unveiled for the public. Noteworthy enough, Mamoru Oshii was an early collaborator with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata on an initial Studio Ghibli work called Anchor, but quit due to artistic differences. It is fitting then that this installation of his years later at the same show was as different from the Totoro house as possible.
Oshii’s theater show used an insane technical setup implementing ninety nine different monitors. Ninety six of them were fifty inch plasma displays operating under the floor, with the last three being a massive unit taking up 180* of the theater walls. Plus a complex mechanical goddess figure surrounded by eight silk screens and over a hundred dog headed general figures. In addition to a five meter acrylic screen shaped like an egg.
I feel so bad for the editor who had to figure out how to squash all this down into a single monitor format for the commemorative home video release.
So what is this giant operation about? Without any dialogue, it deals in an exploration of the origins of life through the lens of the five elements of godai philosophy (Fire, Wind, Water, etc), plus an additional one for consciousness. The three headed goddess “Pan” sends six generals to a planetary surface, each general representing one of the constituent elements. From there, we see the development of this ecological system in various stages each general comes to guide. That is a baseline description of events at best however. Much like Oshii’s own Angel’s Egg, a large number of interpretations are possible out of what he put together here. As a simple for instance, the planet may not be Earth, and perhaps this is mankind as a sort of god coming to terraform an off-world location.
On the visual front, this is almost all polygon models, barring some cuts to live action transition bits like the dog headed statues or the goddess machine. For the most part, I think those responsible for condensing the multi-directional approach of the theater show did the best they could.
The parts surrounding the Water and Sky generals segments are the most effective on this front. The Water exploration consists of flybys over an open ocean with reefs and seagulls, with the Sky zooming over and around cloudscapes and skyscrapers. Three extra smaller screens pop up during these parts, showing different angles and perspectives, leading to a great sense of immersion and speed if you get your peripheral vision situated right. They are simple to get lost in, and Kenji Kawai’s music guiding the soundtrack fits the exact kind of meditative approach one is accustomed to him being used for in his collaborations with Oshii from the Ghost in the Shell films or Patlabor 2.
But, several sections do not transition as well to the small screen, as one might expect. This is most prominent in the mosaic scenes. It is easy to see they intended to spray a different image on each of the separate installation monitors and have raw physical presence. Experienced at the exhibit, I am sure they were far more powerful than my meager home setup allows for. The more significant ones do use larger mosaic screens though, so they survive the jump better.
As I mentioned Angel’s Egg earlier, I think this is a production where it becomes useful to remember Mamoru Oshii has prodded with faith issues throughout life. He almost went to seminary school just to be immersed in religion more. A lot of themes in his animation career have come to deal with aspects of spiritual or philosophical matters. This is particularly true when presenting multiple alternative perspectives and counter arguments within a work. Open Your Mind, as an exploratory piece to observe unfold on screen, can be just as much about the natural environment and how it has shifted over the years as it can be about evolution, the intent of divine will, or genetic engineering. And being open to perspectives on nature, our planet, and all the rest is how dialogues come, ideas get hashed out, and we move forwards. Onwards and upwards.
The film is also about how Mamoru Oshii also really, really loves dogs.
That crackshot joke Haruko Haruhara made in FLCL years ago about Oshii probably thinking he is a dog himself still applies, perhaps here more than ever. We have dog centaurs, folks.
As the live show will by all odds never happen again, the only way to experience even a part of it all these years later now would be the home video version. I recommend the darkest possible room and the biggest screen you can get your hands on. It is a quirky little thing you may only watch once. But the visuals and music make for a contemplative environmental sandbox, it survived being boiled down to a single screen better than expected, and it has a nice message.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.