Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lost in Time: Time Stranger

It's not really that often that I feel compelled to write about something for the sake of writing. I do enjoy the act, but ambition and time are usually major constraints, as well as that lethargic muck I've seemed to wallow in and can't scrape off my boots. But then something comes along, usually out of nowhere; something prodigious and inspiring, yet other times so infuriating that the only way to contain my hate is through prose. Not hate, this time.

It generally seems like the best things are found by accident--or, really, I'd just like to credit it that way, for it sounds much more grandiose than saying I lurk the internet in the wee hours, combing every crevice for hidden gold and lost animated treasure. The 3:00 a.m. vigil tells no lies. Ah, but the subject, Time Stranger, is sort of an accident in a way. The inevitability of discovering it is quite certain, but within a few days I received multiple suggestions and leads onto the film, which are oddly by the same director of some past entries, Kunihiko Yuyama, who's films Leda: The Fantastic Adventures of Yohko and Windaria have been quite praised on here. Somehow I missed Time Stranger in my extensive (obsessive) research. Destiny, perhaps? I knew my life had some meaning. My parents were wrong about me.

Noticeably from the few pictures of the female lead, Time Stranger sadly doesn't hold the same collaboration between director Yuyama and character designer Mutsumi Inomata from the aforementioned films--which isn't a bad thing! Character design and animation is still very solid, with designs by Hideyuki Motohashi, character designer for the Fushigi Yugi television series, as well as animation director for Sailor Moon R and S, among multiple Lupin III and Urusei Yatsura specials. Characters have that ostensibly vibrant and strong look of other great 80s anime at the time, yet it still manages to differentiate itself from the rest with the female protagonist, Remy Shimada. Remy is a strong female lead. Slightly tomboyish, yet very ladylike. The most impressive thing about Remy and her design is the strong display of sexual appeal, as well as the lack thereof. As the viewer, you never get the feeling of blatant aesthetics, of "fan-service", or even a hint of gratuity. Remy remains a modest character design; a real person, as you will, which is a lot of the appeal. As most 80s anime babes go, Remy sort of breaks the mold, especially for a relatively obscure film of the era.
*Note: Not hating on 80s anime babes. Obviously. I've admitted in past posts that I am a shallow wanker and adore all the animated ladies committed to celluloid.

Time Stranger isn't actually a stand alone movie, though. It's quite odd, as it is actually a sequel set 40 years in the future to the early 80s super robot series GoShogun. To my knowledge, the original GoShogun does not have a fan sub, or even raws available online. I may be wrong, but even doing a multi-region search I could not come up with any proof that GoShogun is available even in its native land, making it quite difficult to see unless some VHS tapes exist somewhere in the abyss; or, of course, if it is still broadcasted on television in Japan. Still, from what little information I can find, GoShogun starred Remy and most of her friends--or so it seems--that appear in the feature sequel. Knowledge of the previous show isn't necessary; the eponymous GoShogun--or any other robots and mecha--do not appear in the film. Action and mystery unfold across a surreal, Middle Eastern landscape. Dreams, flashbacks and present time create a unique narrative, that while at times confusing, always remains interesting, intriguing and exhilarating throughout.

Most of the plot of Time Stranger takes place inside of Remy's conscience, with little of the film dealing in the present time, or the 40 years after GoShogun. A hasty hover car accident at the beginning of the film lands Remy in the hospital, leaving her friends (and cast of GoShogun) waiting at a hotel for their integral reunion after many years. A prompt phone call is made and the group assembles, waiting anxiously at the hospital as Remy lies in critical condition. Remy lies unconscious as memories effuse, integrating with a haunted past and a phantasmic landscape that she finds herself stranded in. Remy finds her friends young again, stuck in this disoriented new world as well. A somber, child Remy frequently appears from the shadow, heeding an austere message of impending doom to the adult woman and her friends. Time is trickling away as a dour, cat-like beast prowls the shadows; the streets fill with faceless crowds that wear death under their cowls; messages are delivered, showing the methods of torture and death that shall be the fate of the group, all as an ancient city and a consecrated burial ground appear ever nearer with each passing day, eagerly awaiting the inevitable admittance of Remy and her friends.

Time Stranger really is an odd movie. For the decade, it certainly carries the style and attitude of what made 80s anime so enthralling: the art style, action, catchy music, science-fiction and attractive women. Time Stranger, though, is genuinely a strange movie. The entire film retains the surrealist image. Present time can certainly be discerned, as the male characters--oddly not Remy--have all considerably aged. Remy's "dream world" is never fully explained to the audience. Is this all a dream? Are these really flashbacks? This information can only be subjectively interpreted, and while some things are quite obviously flashbacks from a troubled childhood, much is left for the viewer to decide. Such intertwined worlds can cause confusion, resulting in a very mystifying, yet attractive and moving film. Time Stranger never tries to be artsy or convoluted; it's the story of a woman trapped in a dreamworld, coming to terms with her past and reiterating the value of friendship and loyalty. This is what good science-fiction anime is about.

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