A red balloon floats over the city of Paradigm. Military Police Chief Dan Dastun sits within an old movie theater watching a film he has seemingly viewed on hundreds or thousands of prior occasions. A man and a gorgeous woman stand on a dock, the man’s face obscured by shadow. She moves, he guns her down, and as she lay dying, the man approaches her, kneels down, and speaks with her. She responds in a foreign language unknown, unrecognizable, and untranslatable to Dastun (French): ‘Vous-etes si gentil.’ She dies and the man is left alone. Dastun awakens at his desk and wonders if this sequence is from a film, or if it is ‘a lingering spectral image of something he’d seen long ago?’
Downtown, in a large gothic cathedral, hundreds of the city’s elite stand, singing hymns with a meaning they no longer understand after The Event of 40 years prior, and to a god they not know cerebrally or even emotionally. The effort is mere ritual and today seems to signify a connection to one’s lost past, and to occasionally demarcate those of high social status from those of low status. Meanwhile, a toy robot wanders about in the corridors beneath the city, eventually making its way into the sanctuary of the church through a basement access door. A young child attempts to touch it and the toy robot’s purpose becomes chillingly clear as it explodes and rends apart the bodies of 46 people who it kills immediately, as well as many others its blast injures.
When Dastun appears on the scene, his lieutenants have discovered that three old government officials, politicians, were amongst the crowd, and were probably the target of this terrorist attack. This means that 43 of those dead were merely innocent bystanders. As Dastun wanders off to collect his thoughts and begin investigations into this incident, the voice of our noir protagonist Roger Smith narrates and explains Dastun as best as he can: ‘Dan Dastun is a har-nosed cop. He’s completely devoted to the force and he has more pride in the Military Police than anything else. In a different sense, Paradigm City needs him as much as it needs me.’ A sentiment that has become apparent as Smith’s Megadeus is not really the tool most suited to tracking down terrorists who attack seemingly at random and through apparently harmless means (the toy robot).
Further investigation of the charred remains of the explosive device reveals that it is of unknown origin, probably foreign, as it contains a message in another language on its interior: ‘Fin’. But in Paradigm, it is common knowledge that nothing exists outside of the city, that the rest of the world is merely a desert wasteland left after some catastrophic environmental event that is potentially one and the same as The Event that wiped out the memories of the city’s denizens. Roger’s narration again appears: ‘More than likely, he [Dastun] is a man who has no interest in romance.’ But little does Roger know about Dastun’s dreams and the woman who haunts them.
When Roger appears at Dastun’s office, he is greeted by a departing Dastun who must make his way quickly to Alex Rosewater’s domain and an inquiry board to discuss the current terrorist attacks and what is being done to stop future attacks. Before leaving, Dastun asks Roger if he knows the meaning of the inscription ‘Fin’, but Roger is not even familiar with the language it comes from and can be no help toward this ‘end.’ At the board, Dastun explains that there are some ‘inexplicable elements’ in this case and that a foreigner might be involved. He is dismissed by the board who condescendingly explain that this is not a possibility as everyone knows there are no foreigners left on the planet, no people whatsoever who do not live within the domes. Angel is seen typing up the minutes of this board meeting, and when Dastun departs, Rosewater explains to his board members (and to Angel) that there are foreigners outside of the city and that finally releasing this news to the general public of Paradigm might be beneficial. How this is so, is not discussed, and Rosewater’s master plans are left obscured by the veil of his mind and his own discretion.
When Dastun returns to his office, he finds a supervisor there. the man tells Dastun to take a few weeks off as a paid vacation, and that he has been removed from the current investigation. The man quips that one day Dastun will learn ‘what Justice is really about.’ And Dastun responds, ‘Well sir. As far as I’m concerned, I understand it perfectly.’ And it has nothing to do with being a mere lap dog to Paradigm Corp. HQ. Dastun leaves and heads toward the Amadeus club wherein drinks and the piano of Instro lull him into a daytime revelry and visions of the woman from his dreams. Another red balloon ascends over the city, and an explosion takes place elsewhere in the city. Dastun awakens and runs toward the sounds. what he finds disturbs him immensely. Within the crowd, the woman from his visions stands across the street. He attempts to reach her, but loses her within the crowd as she turns tail and runs away.
Dastun, still on leave, decides to visit Roger at the mansion. He tells his old friend about the visions and dispels Roger’s preconceived notion that Dastun is a man without an inner romantic life. Dastun believes he is going crazy, that he might be delusional and didn’t see the woman in that crowd at all. Roger dismisses this possibility and decides to help out his friend. After visiting the Big Ear and roaming around the city for a few days, Roger meets the re-instated Dastun at an amusement park where, later that night, an old politician has planned a rally (and is thereby a potential target for the terrorist). Roger has found out that the woman in his dreams is one Sybil Rowan, a woman of foreign birth who lived in Paradigm more than 30 years ago. She starred in only one film entitled Winter Night Phantom and was heavily involved in politics. But the powers that be saw her pretty face and movie stardom as a potential stepping stone toward real political power on her part and thereby took her into custody, imprisoned her, and left her in jail to spend the remainder of her days. Rowan is now dead and the city has destroyed all prints of her one and only film appearance, but Dastun may have seen the film as a young man as the scene in his dream is purportedly the final scene of the picture. As for the modern Sybil, records show she had no children or nieces.
Just them, a giant Toy Robot Megadeus named Eumenides attacks the dome. Roger calls upon Big O and attempts to defeat the foreign Megadeus, but realizes quickly that its core is full of bombs. As such, he is restricted to merely restraining the machine from entering the park. Dastun saw a red balloon ascend into the sky before the attack, and has followed it to find a balloon truck nearby. The thing speeds off, but eventually Dastun tracks it down and finds the woman in his dream standing upon a dock as fireworks ascend into the night sky and snow descends to the earth. He walks in to the scene and finds that he is the own from his own recollections. And after a noir stand-off wherein the woman chides Dastun for a being a lap dog to Paradigm, and he responds that even dogs have their dignity, he asks who she is only to get a obfuscating, though poetic answer: ‘the one who can grant eternal sleep to an accursed past.’ As she pulls the bomb trigger mechanism, Dastun pulls his service pistol, and the latter is the faster to the draw. He takes the shot and approaches the wounded woman. Both reveal that this moment seemed destined, that they both knew it would occur. And she dies exclaiming ‘vous-etes si gentil’ just as in Dastun’s dreams.
The tale of the Winter Night Phantom is one that can be explicated through her designation as a foreigner and insufficient records of Rowan’s past, and through knowledge of Paradigm’s true ontological structure. Dastun’s memories could be reverberations through time of things that already happened over and over again. But this still doesn’t explain how the film and the reality of this moment intersect so poignantly. Unless the film is a fabrication or a staging in code of this moment. None of these explanations are ultimately satisfying intellectually or, especially, emotionally. And as such, it might be better for us as viewers and reviewers to give up the project entirely, to let the episode stand as an inexplicable piece of art, and to merely revel in the mystery of an enigma so tightly shrouded that (like Mulholland Drive) all our theories become like mere conjecture. And in the deep eternal sleep of nothingness, a fable to guide the formless toward emergence.
Cast in the Name of God,
(Catch my previous Bakshi film review here: Cool World)
After the catastrophe of Cool World’s release in 1992, Ralph Bakshi again had trouble developing any high-profile work and either could not secure another guarantee for the production of a theatrical feature or had no interest in directing one. Instead, sometime in 1993, Bakshi was given approval from Showtime to direct a feature-length feature for their Rebel Highway B-Picture film series. The bait must have reeled in Bakshi immediately as it would give him an opportunity to direct his first completely live-action film, finally develop a thrice-aborted attempt at making his long-adored screenplay about marital infidelity entitled If I Catch Her, I’ll Kill Her, and put himself amongst the names of other revered directors in the series including Joe Dante, William Friedkin, John Milius, and Robert Rodriguez.
Rebel Highway was a program meant to be in the spirit of Rebel Without A Cause with all of its attendant 50s atmosphere, music, cars, and culture. Each film in the series was released as a B-Movie remake of a 1950s B-Movie, but with better actors and good directors attached to each project. And the goal was to present a series of high quality in an effort to simultaneously produce an artful film series for Showtime and to cash in on the popularity of Rockabilly and 50s Retro cults that were thriving (as evidenced and enhanced culturally by the popularity of Twin Peaks just a few years prior).
Interestingly, Ralph Bakshi decided not to adapt a previously existing B-Movie, but instead took the name of one (1958’s reefer madness propaganda film The Cool and The Crazy) and affixed it to his own script without making any changes to it whatsoever. Although the final product is alright on its own merits, it seems threadbare and not excessively stylish or exceedingly well-made. By referencing and perhaps making light of the earlier film’s stance against marijuana use, Bakshi could have added an element to Cool and The Crazy that might made the film more referential to cinema history, and thereby ‘cooler’ to film buffs, or at least more in line with the postmodern approach to filmmaking, which was in vogue at the time due to directors like Tarantino and Rebel Highway’s own Robert Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the narrative of Bakshi’s film has no relation to that earlier film whatsoever and thereby breaks away at the structural integrity of the series of which it is a part.
The result was to undermine Rebel Highway’s operating principles, but to simultaneously be one with the spirit of rebellion against conventions and codes of operating that are its ethos, and the ethos of the American spirit from the 1950 through the late 1970s (when American culture began its downward phase). Cool and the Crazy, though not a great film as a film (though it does have a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is thereby ten times better than Bakshi’s previous film Cool World at 4%?), is an interesting work because of its aforementioned formal qualities. Through them it stands as one amongst a member of a set (Rebel Highway), which it achieves by being literally one amongst its production number. But the ethos of this set is anti-set at the core, and as such, a film must subvert the set’s normative rules to be one amongst it.
The resulting confusion is in the designation of a member of such a set, which seems impossible. The other members of this set are members because they follow the few rules of the set, but in doing so are not rebellious and anti-set at all (at the formal level. They might contain cultural critique or obscenity or taboo that make them culturally rebellious whilst being conformist in the context of the set). This makes them fundamentally not a member of the set in regards to their ethos and only through their nominal containment in the set. As for Bakshi’s film, it finds itself also nominally within the set, but by breaking the set’s normative schemata, finds itself closer to the ethos of the set. In this way, Cool and the Crazy seems to fit the set better than any other members.
However, this is only so if we give ethos primacy within the set. Then, and only then, does Bakshi’s film check off nominal inclusion and ethos inclusion whereas the others do not. There is the also the schemata of rules, and if the set rules are given primacy over ethos, then Bakshi’s film only fulfills the first function of nominality within the set. The key, and also the problem with all critical approaches to grouping (hold on, we’re almost there), is in bifurcating schemata and the urge to pick the one over the other. In this case, the only film that really and truly fits the Rebel Highway series is the one with nominality (literally being one amongst the films produced for this program), ethos (being rebellious to formal rules of the set), AND rule-boundedness (actually being a remake of a 1950s B-Movie).
Given all three criterion, no films are completely at home in the Rebel Highway series, which might be why the series only existed for one season and did not manage to catch the attention of the public at large. But for those who do like some of these films and want something of a Dogme 95 challenge for the modern age, there is one within the criterion listed above: If a filmmaker were to create another remake of a classic 1950s B-Movie and update its sensuality and violence to fit in with the modern epoch, it would be able to checkmark the rule-boundedness box. By claiming itself to be one amongst the Rebel Highway series it would be truly rebellious (and fit the show’s ethos) as well, as no more films beyond the original 10 can retroactively check the nominality box. This means that a film created today in this manner by someone with the guts to claim its inclusion into the set (despite the obviousness of its non-inclusion and the threat of legal action) would, like all of the films in the series, check two of the three inclusion boxes and would therefore be no less legitimate than any of those films originally made for Rebel Highway. Such a paradox is truly something to marvel.
The final question: ‘But man, did you LIKE the movie or not?!?!’
My answer: ‘Not really.’
[Next up: Spicy City]
About a week and a half ago, I took a few days out of my self-imposed home renovation isolation to make the drive into Charlotte from my home out in the sticks. The destination was an AMC theater where they regularly show Fathom Events films (including the immensely popular Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 and 2018 through which I have managed to view every Miyazaki film, and most Ghibli films in general). The goal this time was to check out Studio Shaft’s newest Sci-fi Anime Fireworks. And this despite the trailer looking a bit basic and overtly anime (as opposed to closer to the tradition of fine art embodied by those anime creators like Miyazaki who feel better calling their works animation, or Satoshi Kon whose works more comfortably fall within the canon of arthouse films).
I’m never one to merely trust my gut reaction to a film trailer even though on most occasions that gut reaction proves correct. And because I was starving for new anime films to check out, I also disregarded the 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and instead went with the commercial numbers. The film, released in 2017 in Japan, became the sixth highest grossing animated film of the year in the country, as well as the highest grossing of Shaft’s history. For some reason, I took this as proof positive that the film might have potential as an interesting product even though I’ve visited Japan, know Japanese kids, and should have put two and two together that, just as in America, box office numbers do not accurately reflect the quality of a picture. In fact, quite the opposite is often true, and the great arthouse work like Get Out or The Shape of Water that manages to make a ton of money in the process is an anomaly.
Add to this, that Studio Shaft is not, like Gainax or Trigger or Ghibli or Sunrise or Bones or Gonzo or Madhouse, a studio with which I am familiar and that is known for releasing the types of cerebrally challenging or artistic anime I like, and I had to have been bordering on totally mental to pop into AMC on this day. But I did.
Fireworks is the tale of a middle school boy named Norimichi and the classmate he has crush on named Nazuna. The two like each other but have been unable to connect throughout the semester, and now Nazuna’s mother has met the man she wishes to become her third husband and is whisking away her daughter to a different city, away from her classmates, and away from Norimichi before the two have ever been able to have so much as a conversation. Nazuna is an extremely attractive girl for her age and is thereby ignored by her fellow female classmates who are jealous of her appearance and of the attention she diverts from them in the eyes of doting male classmates. Her male classmates, who all seemingly have crushes on Nazuna, are at an awkward stage in life where they are going through puberty and have not developed the requisite self-confidence to approach a girl they like. As such, Nazuna has remained, throughout the year, socially isolated and with no real friends.
As Nazuna reflects on her misfortune and her desire to remain behind and somehow tell Norimichi of her love for him (god this film is sappy), she finds a small glass marble on the beach. The colors reflected within are vibrant and compelling, and she pockets the gem before heading back to school and reclining by the side of the swim team’s pool. There, Norimichi and his best friend Yusuke find Nazuna reclining by the poolside to be one hell of an erotic scene, and resolve themselves to speak to her. She challenges the two to a swimming competition and decides to herself to ask the one who wins to accompany her to the fireworks show later that night, all the while, hoping that Norimichi will be the winner. But as he turns at the other end of the pool during the race, he catches a glimpse of Nazuna in the water beside him, and dumbstruck by her beauty, he hits his leg on the edge of the pool and comes to a screeching halt, loses the race, and his friend Yusuke is instead, made the lucky kid.
Later that day, Norimichi, Yusuke, and their apparently mentally handicapped friends discuss whether it is better to watch fireworks from the side or from below, which should be a no brainer as the amount of debris falling on one’s head from below would make the experience less than enjoyable. They also discuss the shape of fireworks after exploding and somehow one contingent decides that they do not explode outwards in a generally spherical shape, but ‘flat’, as in a big circle in two dimensions… in a three dimensional world. What? This dumb question becomes central to the entire premise of the film, and paired with jokes about excrement (Yusuke apparently feeling the call of nature whenever he is aroused by Nazuna’s looks?!?!), and absolutely horrendous RWBY-like CGI whenever a character moves downrange in a frame, the film becomes an absolute shit show (pun very much intended).
After Yusuke decides to ditch Nazuna in deference to hanging out with his friends and trying to sneak out to see the fireworks from below, she is distraught and goes into a tantrum, which Norimichi witnesses. Nazuna runs off and accidentally drops her marble on the ground, which Norimichi picks up and throws at his friend Yusuke after viciously beating him up for his insensitivity in standing up Nazuna. But when the marble reaches a specific velocity, time begins to revert and the world is subtly shifted into one in which the swim raced has not yet begun and fireworks now appear flat. Norimichi takes this opportunity to make sure he wins the race, and as the world spins out of control, he continually uses this ploy with the marble to make things work out and ultimately escape from the mundane reality he and Nazuna were born into, and move toward a reality of magic where reality conforms to their desires.
The sci-fi subplot is never fully explained, but the nature of its construction is about pure desire fulfillment and only serves to further entrench NEETS and bed-ridden Otaku that they can remain the child-god Dionysus, Peter Pans, or Puer Aeternis and that one day their desires will come to fruition through some alchemical pseudo-scientific process. I’m all for fantasy, but as a maxim art has a moral duty to not lie to its consumers. Good fantasy and sci-fi is ennobling and talks of honor, of self-actualization, of political or social action, or of any other such path toward the growth of one’s self or one’s world. Not toward mere self-gratification. And director Akiyuki Shinbo could stand to learn a thing or two from the hack filmmaker Makoto Shinkai, who has yet to make a true masterpiece of animation, but is always poignantly pointing towards the need for individuals to better themselves and to realize that fantasy is dangerous if unqualified by realism.
(Check out my previous film review in this series here: All The Pretty Horses)
Before I jump back into reviewing straightforward Westerns, I’ve got a few genre-bending numbers in the week ahead, as well as this review of the 2013 arthouse Southern Gothic film Child of God. The film is an adaptation of American author Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel of the same name, and like most of his works (and especially his earliest works) it is especially gruesome, bloody, nihilistic, subversive, and artistically daring. Through this story of an asocial idiot who becomes increasingly isolated from those around him and falls into a life of crime and taboo behavior, McCarthy works to press the patience of facile Christians who must call even this disgusting being a ‘child of god’ and a ‘brother’ to be totally consistent with their doctrines, despite one’s visceral response to the contrary.
The result is to make intellectually honest Christians aware of a core hypocrisy within the character of themselves, and by extension, of a diametrical opposition between the nature of the world as it is and the sugarcoated fables of religion, which tell us that all people have moral worth and ought to be treated fairly. The gut reaction to the character of Lester Ballard is to either morally support the town’s lynch mob attempt to wipe him off of the face of the earth or to hope to hell the lawman Sheriff Fate (Tim Blake Nelson) catches the guy and is able to lock him away and throw away the key.
Helmed by actor, director, producer, writer James Franco, the film was his second work in the medium of film to recognize and champion the literary heritage of the United States. The first work entitled The Broken Tower, and released in 2011, was a biopic on the life of Hart Crane in which Franco played the man himself. In the years following Child of God, Franco has directed two adaptations of classic novels by William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying, The Sound and The Fury), and an adaptation of a little known novel entitled In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. Franco has also portrayed the great American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the 2010 experimental film Howl, centering around the book’s obscenity trial in 1957, and is currently directing and writing a film chronicling the early life the American gutter poet (and one my top five favorite authors of all time) Charles Bukowski simply entitled Bukowski. Franco’s work in cinema is certainly setting himself up as something of an obscene, gritty James Ivory. And a large Criterion Collection release ought to be somewhere on the horizon despite (and possibly because) most of his films in this vein being critically divisive.
Child of God is set in the 1950s in Sevier County, Tennessee. The elder Ballard’s wife leaves him behind with his teenage son to raise on his own. Her departure is mysterious and not explained in the film and ultimately drives the elder Ballard to taking his own life out of emotional pain and desperation. Lester remains at home, not knowing how to pay bills or make a living, as he is a bit touched (as my grandparents generation in Appalachia might’ve quipped) . Eventually, the bank forecloses on his family’s home and land. Ballard gets a job digging post holes until he can afford a rifle and then commences to threaten all those who attempt to buy or sell the home at gunpoint. He grows increasingly mad and eventually loses his home.
Over the course of the film, we watch Ballard roam about the woods and countryside as if in some arthouse nature documentary chronicling the exploits of an incensed God-man, now unhinged and capable of extreme violence at any moment. He happens upon a woman in the woods who has been raped and left behind by someone else. At least, this is seemingly what has happened. The woman makes fun of Ballard, and in response, he steals the last tatters of her clothing and lopes off into the woods, leaving her naked and exposed to the elements as punishment for her rude behavior. When she later turns up at the police department, she claims that Ballard raped her (and is obviously thereby protecting the real criminal). Ballard is taken into custody by Sheriff Fate, and as the fates would have it, after an extensive stay in the jailhouse, Ballard is freed after Fate figures out that the woman lied.
Ballard moves through the world like an animal with no concern about morality or law as these are social forces only and are not present in the state of nature. This brute man finds that he is attracted to women and has an innate need to procreate after stumbling upon a couple copulating in their car on a dirt road late at night. As such, when he runs across a suicided couple within their car on the same road a few weeks later, he takes advantage of the young woman’s corpse inside, and even later returns to take her photograph and some money from the young deceased man’s wallet inside, before also hauling off the corpse of the girl to store and bone in the remote hunting cabin he occupies out in the forest.
The grotesque horror of this man’s very existence and the fact that none of his evil is perpetrated for the sake of evil, but by the ignorance inherent within so-called innocents (in truth, persons outside of socialization and thereby more natural men and women than those around them), gives viewers an attempt to stare directly into the abyss, if willing to do so. The world stripped of the social impulse, the world of true libertarianism, both devoid of religion and of the common human experience: a husk of life left without morality as either a social or a metaphysical impulse, which reveals why either one or both of these forces (religion and social solidarity) are necessary for society to function, lest we become brutes like Ballard. The Ayn Randian pursuit of individualism for its own sake is important to the development of worthwhile human beings and personas, but without being balanced by social conventions life is not worth living at all.
The proper response to narratives of idiots, to serial killers, or to soldiers fighting in aimless wars is to recognize the abyss of nihilism and the lack of meaning and morality beneath all of the social world we have built as a species. And to then champion the structures in place and to work constantly to make them safer, stronger, more inclusive, and less subject to manipulation by psychotic businessman and politicians. Oh, and to realize that inclusivity cannot and must not preclude locking up those types, as well as the aforementioned like Ballard, who are irredeemable, and though not deserving of it (deserving being a metaphysical concept that has no real place in a good social system), must nevertheless be separated from civil society. Permanently.
By Act 09 of The Big O, all major players in the production development of the show have finally made their appearance. From the director Kazuyoshi Katayama, to the concept designer Keiichi Sato, the head series writer Chiaki J. Konaka, the composer Toshihiko Sahashi, and two of the three episode directors Keiichi Hasegawa and Masanao Akaboshi. Act 09 was written by the third of this latter group, writer named Shin Yoshida (who would also later contribute to the series as a writer on Act 12).
Unlike Hasegawa and Akaboshi, Yoshida had no prior relation as a screenwriter with Chiaki J. Konaka and was instead seemingly hired on by Studio Sunrise just because they needed someone to quickly shape a few episodes into proper form before Katayama began directing his animation team to make the episode. Far from being a tried and tested writer for animation, The Big O was only Yoshida’s second attempt at writing for the medium after penning four episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters in 2000. However, his ability to pen a script for widely different types of productions whilst making the product fit in with the larger property’s aesthetic and philosophical preoccupations gave him many future opportunities to work on series such as Karas, Speed Grapher (as head writer), and Witch Hunter Robin, as well as continued work on numerous incarnations of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise.
As for Act 09, it opens onto a maximum security prison wherein alarms are ringing out and guards are scrambling to and fro in something of a panic. A large yellow Megadeus, called the Victory Deluxe, emerges from the ground in the courtyard. Piloted by two thugs dressed and painted oddly as mimes, the men spring an unshaven Beck from his cell and head off into the night.
The following morning, Roger and Dorothy are riding along in Paradigm’s ‘countryside’ (an artificial paradise akin to the world surrounding 2019’s Los Angeles in the non-canon, but original release, ending of Blade Runner), heading toward the mansion of one Mr. Wise. The sounds of a melodic, almost somnambulant saxophone ring out as Roger’s interior monologue muses and reflects on the nature of the city of Amnesia, ‘a town of forgetfulness,’ wherein all people lost their memories forty years ago. But human beings are adaptable and after they figured out how to operate basic machinery and restore electricity to the city, something of civilization remained. ‘The only ones who regret the loss of these memories are the city’s elderly.’ Wise one amongst them.
A criminal group have kidnapped Wise’s 40 year old son Francis and are demanding a $2 million ransom. When the criminals call, Roger answers the phone and tells the man on the other end of the line (who just so happens to be Beck) that the Wise family doesn’t have $2 million. Beck hangs up, annoyed at the presence of a Negotiator in the mix, and Mr. Wise, not understanding the process of haggling necessary to the retrieval of his son in such a case, becomes incensed at Roger for not just offering to pay the men what they desire.
After leaving Mr. Wise’s home, who has temporarily fired Roger, Dorothy and he return home wherein Dorothy asks Roger to paint her on one of his canvases. The result is a distorted image of the girl, akin to a Picasso rendition minus the cubist framings. This intimate encounter is cut short when Dan Dastun pays a visit and alerts Roger to Beck’s jailbreak. Roger’s true identity as Dominus of Big O is the only one who should know about Beck, and as such Roger responds with confusion at first regarding just who Beck is. That is, until Dastun explains further. This encounter tells us a few things, other than revealing the sometimes intricate film noir complexity of the narrative of the show. It tells us that Dastun at least suspects that Roger is the Dominus of Big O. Roger’s response tells us that he knows Dastun suspects him and that he is being very careful not to play into his hand in case Dastun’s motives for subtly probing into Roger’s alter ego are less than altruistic.
Later that day, Mr. Wise recalls Roger Smith reluctantly as he still needs a negotiator. Roger explains the nature of haggling, how it can save him money, and how it can also make the hostage appear ultimately of little worth to the kidnappers who might otherwise go back on their promises to return the man after receiving money in the hopes of taking Wise for all he’s worth. When Beck calls once again, he recognizes the voice of Roger and decides to up the ante to a $3 million ransom and to make it known that he will take the hostage’s life if Roger does not appear, with the money, at the designated time and place.
That night, when Roger and Dorothy head out to rendezvous with Beck, they find the safe house empty except for a tied up Francis inside. Outside, Dastun’s forces appear and tell Roger that the shtick it up. He has been framed! After making a daring escape and then camouflaging The Griffon sedan to evade police, Roger and Dorothy drive off to track down Beck and his goons. Along the way, Dorothy reveals that Francis does not appear anything like Mr. Wise and is probably not his son, which only leads to more questions than it answers. The two decide that Wise’s home would be the best first place to look for answers and when they arrive, the old man reveals that he met his late wife Mary only moments after The Event. They were standing within the parlor of the great mansion he currently inhabits, neither one of which retained anything of their past memories or knowledge of their identities. But there and then, they fell deeply in love, and eight months later a child was born unto them. Wise, who may have previously been nothing more than a housekeeper, was now a rich man rearing another unknown man’s child.
Beck found this out and has been threatening to disclose this information to the public. Wise folded immediately and gave in to all of Beck’s demands for money and industrial metal and machine parts. which he had delivered to an abandoned stockyard that Beck is currently using as a hideout. Wise wished to prevent his son from receiving public ridicule if the truth of his background were revealed. As Roger and Dorothy depart the mansion just as quickly as they arrived, to track down Beck, Dorothy asks Roger a question: ‘So, wise fell in love out of loneliness?’ Roger finds the question too difficult and emotionally charged to answer, which prompts Dorothy to retain her second question for a later time. Not merely an android, Dorothy has developed a strong inner emotional life. One that makes the boundary between human and robot every day less substantial for Roger.
When they arrive at Beck’s warehouse, the criminal mastermind is prepared. A giant hook descends from the ceiling above to crush and take away Roger’s black sedan, nearly killing him in the process as well. A giant magnet appears, which attracts Dorothy’s metallic frame and renders her immobile. Beck inserts a disk into her hairband CD insert, which turns her into a machine hellbent on attacking Roger. She approaches him, and the dual function of the program becomes apparent as it renders Dorothy’s inhibitions mute. Starry eyed, she embraces Roger and tells him that she loves him, all while squeezing his body in a vice-grip that nearly breaks him in half. Miraculously, her own rational circuits are enough to override the program and by sheer force of will Dorothy stops herself, but malfunctions in the process and loses consciousness.
His first and second lines of attack thwarted, Beck now calls upon his trump card: the Victory Deluxe Megadeus! Unfortunately for him, the materials out of which it is constructed are less than ideal and it has a much lower power than a classic pre-Event Megadeus like Big O. As such, when Victory Deluxe emerges from the ground, it gets caught halfway up and has to wrench itself out. When Big O emerges, it busts straight out of the ground and begins to destroy Victory Deluxe with no problem as its yellow antagonist’s laser attacks merely bounce off of Big O’s superior metallic shell. With one piston punch, Big O decapitates Beck’s Megadeus and then proceeds to drop it outside Dastun’s office only moments before Mr. Wise appears to explain the entire incident and thereby give Roger an alibi for the kidnapping of Francis.
That night, as Norman repairs Dorothy, he asks Roger if he would like the replace her memory circuits on the off chance that such an attack occurs once again, as she is now more susceptible to being invaded by alien programs like Beck’s than ever before. Roger tells him to leave her memory as it is because she had been wanting to ask Roger something, and the removal of her memory would prevent her from remembering the question if she ever mustered up the courage. And the following morning, Dorothy does just that and asks the question she has been reflecting on since Mr. Wise’s predicament first came to light: ‘If neither of us had memories, and we both met, would you and I fall in love?’
Cast in the Name of God,
Last year, and into the beginning of this year, I reviewed every single feature film ever directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Find the beginning of that series here) as well as a number of documentaries on the man’s life and work. I developed an intense interest in this artist whose personal creative inspirations come primarily from kitsch filmmaking and Criterion classics, like my own. Who is color blind like myself, but manages to use color in novel, interesting, and thematic ways in his films. A man prone to oscillation between self-deprecation and grandiose statements about his own creative genius.
Towards the end of this period, I found out that he was in the beginning stages of launching a new streaming platform for films of a rare nature. Films that are hard to find, but legendary, films that express something poignant about the psychical chaos hidden deep within the American psyche. Southern Gothics, American Neo-realism, Independent films, Exploitation cinema, Hellfire and Brimstone pieces and Godsploitation, and works of undefinable genre. The unearthing of these works, which he has collected the rights to and fought to restore and preserve were a revelation to me. As such, I spent a month reviewing a number of these prospective titles.
Shanty Tramp and Hot Thrills and Warm Chills. Night Tide and The Exiles. If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell. And now, I’m excited to announce, that as of today, byNWR, Refn’s new free streaming film archive, interview and essay compendium has made its Beta debut. I suggest you go check it out and spend a few weeks digging deep into the core of what it means to be American through these tales of crime, of passion, of the exuberance of life lived authentically as an engagement into the existential quest of finding what it is that makes you who you are.
In a time when political life is a shit show and the news serves only to provoke anxiety, fear, and disillusionment, a retreat into the past might be just what is called for. Because without that perspective, our art is barren. In the words of Devo: ‘We need art to again be an affirmation of life and values in the face of the corporate boot coming down and kicking you in the head.” byNWR is just one new step that could lead you and I toward that direction, and thereby toward a much-needed revivification of a culture that has been forced to repeat itself over and over, producing nothing new of note or import, since the late 1970s.
Now is the time. Go forward bravely and fight to carve life into art before the alabaster dwindles to nothing!
A Manifesto, and an update,
(Act 07: The Call from the Past)
The curtains part, revealing the opening Act: a crime scene in East Town, a rich suburb of Paradigm. Dastun and his men are there investigating the mysterious case of a woman who has been mauled to death by a mysterious mutated beast, now dead and lying within a large water fountain in the courtyard of this once stately home. One of Dastun’s deputies finds a photograph of the home’s owner with a large golden retriever. He quips that pets are hard to come by (presumably since The Event) and that the cost of that particular pet probably exceeds the Military Police’s annual budget.
This is saying something as they are regularly outfitted with tanks and other military grade vehicles and weaponry. The comment also connects The Big O to the most influential modern Sci-fi narrative, Blade Runner, once again as it has done on numerous occasions thus far. More specifically, the notion of natural extinction of most terrestrial animals after some previous environmental event and their current existence almost exclusively as genetically-engineered, and extremely expensive, automata whose presence within a home signifies the immense wealth and social prestige of those who dwell within it, ties The Big O to Blade Runner’s source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick, wherein the protagonist Deckard works as a bounty hunter in the hopes of one day being able to afford the titular Electric Sheep, and thereby becoming a ‘somebody’ in the process.
The following morning, the city is being drenched in rain and the sky is obscured by a thick grey smog (an iconic visual signifier relating the show once again to the cyberpunk aesthetic of Blade Runner). Dorothy is out and about walking around town with her umbrella when she runs across a small kitten in an alleyway. She takes the little guy in and nicknames him Pero, much to Roger Smith’s ire. The kitten makes a mess of his desk and breaks his favorite sand timer in the process, which breaks Roger’s sixth rule: ‘Under no circumstances must anyone touch my desk!’ He wants Dorothy to get rid of the kitten as it has a collar and belongs to someone else. Besides, it’s a grey kitten, and all those who live within his mansion must don themselves in black. Over the course of a few days, however, Roger realizes that Dorothy is developing a deep inner emotional life, as well as affection for the kitten, and that these two developments have some connection.
‘I get the feeling that Dorothy has grown more expressive in a short time. Yet she still has the same dour look on her face. Contact with the kitten had awakened memories, apparently of the girl she was modeled after.’ Roger too is growing affections: a response to Dorothy’s constant presence and their conversations that he can no more control than Dorothy can control her inexplicable maternal instincts toward this small kitten. Roger begins to wonder over the course of the episode whether or not the memories of old songs that Dorothy vocalizes are merely the memories of the real Dorothy Wayneright, but he eventually comes to realize that ‘whatever the reason that’s changing her, it’s for the best. And that oughta be enough.’
When the owners of Pero track him down and confront Roger about returning him to them, he is reticent about doing so as he has seen the joy this kitten’s presence has brought to Dorothy. He explains that if allowed, he would gladly pay for Pero and ensures Mr. and Mrs. Fairy that he will be well looked after. Mrs. Fairy explains that if they were talking about a child, Roger would most likely hand over the boy right away, as he would recognize their right to the child. He decides to think over the exchange and goes to speak with Dorothy about returning Pero.
Roger explains his seventh rule: ‘the basic rule of negotiating is to consider and respect the other person’s feelings.’ However, before he can apply this rule to the current predicament, Dorothy explains that she has heard the discussion and resigned herself to returning Pero: ‘It’s interesting. I didn’t know him for very long at all, but I’m glad I met him.’ As Roger asks Dorothy if she would personally return Pero to his family, a mad scientist appears in an odd flying craft and nabs Dorothy and the kitten in her arms with a large claw arm. The Fairys run outside and begin to plead with the man within the contraption, whom they recognize as someone named Eugene, to please return Roy (their name for Pero). As the scientist fires a barrage of bullets toward them, Roger evades the attacks, Norman appears with a massive machine gun to ward off the machine, and both of the Fairys are caught in the fire. Before passing away, the true nature of Roy’s identity is solved as Mrs. Fairy cries out, ‘Roy! My little boy!’
Roger leaves the mansion and heads downtown to speak with the informer The Big Ear. The mysterious figure informs Roger that Eugene Grant, the man piloting the flying machine, was apparently involved in the incident in East Town pictured at the episode’s opening act. He is a scientist turned alchemist who has studied artificial proteins and worked in the bio-engineering trade for some time. But his newest discoveries and experiments have even Paradigm Corp. afraid of the man as he claims to have the very keys to life itself. As Roger ventures out toward the lab of Eugene Grant, Angel follows behind him from afar. Eventually, Roger calls her out of the shadows and the two infiltrate the lab together, knock out Grant’s goons, and find a large Megadeus size Chimera within a pool in the centre of the lab.
Roger calls upon Big O and proceeds to tear the beast apart limb by limb. And then Dorothy appears and relates the cruel truth behind all of these experiments. This Chimera is a composite of dozens or even hundreds of chimeras, all formed from the materials of human lives. Pero is somewhere inside of this beast. Roger stops attacking the beast and eventually Dorothy’s call to it bring it around to its senses. The Chimera destroys its creator, the lab, and then itself, thereby ceasing the pain of all of its Chimera brothers and sisters, itself, and ensuring that no one will ever again regain the technology to do so.
Act 08 is a crushing portrait of human hubris and the destruction it can bring about. It is a harrowing vision of a dystopian world wherein Androids do indeed dream and live and breathe and emote to such a degree that they can retain more humanity than those humans who created them. And it is a parable, which will hopefully guide human technological efforts from ever reaching such abominable lows on their way to achieving noble highs.
Cast in the Name of God,
Cormac McCarthy is an author close to my heart. His prose has the muscular quality of top-form Hemingway, the occasional irreverence of Bukowski, the mythic nature of Faulkner, and a surreal or postmodern underpinning always threatening to emerge and engulf his readers in incredulity at the absurdity of the nihilistic worlds he fashions together in his own symbolic West, which is ultimately a stage for the conflict of intellectual traditions. First of foremost of that conflict between the Western intellectual tradition of rationality and supposed human epistemic omnipotence, and newer forms of uncertainty and mysticism arising constantly as the logical consequences of this former intellectual project.
Those who undertake to create film adaptations of McCarthy’s novels or plays are typically those with an intellectual or artistic bent who do so because they value his work and understand it at a deep level. Some past cases of films like these that I had seen were the masterful Coen Brother’s adaptation of No Country For Old Men in 2007, the classic dystopian metaphysical horror film The Road in 2009, and Ridley Scott’s amoral adaptation of the play The Counselor in 2013. As such, I had high hopes for the first major film adaptation of a McCarthy work in 2000’s All The Pretty Horses, based on his 1992 novel of the same name.
The film was directed by Billy Bob Thornton after the break away success of his Southern Gothic classic Sling Blade in 1996. The original cut of All The Pretty Horses came in at over 3 hours in length, had a slow, methodical, epic pace and was reportedly extremely well suited to the style of McCarthy’s writing. The story, set in 1949, the definitive death of the frontier and a move into Industrial America, Electric Music, and pop culture, was accompanied by a spare guitar score played on era-correct instruments. And the entire affair was set to be a great follow up to Thornton’s previous film, and could have established him as something of a promising visionary director at the time. Instead, the film’s producer Harvey Weinstein (known for raping films well before the current allegations about his sexual misconduct) forced Thornton to cut the film down to less than 2 hours in length, and also replaced the score without the director’s approval with a more conventional piece. The result was a picture maligned by most critics that made back only $18 million USD on its more than $50 million USD budget, and brought Thornton’s directorial career to a halt (he only directed a couple pictures over the next two decades).
Despite the film’s truncated form, the kernel of what Thornton had envisioned for the picture is still there within it. The focus on metaphysically and generally philosophically charged language verbalized in a brute, terse manner is maintained throughout the film, which consequently almost borders on presenting the audience with mere types instead of characters. Some critics find this approach to storytelling abstruse and obscure, but those men and women are also the kinds of readers who would likewise champion the use of types in classic works by Dostoevsky, Kafka, or Nietzsche. In other words, they are typically hypocrites who might find the value of such an approach in the novels of Cormac McCarthy with his Kid and Judge archetypes running throughout All the Pretty Horses, and then somehow fault it when these types are the symbolic trade of the celluloid medium, which is possibly even more suited to their use. After all, cinema is an art form first and foremost that can do anything paintings, photography, music, art installation, or literature can do. And before the advent of sound to the medium, character development was the last thing in artists of the medium’s minds, as it should be today.
And again, despite the critiques of fools and backbiters and those without a real critical bone in their bodies, the film does manage to develop the character of the Kid. John Grady Cole (played by Matt Damon) has dreamt of taking over his grandfather’s ranch for the entirety of his childhood. But times are changing and the old frontier lands will yield significantly higher profits for the family if sold to oil barons instead of toiling away raising cattle on them for the next fifty years. As such, when Cole’s grandfather passes away, his mother quickly decides to sell the land and thereby destroys all of Cole’s hopes for a life on the range. The death of these hopes is visually symbolized by the corpse of the grandfather Cole, who appears visually similar to the great Western character actor Slim Pickens (though Pickens passed away almost 20 years prior, in 1983). The death of the Western genre, the death of the West, and the end of all romanticism for Cole in the hopes of working the land upon which his grandfather, and his grandfather, worked their entire lives.
Cole decides to leave the ranch and head south past the Rio Grande and into Mexico where a real frontier still exists and one can find steady work as a cowboy. He takes along with him his trusty friend Lacey Rawlins as well as two horses they steal from the ranch i the dead of night and on they go. Along the journey, they run into a young boy named Jimmy Blevins who has likewise stolen a horse, as well as his stepfather’s gun and some supplies in the hopes of making it down in Mexico, and escaping constant beatings at the hands of the man. Blevins has obviously had a difficult life, which has turned him into a good shot as well as a youth prone to outbursts of violence. This tendency within the boy will later prove his downfall. Rawlins and Cole will not escape its repercussions unscathed either.
Over the course of the film, Rawlins and Cole make it to their destination and meet a woman along the way who owns a small bar. She is, notably, the same actress as Bennie’s girl in Sam Peckinpah’s magnum opus Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The two men find a ranch and impress the biggest tycoon (Ruben Blades) around by breaking in over a dozen wild horses in a week. Cole falls for the man’s daughter (Penelope Cruz). Loves begin, crimes catch up to their perpetrators, and lovers are forcibly wrenched apart. By the end of the film, Cole has realized that there is no place on Earth coincident with his romanticism, no place that measures up to his ideal type of Paradise. The Kid becomes The Man, develops into a disillusioned soul who is by no means completed by film’s end. One can imagine his past traumas developing into alcoholism or drug use. That he will have his share of women, but will experience a dearth of truly good times for the remainder of his days. And that he accepts this begrudgingly and will remain a haunted man like his father Cole (Robert Patrick) before him: a Tennessee Williams type, divorced, down and out, drunk, and jaded by the hand he’s been dealt in life, and the knowledge that there is no better hand to be had. Except death’s sweet release and the hope that things will be better once he returns to the wellspring of his being, to the womb, the mother, the vacuum of Being, to the void.
[Next up: Child of God]
Thus far, I have repeatedly explained the centrality of Chiaki J. Konaka’s screenwriting work to the development of The Big O. He is a major creative force in the anime and lent many of his own philosophical and literary preoccupations to the narrative of the story. I have also discussed the role of series director Kazuyoshi Katayama who, unlike Konaka, was directly involved in the production of every single Act of the first season of The Big O (whereas Konaka only directly penned five Acts, including this one, and otherwise wrote drafts for the remainder and assembled a trusted a team of screenwriters to assist him on the project).
A third figure who balances out the triad of creative minds on this series Keiichi Sato, a mecha and character designer, and animator, who conceived of the story for The Big O alongside Katayama, and who is directly responsible for the iconic look of the series’ visual style and direction approach, consequently its mise-en-scene, and also the beautiful designs of Megadeuses and their Dominuses within the series. It is Sato’s penchant for nostalgia that explains the hyper-referentiality of this, essentially, postmodern and transhumanist text. And although he contributed design and animation work on numerous mecha classics like Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, and the esteemed Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still OVA series; and later went on to work on iconic anime like Wolf’s Rain before moving on to direct OVAs, features, and TV series; Sato still considers The Big O to be his magnum opus. I’m inclined to agree.
As the last Act of the first season penned directly by Konaka, Act 07 contains his distinctive trademarks of philosophical speculation and Lovecraftian Cthulu Mythos. In this case, Roger has been hired by fish merchants in a coastal city on the outskirts of Paradigm who have grievances against the fisherman. It seems that some ghastly Gilman like figures have been appearing as of late and attacking ships that attempt to plumb the depths to harvest the fruit of the sea. As a result, everyone is afraid to venture forth and no fish are being caught, the cost of fish in the city of Paradigm has skyrocketed, and the situation is becoming dire as the entire coastal region is reeling economically from the effects of a stalled market.
Before leaving the city, Roger visits his informer, The Big Ear, for news on what to expect on this upcoming job and on how he could potentially go beneath the waves to investigate the activities of the Gilmen below. He is told of a man named Readerman who has recovered some memories of the past, of his father’s knowledge of engineering submarine crafts in particular. And although the concept of a vehicle that can operate underwater is foreign to Roger and seems suspect to The Big Ear, Roger decides to track the man down and rent out the craft for a journey beneath the sea. Unfortunately, Angel appears in the town and commandeers the craft for herself by undercutting Roger’s bid with a more lucrative one. As our femme fatale pulls away from the docks and begins to submerge, Roger runs along and manages to jump into the cockpit moments before it closes and the two are off on this adventure together. But whereas Roger wishes merely to figure out what’s going on with the Gilmen so he can evacuate them and return the local fishing industry back to normal, it seems that Angel is hell bent on recovering memories of the past.
As they delve deep below the ocean, they find a submerged city in which lights are still on in many of the underwater buildings, many of which have remained sealed shut despite the pressure of thousands of tons of water surrounding them constantly. The inexplicable nature of this underwater city becomes ever more so as Roger explains that he has heard that this city was once populated, was once above water prior to The Event. For those who have seen The Big O to completion, we know that this is impossible and instead that the city must be akin to the Model City below Paradigm City: a region never meant to be seen by human eyes, thought impossible for humans to investigate with their current technologies, and thereby, created incomplete or absurd. As in a video game where a territory can be seen, but not walked into, as a soft edge to the virtual reality of the game, so too is this underwater city. A node of ontological incompleteness whose very discovery is something of a signifier of the ability of man to exceed his programmed parameters. Of his boundless reach and grasp.
Eventually, Angel and Roger encounter the Gilmen, who are revealed to merely be Paradigm investigators sent to gather ‘memories’ at the bottom of this city in hopes of aiding their lord and master Alex Rosewater in his as-yet undisclosed master plan. The Gilmen attach bombs to the submarine, which damage the craft enough that it begins to take on water. Roger is forced to pilot the craft directly within the lobby of a building at the bottom of this sea, and somehow, inside of the building, there is a remaining oxygen supply. For three days, Angel and Roger hide inside of this building, hoping all the while that some miracle will occur to free them from it. Roger could call upon Big O to save them, but would thereby blow his cover and reveal his secret identity as the dominus of the Big O Megadeus in the process. During this time, the room becomes increasingly hotter and the air supply quickly dwindles. Angel eventually sheds her outer layer of clothing, revealing a pair of scars on her back in the exact places where a real angel might have had wings before they were removed.
When the Gilmen finally find the locus of the light of memories in a quarry below the windows of Roger and Angel’s makeshift home, a new Megadeus emerges as the guardian of the memories: the Lovecraftian Dagon Megadeus. A reclining giant encased in algae that quickly kills many of the Gilman scouts, destroys its own memory cluster to prevent them from falling into the hands of men (and thereby showing the creator of this simulated reality to be a wise creator who has laid obstacles out to prevent ‘memories’ from being recouped by mankind), and emerges from beneath the waves to wreak havoc on the nearby coastal city. Dastun’s men appear on the scene relatively quickly, but only manage to burn off the restrictive algae from Dagon, thereby making his sleek metallic body more mobile than before.
Finally, Roger calls upon Big O and smashes the window of the building to swim toward its cockpit. He manages to save Angel and deposit her on the shore of the beach without her seeing him enter the Megadeus. However, the damage is done and she now seems to know that Roger is the pilot of Big O. Furthermore, she pleads with Roger to not destroy the Dagon Megadeus, which contains many memories of the past before The Event. In the building, Roger reasoned that Angel’s concern over memories of the past reveals her foreign status, as natives of the city live comfortably only by refusing to seek out their past. Roger, a native of Paradigm, has no qualms about destroying Dagon with Big O’s potent piston punch, much to the chagrin of Angel. And also to the displeasure of Alex Rosewater, who chides Roger from afar for not trying to show ‘a little more respect for the dead’ [for the memories of the dead before The Event].
Roger’s role as a figure destined, or even programmed, to prevent others from uncovering damaging memories about the past, about the nature of their reality is one I will discuss in much more detail in the future. However, let it be known here that my previous comments about Roger obviously being a human being were mistaken and his true nature is much more complex. And much closer to the character of Deckard from Blade Runner than I was ever emotionally willing to accept.
Cast in the Name of God,
As promised, I’ve completed some much-needed repairs on my house and now I’m back here in this blogspace, back in my virtual home, my veritable nexus for all things in celluloid culture that beckoned to me throughout the week like an idinal mistress calling constantly for my return. Just as those urges to get back to writing, to get back to The Big O, to anime, to Western films, and to animation, were always there in the back of my mind, so too were you here, calling through phantom channels and announcing yourselves through the occasional like or follow of this blogspace. My average weekly view count for a week in which I post 9-10 essay-reviews is a little over 100 views per day. And this past week in which I posted almost nothing, it was still over 100 views per day. For that, I thank you kindly and salute you as comrades in the shared experience of hyping and reflecting on (and even often trashing) commercial pop art of all kinds, and specifically those made for the Gold and Silver Screens of this world. So without further adieu.
The sixth episode of The Big O is, again, one written not by the series creator Chiaki J. Konaka, but instead by one of his close friends and collaborators on past scripts. Unlike Keiichi Hasegawa, the screenwriter for Act 05 Masanao Akahoshi, the writer on Act 06, had much less experience in writing scripts hitherto. In 1998 and 1999 he wrote three episodes of Konaka’s Devilman Lady, which was his first job writing for any TV show of note up that point his career. The Big O became his second writing job, and on it he would go on to contribute the script to Act 12 as well before ultimately moving on to write for Tokusatsu shows like Ultraman, again alongside his pals Konaka and Hasegawa.
And like the previous Act, the story of Act 06 is largely episodic and has little to do with the developing story arc of Roger uncovering the mysteries of the City of Amnesia, The Event, and of his own past and identity. Dorothy awakens Roger once again as the Act’s opening number by playing a fugue on the piano of particularly upsetting speed, complexity, and underlying sturm und drang romanticism. The master of the house has once again overslept, this time far into the day, and slightly beyond noon. And although she is probably justified in awakening her host in this manner in order to prevent him from wasting his free day asleep in bed, he decides to take her to an old friend who may have the ability to rid Dorothy of her annoying instrumental proclivities.
The two ride downtown in The Griffon (Roger’s black sedan) and eventually find themselves outside of a club called Amadeus. Outside of the door, they hear an airy, elegiac nocturne being banged out ever so precisely and with such skill as to elicit an emotional reaction in Dorothy. She explains to Roger, in an ever so subtly envious tone, that the pianist inside is playing a piece from the classical repertoire, out of time and seemingly with little regard to the sheet music’s dictums. Roger explains that these changes are what gives the piece its emotional and lyrical resonance, are what gives it heart. When they enter the club, Dorothy is surprised to find that the pianist is an android like herself. Roger is pleased to find that many of the denizens of this dark place are enjoying their drinks just as much as the beauty of the music being produced by the resident android Instro whose music’s Elysian qualities lull all those who hear it into a restful calm.
Instro’s full name is R. Instro. The initial R. always signifying ‘Robot’ within the mythos of The Big O (as in Dorothy R. Wayneright as well) and serving as another important key that connects the franchise to Western sci-fi history as Isaac Asimov used this initial in the same capacity within his works. Instro’s creator, Amadeus, was the original proprietor of the club, which has now changed hands, but still retains its mechanical muse (its own Nightingale, if you will). Amadeus was a scientist (or one who has regained memories, or fragments of history or information, from prior to The Event) who died in a mysterious incident in his lab some years prior. Instro never refers to this man as Amadeus or as his creator, but merely as his father. The mystery of such a constant designation is deepened throughout the episode as flashbacks appear to show Instro as a child, a human child, and photographs within the home of Amadeus later reveal pictures of himself with a young boy coincident with the one Instro identifies as himself in his flashbacks. Meaning that either the boy died and Amadeus somehow managed to translate his memories into code, which he then incorporated into Instro’s mind, or Instro is actually the child whose mind was uploaded into a mechanical body for some unknown purpose or because of some ailment the boy’s physical body manifested. Either way, the obvious inner emotional life of Instro is apparent and pushes the envelope ever further within this dystopian cyberpunk transhumanist anime narrative toward a prescient dialogue about issues that will become increasingly more important over the coming decades.
As Instro begins to tutor Dorothy within the club before operating hours, a man named Gieseng enters and inquires of Instro whether he is now ready to take on the burden of his creators’ dreams for him. Once Gieseng realizes that Instro has company, he makes an abrupt departure and promises to return at a later date. Roger finds the whole situation odd, and out of concern for his friend Instro, he pays a visit to Police Chief Dan Dastun to find out more information about this Gieseng fellow. Dastun has a file on the man (seems to have a file on just about every person in the city) and alerts Roger to the fact that Gieseng was Amadeus’ scientific partner, and that during the accident that took the latter’s life, Gieseng was present, and managed to survive. The accident is revealed to have been caused by some sort of haywire phono-sonic machine.
When Roger and Dorothy next visit Amadeus’ Club, they find it closed and absent of Instro’s presence. Inside, a hole has been blasted into the piano and the wall behind it, though no debris from the impact is around. Furthermore, Dorothy finds Instro’s bow-tie sitting in the nook above the piano. When the two leave the club, they venture out toward Amadeus’ old house. There, they find that the home has a huge hole blown into the side of it. And then the Constanze Megadeus appears. Instro is piloting the machine and recognizes Roger along the ground. He explains to his friend that his father created him as the key to this powerful machine, which he created to exact revenge upon the Paradigm Corp. for wrongfully terminating him and cutting off his funding. Roger sees through this reasoning immediately, tells Instro that he is too human to have been created for destruction, and that Gieseng is merely manipulating him toward his own ends. But Instro has made up his mind and regretfully sends a phono-sonic wave blast toward his friend Roger who he recognizes is now standing in the way of him achieving his apparent life’s purpose, and potentially putting his father’s ghost at ease.
But Roger has already called upon his own Megadeus and Big O arises from the ground to protect his dominus from the blast. The two begin to fight back against Constanze, but are repelled by the sheer power of the phono-sonic machine’s blasts. Even Big O’s lasers and machine guns are not enough firepower to break through the waves of energy and all looks for naught as Big O begins to deteriorate and the bolts holding him together start to come loose. Just then, Dorothy finds a piano within Amadeus’ home and begins to play the nocturne that Instro taught her. Instro immediately recognizes the tune as well as the deep inner emotional truth that he was not created to destroy, but to create beautiful music for the world. He ceases his attacks, which gives Big O an opening to crush the arms of Constanze and render her immobile and impotent.
Below, Gieseng attempts to stop Dorothy by launching a wave of sound from his own handheld phono-sonic gun. Fortunately, though tragically, a large tree has become weakened in the soil behind him over the course of the battle between the earth-shaking Megadeuses. It falls directly onto Gieseng and ends this Caligari-esque villain’s life with one fell swoop. Instro, defeated, opens his cockpit and, still believing himself a mere tool for destruction, rips out his arms from the controls of Constanze and vows to never play music again. But Dorothy has different plans and reasons with Instro that he must continue to tutor her in her own playing. The episode ends with him doing just that, a new pair of arms and hands of lesser dexterity, but ample ability now sutured in where his father’s previous masterpieces of design once were. And although Dorothy becomes significantly better and more intuitive in her playing, she still on occasion hammers out the old sturm und drang to awaken her host when he oversleeps.
Cast in the Name of God,