Monthly Anime at Japan Society: Angel’s Egg Is Still Compelling In Ruminating On Humanity’s Belief System

Monthly Anime at Japan Society: Angel’s Egg Is Still Compelling In Ruminating On Humanity’s Belief System

Japan Society’s Monthly Anime line-up includes Mamoru Oshii’s rarely-screened 1985 ethereal masterpiece Angel’s Egg. This animation marked a wondrous collaboration between two anime legends: Yoshitaka Amano’s fantastical Neo-Gothic-Art Nouveau style breathes new life into Mamoru Oshii’s existential reflections revolving around faith, theology and evolution.

This original video animation (OVA) is set in a primordial dystopian realm during an undefined time period. Two nameless strangers meet: a young man (Jinpachi Nezu) in militant garb and a girl (Mako Hyōdō) bearing a mystical egg. Throughout the narrative the dialogue is scarce, everything is left to the beguiling imagery and the enticing music score by Yoshihiro Kanno.

The deserted setting evokes Ingmar Bergman’s ghost town in Wild Strawberries. Whilst the Swedish live action — through Isak Borg’s dream — brought forth the theme of passing and coming to terms with disappointment and loneliness, the approaching death we witness in Angel’s Egg is not physical but spiritual. The Japanese animation focuses on the perishment of moral grounds.

This allegorical fantasy, through a chimerical ink art, ruminates on the tragic underpinnings of existence in a world untouched by a deity acting as universal life force. The philosophical pondering in Angel’s Egg is accentuated by the slow pace of storytelling, that British anime expert Helen McCarthy defined as “a surreal beauty and Zen-like atmosphere.” Furthermore, the cinematic odyssey that takes place in a quiescent period, is layered with biblical allusions and existential symbolisms that ponder upon the role of faith.

Senses of Cinema speculated that that the film connects with Mamoru Oshii’s personal loss of faith in Christianity and the collapse of his belief system. This theory fits well with the way the animated motion picture unrolls.

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The young man resembles the figure of the Christ, whilst the girl can easily reference the Madonna. Moreover, at the beginning of the film we see an orb that could represent the eye of God. Even the few words that are exchanged between the characters reference the holy scriptures, like the tale about Noah’s Ark that acquires a new twist when the boy claims that the dove never returned to the vessel. The story continues with the passengers forgetting about the reason they were sailing; as a result the animals and a civilisation that drowned below turned into stone. This is the explanation provided by the young man about the surroundings of the two protagonists, characterised by decadent ruins, primitive fish and fossilised relics.

Both characters reflect on their amnesia, wondering about their identity and purpose.

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However they are rather distinct in their manner of being in the world. In fact, one may read some underlying feminist themes in the film when juxtaposing the protagonists. Maternity is embodied by the nurturing female who tends to her egg, hiding it under her dress, protecting it while scavenging the decrepit cityscape for food and round bottom flasks of water. She is like a virgin mother who tries to prevent the wreckage of the world. On the other hand, the patriarchy is epitomised by the male warrior who ultimately shatters the precious egg. Also the fishermen, who race after shadows of coelacanth-like fish with their harpoons, embody the quintessence of predatory masculinity.

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But beyond gender analysis, the abstract narrative is a universal criticism towards mankind’s loss of humanity, that is presented with captivating melancholy. Visually the barren setting anticipates the conversation on the ecological crisis, showing how the Anthropocene Epoch has been detrimental for the natural world. The holistic analysis comes forth when the foetus-like chick embryo inside the egg, evoking a symbol of fecundity, is embraced by the tendrils of a tree.

Fundamentally, there is no right or wrong interpretation to this cinematic lyric. As Bakanow rightly observed “Angel’s Egg is a real Rorschach test, and the viewer may get one of the multiple meanings behind this beautiful film.”

Angel’s Egg will screen at Japan Society on Friday 14th October at 7pm.

Check out more of Chiara’s articles.

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