One thing that anyone who has watched anime will know, is that sometimes it leaves you speechless. This is one of those times, and this is likely to be one of the hardest reviews I have ever done.
It's at this point in reviews that I usually do a synopsis.
I will do so again this time, but believe me, this doesn't tell the half of it.
The story follows the tomboyish Utena Tenjou, who mysteriously arrives at the
bizarre Ohtori Academy and is shocked to find her old boyfriend Touga is there
as well. However, that's not the only shock she has. Shortly after
arriving she receives a ring that marks her out as a duellist who must fight her
peers for ownership of the Rose Bride, her classmate Anthy Himemiya. Utena
wins her first duel, and finds herself the centre of the initially unwanted
affections of Anthy. The Rose Bride has secret powers, which is why she is
desired by so many, but her subservient nature and willingness to do whatever
her owner wishes disturbs Utena. After initially recoiling from Anthy's
desire to spend the night with her, Utena finds herself forming a close
relationship and a desire to know more about her. However, things are not
what they seem at the Academy, and as the plots and secrets of her classmates
swirl around her, Utena starts to learn more about the world she is now in and
vows to escape with Anthy to a better place.
Whilst that sounds straightforward in principle, in execution it is anything but. However, before I talk about the plot and flow of the story, I want to talk about style. Many anime films and series have their own style. Many anime films and series are visual and stylistic masterpieces. Few of them though, can compare to Revolutionary Girl Utena The Movie. Visually it's the most artistically breathtaking anime film I have seen, it even outdoes the visually stunning X: The Motion Picture, and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.
The stark design of the buildings as they undulate in the background, rising and falling, platforms and walkways sliding past each other, is jaw-droppingly effective. The impossibly thin flower garden platform, suspended above a yawning chasm by the slenderest of stairways, the castle hanging in the sky, the classically styled observatories and strange, door-lined corridors. Rose petals wheel through the sky from Anthy's garden, falling on some scenes like rain. All of it is stunning, the only thing that is disappointing about it is that you're not seeing it on a cinema screen, where it would really shine. The animation is superb, clearly of a cinematic quality, and the surrealist imagery is done perfectly, in an almost dreamlike way.
The dreamlike visuals are matched by a dreamlike story.
Like a dream there's often no explanation for why things are happening, or why
people are there. Scenes change randomly, and characters leap from one
situation to another. You are thrown in at the outset completely at the
deep end with no idea what's going on, and this feeling continues throughout.
Just when you think you've got a handle on things, it throws something new and
completely unexpected at you. What this means is that it's incredibly hard
to follow on the first viewing, instead of a story you are instead left with
themes and feelings. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what was going
on at most points in the film. Things got more and more surreal too.
Some people were dead, it wasn't clear who. Chairs appeared with road
signs on them. Utena pulled a sword from Anthy. All these things I
could just about keep up with. I lost it when people started turning into
cars. There was probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but by this point
my head was starting to hurt and my brain had shut down in protest.
What is clear is why Revolutionary Girl Utena is shown at gay and lesbian film festivals. The film is packed with sapphic imagery as Utena and Anthy's burgeoning relationship grows, and it's very erotic in places too despite the lack of any actual sexual acts. The film is full of subtext, and the gorgeous characters and visuals lends it a kind of arthouse feel. It's surreal and beautiful, and the relationship between Utena and Anthy is handled beautifully too. The characterisation is good, but things move so quickly at times it can be
hard to get a handle on some characters motivations. In fact it soon becomes clear that the story is about Anthy and Utena only, and the others are just there to help them discover and unravel their own problems and come to terms with themselves and their feelings. It's for this reason that it's hard to review, despite some excellent action scenes the story is very introverted and cerebral.
Revolutionary Girl Utena The Movie is one of those films that does what only anime and David Lynch seems to achieve. After watching it you pretty much have no idea what happened, but you know somehow that whatever it was, it was really good. The problem is trying to work out why. Artistically speaking it's unparalleled, a true feast for the senses in both style and execution. However, it's very hard to follow and understand, meaning that it's one of those films where repeated viewing will not only bring rewards, but is also pretty much essential. It's beautiful, and carries a depth that is rare in modern anime releases, but sometimes you get the impression it's a bit too self-consciously surreal for its own good. This makes it both stunning and frustrating, it's not light viewing but it can't be denied that it's a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking. If you had to prove anime's worth as an art form, this is the film you'd use.
Tonnes! Apart from the usual trailers there's also a pair of rolling art galleries and a behind the scenes look at the film with director Kunihiko Ikuhara. There's Japanese and American film promos, and best of all a full commentary from Ikuhara as well. A great selection.