A handsome youth by the name of Tenjo Utena transfers to the distinguished Ohtori Academy. But Utena's true identity is actually a girl, who due to a certain event from her past, has ... See full summary »
A handsome youth by the name of Tenjo Utena transfers to the distinguished Ohtori Academy. But Utena's true identity is actually a girl, who due to a certain event from her past, has decided to cross-dress in order to fulfill the highest of ambitions. But at Ohtori Academy she meets none other than her old lover, Kiryuu Touga, who wears the Mark of the Rose on his finger, which is the sign of a duellist. Because of her possessing the exact same ring, Utena is challenged by the student body vice president, Saionji Kyouichi, to a duel in the floating rose garden. The reason for this duel is none other than the acquisition of the "Rose Bride"'s body, for with it comes the "power to revolutionize the world." Written by
L.H. Wong <email@example.com>
Saionji, sir, wait! I don't think - OH!
[Saionji hits her hard across the face]
The bells signal the start of the duel, Anthy! You forget yourself.
How can you hit your girlfriend?
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Adolescence Mokushiroku is the New Testament to the TV series's Old, a welcome addition to the concept's canon, and a work that is sure to be hotly debated by Utena fandom for some time to come. It is director Ikuhara's third theatrical film, and his first completely original work. It is a devastatingly beautiful, state of the art, intensely kinetic film.
Adolescence has a powerful pedigree of luminous craftsmen behind it: Director Kunihiko Ikuhara, who brings it all together, was awarded the Kobe Award of Japan for up-and-coming best new anime talent of 1997, the same year the Utena television series took the Kobe for best series. Chiho Saito, upon whose manga the film was based, has a distinguished career as a girl's comic author. Souchiro Kobayashi was not only the art director for the original series but also of the cult-classic OAV "To-Y" as well as the legendary Mamoru Oshii art film "Angel's Egg". Character designer Shinya Hasegawa is widely renowned for his work on Shin Seiki Evangelion as well as the original Utena; screenwriter Yoji Enokido was also a formative figure in the development of Evangelion and the original Utena television series. These are literally some of -the- most current and talented creators in the Japanese animation world brought together; their names alone should ensure this film a place in anime's hall of fame.
It's clear that the film had a large budget and that every bit of it ended up on screen- its flowing imagery is both oddly erotic and beautiful, creating a luscious feeling of being enclosed in sensuality. Sound too is exquisite in the film, grounding the surreality of its visuals in crunchy actuality; swords sound like real swords, and each strike of weapon against weapon resonates like thunder. Every ping, every detail is precise. Music too is exquisite- at least the background musics. This reviewer finds the duel themes disappointingly hollow and flat. Still, there's plenty of instrumentals and some choice vocals by Masami Okui that more than compensate.
As any good story should, Adolescence hits the ground running, with a dazzling display of the 'new' Ootori Gakuen, and it doesn't stop to take a breath (or let the audience breathe) from there. The movie creates its world from the first frame, and never falters in its vision. However, like a perfect jewel with a single splitting flaw, Adolescence Mokushiroku relies too heavily on exploiting its audience's presumed knowledge of the storyline of the television series. This brings the film closer to the realm of a brilliant fanfiction rather than an original, all new work; I'm not sure the creators intended, or ever wanted it to be such. But I think any writer could attest to the fact that it's nearly impossible to step outside one's work and view it with 'new' eyes; this may be an unavoidable flaw. It is also the only -major- flaw in the film's design.
The film is tongue-in-cheek in places, bordering on self-parody, but also sincerely earnest and heartfelt. Ikuhara and company went in saying that their intent was to strip some of the mystery from the original storyline, and to make their point clearer, to lay the underlying truths bare with this film. Indeed, some mysteries from the series are explained away clearly within the story. Other, newer mysteries cause the long-term viewer to squirm, forced to consider the entirety of the canon in a new light.
None of these changes are bad; Utena's 'flaws' in this film may actually make her more sympathetic to those viewers who originally found her 'too perfect' and 'inaccessible' in the TV version. Other characters have also been tweaked, notably the erstwhile Rose Bride, Himemiya Anshi, the Student Council President, Kiryuu Touga, and the Fencing Club captain, Arisugawa Juri. Other characters have only minor onscreen time or are completely omitted.
The final sequences of the third act have the potential to be the most misunderstood part of the film. Yet these sequences are also the most innovative and emotionally engaging part of the movie. Just when you thought they couldn't find another way to make an essentially psychological conflict interesting beyond the Duels, they do it- and do it well. However, the sheer spectacle of it was enough to make audiences laugh with disbelief at the several fan-screenings that followed the film's release on video.
Is Adolescence Mokushiroku ultimately a good movie? Yes. Is it a brilliant film? In the swiss watch precision of its design, and its tightly compressed execution, yes.
Can it succeed in the international market, leaving its comfortable world of Japanese fans and US niche market supporters to revolutionize the global animation community? That remains to be seen.
For all its numerous strengths, Adolescence Mokushiroku can not escape its own demanding nature; it may simply ask too much from those that are not already familiar with Ikuhara's style. The movie probably will acquire a cult status- much like the original series itself. For any Utena fan familiar with the whole series, however, this film is a long-awaited resolution, reward, and release. It makes clear many aspects of the original story, while opening up a new horizon of mysteries to ponder in the future.
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