The Unrelenting Test of Faith

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Angel’s Egg (1985).

Film connoisseurs and enthusiasts usually have a list of filmmakers that they admired, or maybe even a list of filmmakers that they were not fond of. For me, probably not an original number, one of the filmmakers that is up there is Mamoru Oshii, who directed films like Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell, and was a co-planner for Blood: The Last Vampire.

One of his earlier works, notably after he directed the Urusei Yatsura series, was Angel’s Egg (1985). It was a transition from the comedy series to a deep dive into the psyche with heavy elements of religion and themes of faith. Despite its heavy dose of religious references, I will not go into detail in that particular department. If you are interested in such discussions, I recommend you watch these videos by AnimeEveryday and Chris Stuckmann.

Plot Summary

As discussed by many writers about Angel’s Egg, the film is less about plot as even Oshii wasn’t sure what the film was really about, and it’s more about how it makes the audience feel. Set in a surreal gothic world, the film features a young girl who protects a large egg while carrying out the task of collecting and filling round flasks with water, and a male soldier who seemed to have lost an important part of his memories. There were also a group of faceless fishermen who were chasing shadows of fish, which the girl claimed to not be there at all. However, the fishermen continued chasing them down anyway, without any remorse for the destruction they caused as they gave chase to the spectral fish.

After some time, the soldier asked the girl about the contents of the egg, to which she was convinced that a large bird was going to hatch from it. Then one night while the girl was asleep, the soldier took the egg and broke it, revealing that it was empty after all.

Discussion

The world is a dark and decaying place. It’s an endless cycle that reminds us of the inevitable end, how a small shade in a corner soon looms over, making the existing gloomy tone even more grim. And yet, despite all of this, a glow came in the form of the girl, whose faith in the mysterious egg managed to get her by in this unsettling realm.

After the first five or so viewings of this film, I came to the same idea as a lot of other people who have discussed about the film; that the girl is a reflection of innocence and that upon the destruction of the egg that she’s been protecting, she loses her innocence but then have acquired spiritual maturity. As a result for her actions and faith, the singular egg that she was protecting multiplied and she found her place upon the floating orb as a saint or a martyr. And yet, after I watched the film several more times and reading more about how others interpret this film, I think I’ve found something that’s always been there but not as discussed as the other interpretations have. So this is what I want to do now: I wish to discuss the film in terms of the multi-layered nature of faith.

Before I proceed, I would like to note that this film is something that can be interpreted in many ways and as I’ve stated before, even Mamoru Oshii would welcome multiple interpretations that the audience has come up with (see chapters on Angel’s Egg in Stray Dog of Anime and The Cinema of Mamoru Oshii). In an interview previously conducted with Oshii (that was filled with “perhaps” and “maybes”), when asked about the details in the film, he said that he was unsure of what exactly the film is about. But it was clear that he drew inspiration from religion, namely Christianity. It is noted that he has studied religion in the past, which allegedly ended nearing the time when the film began its production.

Let us have a look at the points where I drew this idea from. As we can see halfway in the film, the girl and the soldier took refuge in an ark, where most of the dialogue happened. This was where the soldier came to remember his past and his mission.

Fast-forward to the end of the film: As the camera zooms out from the events that took place, we get to see what the place looks like from a distance. But as time goes on, what ‘land mass’ that we could see seemed to be part of something else: another substantially larger ark that have capsized in the open water.

This concept of ‘an ark within an ark’ suggests that perhaps there isn’t only one ‘micro-ark’ similar to the one where the girl and the soldier rested in, but maybe there were more elsewhere. Additionally, this bigger ‘meta-ark‘ may have contained more than what we’re shown, such as other characters that were perhaps not shown. Unless, if everything that occurred on the capsized ark is the sum of the soldier’s experiences in his journey; from the moment he saw the suspended globe in the sky, to when he hopped off the tank he rode on, when he met the innocent girl, and finally when he came to realise that he had strayed from his mission when he was reminded of what was lost in the first place. If it’s the latter, then perhaps the cycle would continue all over again. He would forget once more, embark on his journey again, remember his mission, destroy his own reflection of innocence in the form of the girl, and repeat. After all, the eggs still exist. In fact, there were more now than when he first began his journey. These perhaps symbolised his doubts that grew from just one object of uncertainty.

Doubt is a common thing that we face, even when we are so sure of something. Any adult can probably tell how difficult it is to keep doubt at bay. Only the innocent are capable of complete trust and/or faith. The ones who outgrown them either let it go or live in a repeated cycle in their attempt(s) to reassure and convince themselves of their beliefs. A schizophrenic panic that occurs more regularly to some than others. Because we all want to believe we’re on the right path. We want to believe we’re the protagonists of our stories, regardless of where our moral compass points us to. Besides, that in itself is a subjective topic to talk about in the first place. So I digress.

Art Style & Setting

This part is a bit off-topic, but I can’t discuss about this film without touching about the brilliant art style.

I’m sure that a lot of RPG fans have come across Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork on the cover of a much beloved saga: Final Fantasy. His signature art style was one of the elements that would – almost – always accompany the cover art of the franchise. Each of his designs for every instalment is unique and specialised to the main theme. For instance, Final Fantasy VII had a meteor accompanying the title that alludes to one of the strongest summonses in the game, Final Fantasy VIII has Rinoa and Squall in an embrace, being one of the rare occasions that an instalment has a clear happy ending with the couple ending up together in the end, FFX had Yuna performing her ceremonial dance to send off spirits to the afterlife, and so on.

What can be noticed immediately with his style is the graceful characters and the “flowiness” they had with them. These designs became one of the factors to why Angel’s Egg took place in a fantasy setting, and in a sort of hybrid between post-apocalyptic and alternate universes. Oshii stated in an interview that he initially had planned the film to take place in a more realistic setting, taking place somewhere in Tokyo as a result from pulling his original ideas from a cancelled Lupin the Third film.

That’s right. Angel’s Egg could have been a Lupin film, but I am sure that it would look mostly different than the one we got in 1985.

Conclusion

I’m aware that this reading of the film is a little more “optimistic” than most of the interpretations that I can find online and in books, including an interview with Oshii regarding the film and a couple of critical essays on the filmmaker and his work. Authorial intent aside, there’s two sides of a coin. And in this day of constant inner-turmoil and tests of faith, we can still make a decision on how to approach a subject: to view a glass as half-full or half-empty?

Personally, I see a clearer purpose in reducing the pessimism by choosing to elaborate on this particular interpretation while still being aware of the multitude of different readings that can be derived from the film. Perhaps Oshii, despite his clear pessimism on the matter, knew this already and there’s a sliver of optimism still embedded in his works, of which we could find if we know where and how to look for it.

Sources

  1. Interview with Mamoru Oshii on Angel’s Egg, Nihon Cine Art. 8 February 2016. Retrieved from http://eigageijutsu.blogspot.com/2016/02/interview-with-mamoru-oshii-on-angels.html
  2. The Angel’s Egg Symbolism, Nihon Cine Art. 8 April 2010. Retrieved from http://eigageijutsu.blogspot.com/2010/04/angels-egg-simbolism.html
  3. Cavallaro, Dani (2006). The Cinema of Mamoru Oshii: Fantasy, Technology and Politics. McFarland & Company.
  4. Ruh, Brian (2004). Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii. Palgrave MacMillan.

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