Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer
It's rare that I go back and write about a movie that is part of a series I've already covered previously. However, there are some films that are worth their own special review, and Beautiful Dreamer is one of them. Just as Castle Of Cagliostro stands out as a classic apart from the many Lupin III series and films, Beautiful Dreamer can be commended for going beyond its slapstick roots in the "Those Obnoxious Aliens" series and including a detailed, rich plot that has inspired plenty of works in and of itself. It is the second film outing for the cast of Urusei Yatsura, but it's a great starting point to get familiar with the gang.
The setting is Tomobiki High, where the usual gang of idiots is preparing for the student-run festival. Ataru, our hero (or anti-hero, you might say) is snoozing as his friends prepare their part in the festivities, a special restaurant that looks as if it came out of CABARET. The place comes complete with a tank, courtesy of Mendo, the richest kid in the school, and craziness ensues as they try to get ready. However, they find themselves repeating the day before the festival over and over again, and slowly they realize that something very strange is going on. Not only is time repeating, but no one can actually leave the city...and if they don't do something fast, they may be stuck living the same day over and over and over again.
Now before you can mention Groundhog Day with its similar themes, realize that Beautiful Dreamer came out in 1984, well before Bill Murray hit the screen in 1993 with his time-displaced weatherman. What's more, Beautiful Dreamer includes the slapstick humor that made the TV series famous, while at the same time settling down and actually including an absorbing plot. Although the characters don't exactly grow over the course of the movie--how could Ataru ever grow out of being a cretinous letch without spoiling the show?--the plot is so strong that it makes up for any lack of character development. Second, we see a rich concept mined well within the Urusei Yatsura universe. It references back to the very first episode of the TV series (which I do recommend watching beforehand, if you've never had any experience with the show, since it will help familiarize you with a few of the main characters). The plot could have been used in any number of shows, but Beautiful Dreamer is unique because it introduces dramatic elements into a broadly comic setting many viewers will already know. It all just feels right.
Certainly, the animation is functional, but not spectacular. It is fine for what it is, and the characters are so familiar to Japanese viewers that attempting to spruce them up too much for a feature film would ruin some of the charm. This one won't be one to dazzle your friends with, but it would be a great film to show to someone who thinks that anime shows can't handle a serious or convoluted plot. Why should you go out and find a copy? Simply, it's an enjoyable little movie that not only succeeds at involving the audience in a plotline far outside the realm of the typical Urusei Yatsura slapstick, but it broadens the scope of what comedy can be. Its fame is not unknown in America, either. Although Alex Proyas denies seeing this film, it cannot be denied that some of his work (especially Dark City) is so similar to this picture that it's hard to believe it's just coincidence. But don't just take my word...take a look and see for yourself the unique gem that is Beautiful Dreamer.
DVD Note: There are now two DVD releases of this film available. The first variation had nice and vibrant colors, but the subtitles were just slightly off in terms of timing every now and then. There's a new collector's edition now available from Central Park Media, which fixes the subtitle problems and includes remastered video (though it is lacking a 5.1 Japanese mix included on the recent Japanese version). It also includes a feature-length commentary from director Mamoru Oshii, one of today's premier directors responsible for classics like Angel's Egg and the first two Patlabor movies. Although it may bore some, extras like this make my day. Although purists will probably bemoan that this disc isn't a duplicate of the Japanese edition, it beats the old one by a mile and is certainly worth watching.
Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer -- mild language, slapstick violence -- A