Urusei Yatsura: Lum the Forever
Urusei Yatsura has been for over 20 years now the standard bearer for all the insane comedies we see today. Back in 1986, the television show was just wrapping up, and UY could do no wrong after 217 episodes and three successful films. It was time to shake things up a little bit. Lum the Forever, the fourth feature film, did just that. At times haunting, at times hysterical, at times just plain weird, this is easily the strangest story in the Urusei Yatsura canon, and at times it comes close to being one of the best. Its last twenty minutes keep it from greatness, though, and a saggy last-minute explanation along with a confusing storyline have kept audiences from embracing it like they have the rest of the films.
At the beginning of the film, alien sweetheart Lum and company are returning with a bunch of equipment and costumes they've picked up for an independent film they're going to shoot. As they drive home, a massive electrical surge hits the town of Tomobiki, and it's just the first of many strange occurrences to pop up. The film the friends are putting together is a mishmash of genres, ranging from horror to mythological hero tale. A major scene in the production revolves around the cutting down of a gigantic, dying sakura blossom tree that Mendo's family planted many generations before. However, the tree holds a secret that will wreak chaos. At first, it strips Lum of her powers and her horns, but it won't stop there. Unless the mystery is solved, the entire town of Tomobiki may destroy itself. (Of course, fans of the show know that this is really nothing new.)
This is really an attempt at making an art film work within the context of a popular franchise. Does it work? Yes and no. Many aspects of the film pleased me personally. After reading that the film was so strange for so many years, I had avoided watching it for fear of personal boredom. However, that didn't hold true for me. The film is still vital and fresh, and it has much of the humor that kept the TV show going for so long. Some of the visual concepts, such as a scene that essentially morphs an overhead view of Tomobiki into a computer circuit bristling with electricity, are incredible. It's also entertaining to see Japanese mythology reinvented; although much of UY was based on Japanese folklore, this takes it to greater depths.
The problems with Lum the Forever are deeper, and they're the kinds of problems only movies aspiring to greatness have. Simply, it has a lack of soul. I would have loved for the film to have really focused in on Lum and how she would have dealt with being an ordinary human being. The movie almost went there, and if it had, I think it would have been a contender for the best Urusei Yatsura film. But instead, we get dropped into an all-out war as the ensemble tries to figure out why Lum has disappeared. This leads us through twenty minutes of indiscernible plotting that makes sense on its own terms, but not on any scale that the average viewer will understand. It doesn't fall apart due to its energy and zaniness, but it goes for the low easy road and loses focus because of it.
I still recommend this film as an interesting venture that I personally enjoyed. It's not the greatest piece of the UY puzzle, and it's by no means the place to start watching the adventures of this bizarre cast of characters. For someone familiar with the show looking for something a little different, this is a challenging picture that isn't quite as rewarding as it should be, but it's still far ahead of a lot of the drivel out there.
Urusei Yatsura: Lum the Forever -- mild violence, bizarre conceptual imagery -- B+