Following the explosion of the town's steel mill, the citizens of Mifuse find themselves in an isolated bubble of space, unable to "change".
This movie opens with the steel mill explosion, followed by the show's male lead, Masamune Kikuiri, saying in his narration that things now "cannot change". But following his statement (and for quite a while), things still looked pretty normal to ME, but it maybe just illustrates that there's little difference between enforced ennui versus the more natural kind that we've all experienced. So the show, like many other anime, throws you into its situation without chronological development, but since everything looked "normal" at first, I was a little disoriented about how this situation deviated from the normal world. And even when we find out exactly how some things are not allowed to "change", I kept wondering exactly what the limits were, why they were imposed, and, for that matter, how and why the entity or entities that imposed them even existed. And I'll spoil this much: the show is more allegorical than Sci-Fi per se, so answering all the questions is not one of its priorities.
As to that question of change limits, there's the basic issue that even daily life necessarily involves small changes, and those are made in the framework of a passage of time. The show in fact concedes to time even in its little isolated reality; this isn't Groundhog Day. They're in fact aware they've been there for quite a while, if the statement one character makes about a woman's pregnancy, "Her baby's been in her womb for years", is any indication. (If they HAVE been stuck in this rut for years of subjective time, it's a little hard to explain how more of them haven't gone mad, but, again, this is obviously allegory rather than any kind of realistic story.) The woman giving birth would, apparently, be a "major" enough change to be prohibited, and of course individuals getting too pro-active seems to be also forbidden- though these rules don't seem to apply to our two leads for some reason, who seem to be allowed a latitude others aren't given. (I'll come back to this.)
There is a force, or forces, that are holding our folks here. But WHY? It's not to preserve their existence after the explosion- people who WERE in the mill when it exploded (Masamune's dad, for one) are quite dead even here, while everyone else was a sufficient distance away to avoid destruction. But when someone gets too "emotional" or otherwise challenges the mediocrity of their daily existence here, cracks literally appear in their little bubble of space, and smoke dragons swoop up to repair the cracks, and swoop DOWN to spirit away the offender. (Again, with the notable exception of the two leads; I NEVER understood why they got exemptions, except as a plot convenience of course.)
Oh, I've mentioned Masamune, but forgot about the leading lady. Her name is Mutsumi Sagami, and Masamune initially says he hates her, though I don't think I ever explicitly found out why he had this animosity toward her originally. (I kind of gathered maybe she'd become a bully out of boredom with their tightly constrained existence.) She does, however, get Masamune's attention in the way that ALWAYS works- by flashing her panties- because she wants him to help her take care of a seemingly feral, nameless girl. (He ends up naming her Itsumi. We'll find out her REAL name later, as well as the reason Mutsumi singled out Masamune for the task. You see, she's deliberately hiding some important facts from him. So she's a bully AND dishonest, which I guess makes her ideal anime girlfriend material.)
Mutsumi's dad, Mamoru, is kind of the spiritual "leader" of the town; he pretends to understand what's going on, and I guess we know that's enough to convince large numbers of people; THAT'S realistic enough. He says it's all the doing of the "Sacred Machine". Normally you'd think a character like this would have credibility problems, since not only does he ACT insane, but he's even drawn that way. His following maybe DOES drop off later, but if they really HAVE been there for years- as the pregnancy comment indicates- I'd say he's had a pretty good run nevertheless.
Since I always feel terrible when nice characters keep getting the short end of the stick, I'll mention Yuko Sonobe. And that's ALL I'll do, since I'm trying to avoid spoiling.
I WILL say a little more about Masamune's "Uncle Toki". He's residing with Masamune and Masamune's mom. Since I was so distracted piecing together the major plot points, it took me a while to pick up on the dynamics there. I'll say this much: "Uncle Toki" was Masamune's dad's brother, and apparently HE was in love with Masamune's mom (her name's Misato) as well. There's a line somewhere where Uncle Toki says he wants to "make an honest woman" of her, which implies that Uncle Toki and Misato entered into an intimate relationship after Masamune's dad's death. I guess the god(s) here at least don't object to some quiet hanky-panky. Maybe they only object to emotions when they get too NOISY. (Which might be almost excusable.)
Mari Okada is the writer and director on this one, and while I've always found her projects interesting, as far as liking them for me they're more hit-and-miss. There are a couple of moral messages here, which are almost contradictory: on the one hand, to never be afraid to act, especially on the behalf of others, regardless of fear. But there's also a message here of being able to enjoy the place you're in (or at least your personal relationships in it.)
I could never figure out exactly what our cast's actual status was; since at least TWO of them have a CONTINUING existence in another reality, they're not ghosts per se. Besides, there's no evidence they actually died. I found myriad contradictions HOWEVER I interpreted the events here, but I was maybe more troubled by Mutsumi as the heroine of the show. Dr. Terwillicker, in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, said of learning to play the piano, "Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it really DOES take forever". While the action in this movie might, indeed, have taken years, I wasn't convinced that even "forever" would have been long enough to turn Mustumi into a loving, self-sacrificing person, and I'd certainly feel that any SUDDEN transformation of her personality would be mere plot contrivance. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Fanservice (The Last Temptation of Masamune), and some violence (especially the Smoke Dragons). I agree with Netflix's rating (TV-14), though not necessarily for the same reasons.
Version(s) Viewed: Netflix video stream
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Maboroshi © 2023 MAPPA/Netflix
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