The year is 1999, two years after the completion of Revolutionary Girl Utena’s television broadcast. The majority of the original creative team (with a few notable exceptions), have come together to create a feature film that is both a semi-encapsulation of and yet wildly different from the original story. For years it’s been sold as a introductory point or standalone for those who haven’t seen the TV series, which might be the greatest lie told since the day a Blockbuster employee put Legend of the Overfiend in the family film section.
I must warn you that I’m more or less going to bypass discussion of the infamous car transformation entirely – but on the bright side, that’s only because I dedicated an entire essay to that subject a year ago. For those of you who’ve seen the series or would just like to watch 80 minutes of beautifully animated surreal madness, you can brush up on the film on YouTube or Hulu.
When it comes to film, there are few things that fill my heart with joy as quickly as a dance scene. And while this goes a long way to explaining my adoration of musicals, there’s a special place in my heart for non-musical films that proclaim ‘sit down and shut up. We’re going to have some dancing now.’
It’s a wonderfully versatile storytelling device, with an enormous array of styles and histories available to convey any number of feelings. That kind of raw, directly representational movement, when it’s done well, can stir up fierce emotion in a way dialogue couldn’t. Of course, when done badly it can bring the whole film down. So just for fun, let’s take a look at five examples of dance scenes in film (musicals being exempted, because that’s a whole different rule set to deal with), and what they impart.
Back in the early 2000s, with the anime boom in full swing and the market of availability much smaller, there were two easy go-to moments for ‘Anime is Weird.’ The first was End of Evangelion, Hideaki Anno’s psychological acid trip through alienation and the ruminations of mortality. The second was ‘The One Where That Girl Turns into a Car,’ aka the climactic third act of The Adolescence of Utena. It was one of those scenes that exist to be taken out of context – not that familiarity with the material helped a whole lot anyway. Or does it?
For those of you not familiar, Revolutionary Girl Utena is the story of Utena Tenjou, a transfer student who transfers to Ohtori Academy in search of a prince. When she was a child her parents both died, and that prince appeared to her and gave her a ring, saying that if she retained her nobility as she grew then they would meet again. Inspired, Utena decided to become a prince herself. She finds, however, that her ring is also the symbol of a dueling game at Ohtori, with several students vying to become the owner of the “rose bride,” who can grant her fiancé the power to revolutionize the world. Winning the bride, Anthy, almost by accident, Utena is sucked into the duels and the layers of conspiracy behind them, and finds herself growing closer to Anthy without really knowing her at all.
Let me put forth a crazy idea, gentle readers: the Utena movie is completely straightforward. When viewed through the lens of visual metaphor that defines the series before it, there might be no other solution but for our pink haired protagonist to turn into a supped up racer. Follow me down, I can explain this one.