Mamoru Oshii's Forgotten Masterpiece: Angel's Egg (1985)

Whenever Mamoru Oshii's name comes up it's usually in reference to his work with Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, or Urusei Yatsura. He is known for his philosophical approach to the material he directs, and he also tends to have a lot of militaristic themes and visuals. In the mid-eighties he collaborated with renowned artist Yoshitaka Amano (most famous in the west for his artwork in the JRPG franchise Final Fantasy) to direct a surreal and abstract OVA called Angel's Egg

Angel's Egg is unlike any of his other films, as it is a delicate and haunting piece of art, mysterious and cryptic with Oshii himself even claiming he doesn't know what the film is about. The story follows the travels of a young waif-like girl with flowing white hair who carries around a giant egg. The world she inhabits seems to have been ravaged by an unknown apocalyptic event, and the streets are lined with rubble. While out scavenging the girl meets a young man who appears to be a soldier. Initially she is frightened of him but as they travel together she begins to trust him. On the surface the narrative seems straightforward, but as the film progresses things become more and more strange. There is absolutely no exposition given by either character and when they do have conversations they are just as enigmatic as the visuals.

The characters are not meant to feel like real people, they are more the personification of ideas made flesh. The young girl, with her arms cradled protectively around the egg could represent life, or rather the potential of life, as an egg is symbolic of a life that has yet to be born. The girl seems to sustain herself on nothing but water, which she drinks from a large glass flask that she carries around with her. Water is also associated with life, humans (and animals) are mostly comprised of water, and it is the foundation of all life on earth. The soldier she travels with could symbolize death and war as he is never seen without his gun. One could also see him as a Jesus-like figure, as the way he carries his cross-shaped gun on his back invokes the imagery of Christ carrying his cross to his Crucifixion. Biblical references come up often in Angel's Egg with lots of Christian symbolism and talk about the story of Noah's Ark.

Melancholy hangs over this film like a shroud, the world is in the shadow of some great curse and its inhabitants are just ghosts wandering around without a purpose. Only the girl and the soldier feel real, and perhaps they are the only two beings left alive, trying to find meaning where there is none. It is said that Oshii lost his faith in Christianity right before making Angel's Egg so you could read the film as him trying to make sense out of a world without the structure that is afforded by religion. One of the most disconcerting aspects of losing one's faith is the existential crisis that can come from realizing that there is no higher power looking after you and that the world is chaos.

The aesthetic feels vaguely Victorian, teetering on steampunk. This is thanks to Amano's incredibly intricate art style which permeates every facet of the film. There have been quite a few animated films and anime series that Amano has done the designs for, but I have always felt that Angel's Egg captured his ornate art nouveau inspired style the best. Every frame of this film is gorgeous. Equally as gorgeous is the score for the film provided by none other than Yoko Kanno who is a master at creating soundscapes with evocative and memorable leitmotivs. She uses a lot of choral music, bells, and atonal piano pieces in the score which lends a church-like atmosphere.

When Angel's Egg was first released in Japan it wasn't popular with the critics and it's no surprise as the film is very hard to piece together as a cohesive narrative. Once you let go of the idea of a three act narrative structure and just take each scene as it comes and let it wash over you, it becomes much more lyrical and emotional. This wasn't the first time Oshii played around with surreal elements, in 1984 he directed a movie spin-off of the Urusei Yatsura series called Beautiful Dreamer that essentially inserted the characters from the show into a dream world where time is looping back onto itself. This probably was easier for people to understand because they had the framework of the well known characters to ground them to the story. Angel's Egg has no such anchors for the audience.

For those who have a high tolerance for the abstract, Angel's Egg is a must-see film. It is bursting with creative imagery, alluring music, and can be interpreted in numerous ways.

--Michelle Kisner