Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Your Mark (1996)

I'm finally back to writing after a brief hiatus.  Today I wanted to talk about a personal favorite animated short film, which I always return to time and again.  On Your Mark is an animated music video based on a song by Japanese pop singers Chage & Aska.  It was produced by Studio Ghibli and directed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki.
I've been a fan of Miyazaki's films for quite some time, I remember being absolutely (and almost literally) spellbound by Spirited Away (2002) when I first saw it years ago.  I'd never seen an animated film quite like it before.  I've since gone on to collect all of his films (save for Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) which has eluded me).  I first read about On Your Mark in an excellent book on Miyazaki by Helen McCarthy.  It described the plot and various themes and provided two images which greatly intrigued me.  A dark, Blade Runner-esque city.  An angel flying over the countryside parallel to a sports car.  These are the kind of fantasies Miyazaki is known for.

Only when I discovered YouTube was I finally able to see the film.  The song is quite beautiful and it really supports the visuals, as well as vise versa.  The story is that of two police officers who are involved in an assault on a cult temple in the middle of the futuristic city.  Really striking visuals as the police hover cars rocket through a tunnel (this was the earliest and subtlest use of CG by Ghibli).  There's also a copious amount of violence as an all out firefight ensues.  The two officers (who are cartoon versions of the singers) find an angel chained to a wall.  She is soon taken away by men in full bio-hazard suits.  The two formulate and execute a plan to break the angel out.

Up until this point the narrative seems to break off into other parts of the story but here it shows us two paths of action.  In the first, they steal a heavy duty truck and fall off a highway bridge while taking out one of the police hover crafts.  They fall to their evident doom, but suddenly we are jolted back to the finding and rescue of the angel and then sequence begins again.  This time the falling truck sprouts jets that propel it into a wall and the heroes escape.  Riding a yellow convertible, they leave their domed city despite signs warning of radiation.  They then enter a beautiful countryside where the angel is free at last.

Now there's been much speculation at the end about whether the two protagonists die or succumb to radiation poisoning, because we can see their car veer off the road at the very end.  However Miyazaki has stated that he intended no such grim ending.  Although this does put things in a poignant perspective when seeing what could be a colossal nuclear plant looming behind a traditional town.  This sort of thing is typical subject matter for Miyazaki and harkens back to the days of his Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984).  I'm really shocked more Miyazaki fans don't know about this film.  The entire short film is just gorgeous to watch and listen to and I always find myself getting emotionally involved.

Unfortunately, the film has only been available in a Japanese collection of Miyazaki's films.  I'm hoping Disney will include it as an extra in an upcoming Blu-ray release of the other Ghibli films, but I'm not holding my breath.  Until then, someone always manages to put it on YouTube, as the film is constantly being taken off and put back up.  (I did manage to find it in great quality on Vimeo, enjoy!)

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