On this site, we’ve featured music videos by such acclaimed filmmakers as David Lynch, David Fincher, Jim Jarmusch and even Andy Warhol. Now add to this list the legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
Back in 1994, Miyazaki was stuck on the script for his next feature Princess Mononoke. So he decided to do a video for the song “On Your Mark” by Japanese pop duo Chage & Aska. The resulting piece is a gorgeous, dense, enigmatic work that not only recalls Miyazaki’s earliest works like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, but also the edgier visions of the future seen in films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell. In fact, the short is such a magical, memorable piece of filmmaking that it overwhelms the song.
The video unfolds in a non-linear fashion, jumping forward and back, forking into multiple versions of the same scene. Miyazaki isn’t concerned about you not getting the story. As he said in a 1995 interview, you can “interpret [the film] anyway you want.”
The piece opens with a giant structure that looms over an otherwise beautiful, bucolic landscape. Miyazaki, who is never especially forthcoming when talking about his work, describes the world of “On Your Mark” like this: “There is so much radiation on the Earth’s surface, humans can no longer live there. But, there is flora, just like there is one around Chernobyl. It became a sanctuary for nature, with the humans living in the underground city.”
The video then shifts abruptly to a scene straight out of Akira. Down in that underground city, the police attack the highrise headquarters of a spooky religious cult and rescue a young girl with broad, feathered wings. An angel? Who knows. A lot of viewers have noted the cult echoes that of Aum Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult that released Sarin gas into the subways of Tokyo in March 1995. Of course, the video was made before the attack. Mamoru Oshii’s 1993 animated feature Patlabor 2 also had eerie similarities to Aum, so much so that it was featured in the 1995 Yamagata Documentary Film Festival. Both filmmakers, it seems, tapped into that ugly undercurrent in the zeitgeist of Japanese culture at that time.
As Miyazaki’s short progresses, it shows two cops who decide to do the right thing and break the girl out of the laboratory where she is being held. The first time they try, the cops (and presumably the angel) plunge to their deaths. The second time they try – and it’s not really clear how they get this do-over – they manage to escape. The cops drive to the irradiated surface of the earth and watch in awe as the angel flies way.
In Miyazaki’s mind, the winged girl represents hope:
If you don’t completely give up on the situation and you keep your hope, not letting anyone touch it, and then you have to let it go, you let it go where no one can touch it. It’s just that. Maybe there was a bit of exchange in the moment of letting her
go. That’s fine, that’s enough. …Probably they’ll go back to being the policemen. I don’t know if they could go back, though. [laughs]
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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.
Great short film and an enlightening post – thanks!
This is great. I had never heard of this before and it’s wonderful.