Angel’s Egg by Yoshitaka Amano and Mamoru Oshii is still a mysterious work from their respective careers. Years after taking the helm of Ghost in the Shell, Oshii co-wrote the script with Amano, and the artist never touched Final Fantasy again. The film is a stunning fusion of spiritual symbols and visual storytelling set against an art nouveau backdrop, and it lasts just over an hour. It is incredibly peaceful and incredibly depressing all at same, like to strolling around an abandoned aquarium.
The film’s rarity among foreign viewers contributes to its allure. Outside of the amalgamation that is Carl Colpaert’s In the Aftermath, it has never had an official release in the United States. Because of its rarity and the creators’ background, the movie almost became cult-like. If you can locate it, this is a movie you really should watch. Amano attended an official film screening hosted by The Japan Society on September 10, which contributed to the opening of the event. It was “probably the first official stateside screening in over a decade,” according to Japan Society Film programmer Alexander Fee, who spoke with Anime News Network. It was also my first time seeing the movie, which I can only say is amazing.
Angel’s Egg has a maximalist goal yet a minimalist discourse. Oshii stated that he believed it to be possibly excessively complex for the majority of viewers. While this is a fair assessment, Angel’s Egg shouldn’t be used as a yardstick for claiming to have “got it” or “not got it.” The work’s shape and appearance of a location are created by the artists, but the audience will have to interpret the meaning for themselves. Some people may find that exercise in and of itself offensive, but for those prepared to savor the world and consider what Angel’s Egg’s extended camera holds, its references and sinister beauty will leave them feeling profoundly satisfied.
The narrative centers on a purposefully anonymous couple who have both long since forgotten their true identities. The prepubescent girl, her wild silver hair uncontrolled, is carrying an egg. As she settles on it and carries it beneath her skirts like a laying bird, the movie immediately alludes to birth, life, and creation. She always crouchs over the egg, giving birth to it beneath her, whenever she looks to put it down. The majority of the movie follows her as she leaves her makeshift nest in the wreckage and investigates the deserted remnants of an art nouveau metropolis. She rummages through abandoned cabinets and finds a jar of jam. She is fascinated with water and jugs throughout this time. She gathers water from the surrounding marshes and the numerous fountains in the city. She goes into a fugue-like state after drinking.
It seems as though the male is purposefully opposite the girl. He rides into the city on the back of a bio-mechanical device, carrying a cross-shaped weapon and two wrapped palms. He makes it clear that he does not share the girl’s hope through their few conversations, which make the girl initially apprehensive of him. This leads to a significant betrayal that propels the movie toward its conclusion and the closest it gets to a direct admission of its ecclesiastical roots. A story about the cycle of death and life, whether in the traditional sense or an abstraction on puberty, or war, or a multitude of other valid and varied interpretations, could be framed by the religious motifs of a Jesus-like figure who has lost his faith, and an alternate world where the Flood never abated.
Despite having very little dialogue, Angel’s Egg is by no means a silent movie. Yoshihiro Kanno’s score is captivating and gives the otherwise glaringly alien moments emotional depth. The melancholy bouts against ghostly fish sliding across buildings are energized by Kanno’s score, which also lends poignancy to a stroll through a crumbling church. It seems wrong that I was unaware of Kanno’s work before seeing this movie, but it seems like his time writing film scores was brief. He was only five years out of college when Angel’s Egg was released, and he later composed ballets and classical pieces that combined computer, Japanese, and Western music. He created dissonant melodies and tense strings for Angel’s Egg that unnerve the audience. Several tracks have a menacing choir that gives the already unusual sights an otherworldly feel.
Angel’s Egg fits into a fairly narrow peer group; it is most akin to René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and Eiichi Yamamoto’s Beladonna of Sadness. Fans of serious, experimental works can only hope that more legitimate exposure may lead to larger distribution, as there is little else like it in the animation industry.