Anime Review – On Your Mark (1995)
“On Your Mark will definitely appeal to Miyazaki and Ghibli fans but I have an inkling that casual music video fans will like the animation but not find it particularly stimulating.”
Now here’s something different – one of Japan’s greatest living directors, Hayao Miyazaki, tries his hand making a music video. Why is this significant? Just imagine Steven Spielberg trying the same thing and you’ll quickly realize that it’s worth a look based on name alone.
On Your Mark is a rather strange music video, not because it’s particularly demented or fractured ala most MTV spots, but rather it mixes the best of Studio Ghibli traditions with new age J-Pop provided by superstars Chage and Aska. The result is wonderful to behold yet immensely frustrating to grade. This is because, as a music video, the criteria for success is much different than a feature film. Gone is the reliance on a coherent narrative, replaced by how well the director has translated the meaning of the song into images.
In that sense I have to admit that not knowing the implication of the lyrics is quite detrimental, leaving only the pretty images and instrumental melodies to carry you through.
The animation is your usual Ghibli fare which translates to absolutely breathtaking. Even though the video runs slightly over six minutes, for animation of this caliber you can guess the amount of time, work and money that went into it. Frames are gloriously detailed (check out the various “free floating” items like dust, cans, litter and cement shards that fully animate) and the world that it depicts is wholly original albeit grounded in contemporary reality. Movement is fluid and natural while the action montages are excitingly kinetic.
On The Mark might have no actual dialogue but none is needed. Miyazaki relies on some smartly realized scenes to reveal enough of the story. Basically, the video shows us an alternate world and focuses on two cops who are participating on a raid of a cult (think a futuristic Waco if you will). Entering the compound they find that the cultists have either died in the firefight or chosen to take their own lives, an event which might have been ripped from your morning newspaper.
Amidst all the death our two heroes find a survivor, a young girl who has wings. Is she an angel? We don’t know but before long the girl is sent off in an ambulance but surrounded by shady government agents. Bring on the conspiracy theorists! Later, our heroes begin to doubt their actions, specifically the fate of the girl so they decide to go and liberate her.
On Your Mark presents a wonderfully realized world making other animated music videos get tossed around in its wake but still you can’t help but think something is slightly amiss. This is because, without knowledge of the song and lyrics you are left with a beautiful piece of animated work scrolling past your eyes that doesn’t seem to match with the light-hearted J-Pop melody. Make no mistake, if the lyrics are depressing or show insight to the human condition then perhaps this is not a problem but the initial shots of dead cultists and jagged shadows forebodes something chilling.
Although it manages to spin a coherent narrative, On Your Mark seems like a little side story from Studio Ghibli that was never completed, dumped in the vault, then mysteriously found its way into a music video. Miyazaki does an exemplary job working within the constraints of a music video but in a kind of catch-22 situation, he does so well that you are left hungering for more of his story rather than the music. In that sense the whole purpose behind a music video seems lost in the process as the images dominate while the music is relegated to background feedback. There are moments where you even wish Miyazaki’s famed musical partner, Joe Hisaishi, were here instead of Chage and Aska. This is not a affront to the J-Pop band but rather the animation and song don’t mesh as well as they should.
However, what is presented is superb and leaves you wanting to know more about our two heroes, the world they inhabit and who exactly the girl with wings is. Thus the project succeeds kind of like a quasi-trailer to a feature film but as a music video it falls more into the curio department. On Your Mark will definitely appeal to Miyazaki and Ghibli fans but I have an inkling that casual music video fans will like the animation but not find it particularly stimulating.
*** out of ****
1995, Japan, 6 Minutes
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
© 1995 The Galactic Pillow