Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Mystical Laws: The End is Near, Meditate Quickly

An expansionist Eastern regime is dead set on war with Japan, at a time when America’s defense capacity and influence in the UN are both at all time lows.  They say it’s the near future, but it feels only too near.  Still, there may yet be hope in Isamu Imamake’s apocalyptic anime feature The Mystical Laws, created by executive producer Ryuho Okawa (founder of the controversial Japanese religious fusion movement, Happy Science) which opens this Friday in New York (trailer here).

In an authoritarian country not identified as China, a shadowy military science officer named Tathagata Killer assumed power in a coup.  Now known as the Godom Empire, his kingdom becomes the dominant super-power, thanks to the remarkable technology provided by the beautiful but mysterious industrialist Chan Leika. 

The world slept while the demonic dictator consolidated power, except Hermes Wings.  Partly a Doctors Without Borders style NGO and partly a secret society dedicated to preserving free democratic values, Hermes Wings is considered the greatest threat to the Godom overlord, so he targets them accordingly.  Through tragic circumstances, Sho Shishimaru rises to the top of Hermes Wings.  There is a reason people have confidence in him.  According to prophecies, he might be both the savior and the second coming of Buddha, which is an awful lot for any dude to live up to.

Mystical Laws could be described as a Buddhist Left Behind, with generous helpings of Christian symbolism thrown in for good measure.  It is also anime.  In truth, just about every conception of divinity is covered in Mystical, including the embodiment of the “Spirit of Japan,” who looks rather attractive.  Some of the symbolism is impossible to miss, such as the swastikas the Godom army marches under, or the crosses on which they crucify enemies of the state.  Still, if the slightly odd film represents an attempt to proselytize, it is dashed hard to tell what for.

Okay, so subtly really isn’t Mystical’s thing.  Nonetheless, the first two acts constitute a rather intriguing end-of-the-world sci-fi conspiracy thriller.  The relationship between Shishimaru and Leika is also nicely developed and the Buddhist elements give it all a distinctive flavor.  Unfortunately, the third act is largely given over to a Harry Potter-esque clash of fireballs and god-rays.

You have to take satisfaction from a Japanese film that bemoans the lack of American military bases.  Indeed, it takes notions of faith, freedom, and sacrifice profoundly seriously.  With art and characterization well within the anime industry standard, perhaps even slightly higher, it might be the most effective end-of-days religious thriller, well maybe ever (for what that’s worth).  It certainly puts to shame impassioned but clunky Evangelical films, like Jerusalem Countdown.

Mystical probably is not your Cheetos-eating fanboy’s anime.  However, anyone interested in a film arguing religion plays an essential role in a healthy society (and also implying a need for a strong military) might just get sucked in, in spite of themselves.  Recommended for fans of challenging anime, aesthetically adventurous Evangelicals, and nontraditional Buddhists (collectively a woefully underserved market), The Mystical Laws opens this Friday (11/23) in New York at the Cinema Village.