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Adolescence of Utena

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (1999; vt Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie). Original title Shōjo Kakumei Utena Aduresensu Mokushiroku. Created by Be-Papas. J.C.Staff. Directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Written by Yōji Enokido. Voice cast includes Yuriko Fuchizaki, Tomoko Kawakami, Takeshi Kusao and Mitsuhiro Oikawa. 87 minutes. Colour.

Ohtori Academy's new student, Utena Tenjou (Kawakami), befriends Anthy Himemiya (Fuchizaki), who is the Rose Bride and engaged to abusive Kyouichi Saionji (Kusao), the Student Council's champion duellist. Utena, who dresses in a boy's uniform, angrily defeats Kyouichi; but is shocked by Anthy's acceptance of her role and automatic obedience to whoever is the champion. Anthy is the sister of the Academy's missing Headmaster, Akio Ohtori (Oikawa): he, panicking after having raped and stabbed Anthy, fell to his death whilst looking for his car keys. He tells Utena's ex-boyfriend, who was her Prince (and is probably also dead) that Anthy was a witch who transformed him from the Lord of the Flies (see Gods and Demons) into a Prince, but he reverted when her Magic wore off. He devised the duelling competition to restore that lost magic. It becomes clear the architecturally strange Academy is separate to the outside world and might well be a place of the dead (see Eschatology).

Utena now literally becomes Anthy's means of escape from the Academy, by transforming into a pink racing car: Anthy – who has car keys – drives her off, trying to reach the outside world. The only way out is by dodging between the myriad wheels of a mobile fairy tale castle. As they're about to escape, Akio appears, telling them to return to the closed world where they can be Princesses – just by being living corpses. Anthy refuses, so he attempts to destroy the car, but – though their clothes are torn off and the car reduced to two wheels and an engine – they escape; behind them the castle evaporates and the Academy collapses, with its students now shown as corn dollies. Anthy and Utena, naked, embrace and kiss, zooming off "to revolutionize the world"

Ikuhara has said the film is about choosing to move from teenager to adulthood, accepting the latter state is not pure. Released after the television series Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997), it is best seen as an Alternate History, being neither a sequel nor, strictly speaking, a retelling. It retains the strong Feminist and LGBT themes of that show, but now can be open about Utena and Anthy's lesbian relationship. The film's first half touches upon the series' main plot points, but mainly uses different events and character relationships to do so. The film's style also differs: still remarkable but with more Technology and less use of Fantasy imagery; with the outside world shown as, in Ikuhara's words, a "desolate, adult wilderness", though Anthy and Utena are unphased.

Densely metaphorical and prioritizing symbolism over plot clarity, this is a beautiful and memorable film that should ideally be watched after the television series. [SP]


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