Animé and Toons
The Mystical Laws – Cultish Religious Anime
By Hervé St-Louis December 31, 2012 - 16:51
Studios: IRH Press
Writer(s): Ryuho Okawa
Directed by: Isamu Imakake
Produced by: Ryuho Okawa, Kôji Matsumoto, Zuishô Motochikawa
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: October 6, 2012 (Japan), November 23, 2012 (North America)
Distributors: Eleven Arts
Sho Shishimaru is the prophesied Saviour and reincarnation of Buddha whose employ at the outreach organization Hermes Wings prefaces greater responsibilities for the young activist, as he replaces the former leader of the peaceful organization he serves. Shishimaru’s path will soon cross with that of Tathagata Killer, the ruthless ruler of the Godom Empire, the former Republic of East Asia. Caught in the middle, the beautiful Leika Chanhas, a business woman who sells advance technology to Godom has to pick whether to serve the future God of mankind or a ruthless despot allied with off world invaders. This movie has not been dubbed in English and contains only subtitles.
I’m gonna try to be nice about The Mystical Laws. It’s a gigantic orgy of pop religion and weird science mixed with every other human-kind myth you can think pretending to be anything but a cultish religious tract meant to recruit more followers and validate any ridiculous belief mankind (and womankind) has ever dreamt about in order to serve the off-screen designs of the real world Japanese religion cum cult called Happy Science. I didn’t know what to expect when I received this package earlier this week. I had received a couple of press releases but never bothered to read them as I was way too busy with grad school. Since it was the holidays, I had plenty to do, but only managed to watch this film earlier today. What the f**** did I just watch?
The Mystical Laws does what any enlightened religion would do when people are leaving the fold. It adjusts its tone and screams its message even harder at its intended audience. This movie was written by the founder of Happy Science, a new age religion founded in Japan in the 1980s that borrows pretty much from everybody and constructs a Frankenstein of a religion where Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu and a lot of other animist religions will fit in just fine. Oh and if you believe in aliens and in the sunken civilizations of Mu and Atlantis, are you in luck. The Mystical Laws has your back covered. And don’t you worry about reincarnation. They’ve worked that in too and it all makes sense.
One of my best friends hates religion to such an extent that I say he’s as much a fundamentalist as the people he decries. I’m not like him. I think religion has a place in human affairs and culture and I’m not one who would ban it from the public sphere completely, although my preference is to keep religious matters to the private sphere. Last week I threw a tantrum on Facebook after a family member added me to a born again Christian group. I guess I’m intolerant of religion too, to some extent. Well The Mystical Laws warns about that and says that the more we don’t believe in the invisible, the more we are atheists and anti-religion – any religion, the more we are letting evil spirits take over our world. What seems to be a plot point within the film turns into a religious rant that squarely respects the fourth wall; yet, one can’t help but feel the intended messaged is meant for the viewer. It’s a continuous repetition of the same message of salvation for Earth and humans.
Where does science fits in? Well, science fits in snugly and seems to be usable by both good and bad people to further their goals. If you’re wondering where cloning fits in, you’re also in luck. The movie answers the old question about whether clones have souls or not.
One of the problems I had with the film was the portrayal of China as the evil former Republic of East Asia that somehow was amalgamated with North Korea to create a unified power that’s been preparing to take over the world for years by amassing economic power slowly. China is never named in the film. Neither is North Korea. However, every nearby power, like India and Russia are properly named and multiple maps do show that Godom is located in present-day China. In comics, it’s usual to have Nazi Germany as the bad guy, but I think it’s the first time I’ve seen China portrayed as the evil empire bent on world domination in popular culture. China is growing as a power and does face a lot of criticisms. What this film does is to completely demonize China by reserving the ultimate insult. Never naming it properly as the number one enemy of the world. The flag of Godom is cast in traditional Chinese red with a gigantic swastika in the center, just in case anyone doubted that they were the bad guys. The petty attack on China is so venal that it’s best ignored.
The United States, maybe because it is a fertile ground for recruitment, is seen as a stalwart against Chinese imperialism that’s also a failed military power that can no longer resist the advances and bullying of China. That the real-world China is not bent on playing an arms race game is ignored by the creators of this film. The United States, in the real world militarily is in a league of its own. Why does this matter so much? It matters because this film is a figurative depiction of reality. Even real organizations from civil society don’t escape unscathed in this film. Earth Doctors, used as a front by Hermes Wing is a pseudo Docteur sans frontières organization used to covertly move political sensitive people away from Godom’s reach.
Anyone who is familiar with Japanese culture and has watched enough anime knows that the Japanese are obsessed and scared by having had two nuclear bomb attacks during World War Two. The concept of the apocalyptic world started by a nuclear attack can be seen in multiple Japanese animated films. This one doesn’t escape this. Except instead of a nuclear bomb, the real threat to humankind is a bomb that is trillions times hotter than the core of the sun. Whatever. I’m not sure exactly when I just gave up on the film and became remarkably grossed out and annoyed by its propaganda. However, the gigantic plot holes didn’t help. There is no real action. To masquerade and explain huge political developments, the equivalent of talking heads explain to audience members that one country has capitulated and so on. Sho Shishimaru as a main character doesn't do much but hang out and pray.
But for anime fans, all that matters is the animation, right? Is it any good? Well, there’s extensive use of 3D animation that is badly integrated into the rest of the film due to the lack of cell-shading. It feels like a bunch of cars with speculars and reflection textured mapped on top of plastic-looking cars like in a bad video game and driven by 2D characters. The dragons in this film (yes, there are two dragons battling it out) are all 3D-created but look as gaudy as some dollar bin knock off from Chinatown. This is one case where traditional animation might have helped things a bit. If you like explosions, this film has plenty, all generated with particules systems that the special effects artists have forgotten to adjust beyond the default settings. It feels like the same explosion is reused often. Some other annoyances with the animation are the held cells of background characters stuck in one odd position, like looking sideways with their mouth open while tons of action is occurring in the foreground. It makes for very odd compositions.
Now, there is a possibility that this film may hold some intrinsic value for some viewers. Part of me genuinely feels like a brainwashed critic in my utter criticism of a film with a religious message. Some good anime like Wings of the Honneamise had strong religious tones, yet never crossed the threshold where they would generate annoyance. This film is a real 2012 phenomenon and in line with today’s world. It encapsulates everything and every worry postmodern societies have about the place of religion and takes a bold step to claim a right to be at the table. The end of the world theme in the backdrop and the new age second chance is clearly in the spirit of the Mayan calendar, The Secret and many other self help opium we feed ourselves to relieve ourselves of the frustrations of a changing world. For example, the disgust and fear of China in this movie is indicative of what may be the new normal in a few years. China will become the new Soviet Union to be resisted by valiant allies like the United States and Japan. The preoccupation with the fate of the environment and the reliance on the Gaea theory explaining how the world will eventually cleans itself, mixed in with a healthy does of the scene from La Pietà with the virgin alien woman holding the dead man-god in her arms and a fight involving Chinese Terracotta soldiers is so neurotic, it’s tantalizing. Kudos must be given to any filmmaker who mixed the three concepts together in one enormous orgy of religious relevance. This gaudy film, even if it hails from Japan, explains much of the concerns many people have about a world where technology and science are destroying the fabrics of faith daily and asking people to reinvent their belief system in something tangible. For that reason alone, I think viewer should watch the religious masturbation in The Mystical Laws.