The Week in Review is a series of posts in which I review an anime. Reviews can either be evaluative or analytic; either way, they are specific, biased, and mostly consider only the work itself.
44 minutes, 2009
The streets of this unnamed Japanese city are dark under the bright moon and on this street are the wonders of modern technology—steel and electricity—and houses the product of a past age that we all reminisce about—houses made of wood and paper. Walking the streets is a lone dog, he marks his territory on a single utility pole—Elemi. Elemi, a sweet and young utility pole, is struck by lightning. She undergoes a near-death experience, and here we are presented with the central theme of this film: difference. Differences in generations. Differences in interpretation. Differences in love. And, ultimately, we learn to accept despite our differences.
The next day, the local electrician, Takahashi, repairs Elemi back to shape. Elemi becomes infatuated with this young man. However, her infatuation is not enough to motivate her into talking to this man (as a utility pole, she can speak through the telephone).
After having established the central theme and the characters, the film begins to explore the central theme as a means to give its characters drive. One day, two sleazy men post an advertisement for what is possibly a whore house onto Elemi. Neither Elemi nor her friends are at all pleased by this and this triggers some memories.
We transition to a speeding car and an aloof cat. The speeding car hits the cat, killing it, and the driver guiltily looks at it and drives away. The cat lands near Elemi. Elemi and her friends are devastated by this, but so is an elementary school girl walking home. This girl rushes home, grabs tissue paper, rushes back, and covers the cat with tissue. Then, we are given Elemi’s epiphany: as the girl covers the cat with tissue, Elemi reimagines the tissue as sakura petals, the symbol of ephemeral life. Symbolically, Elemi has become conscious to the ephemeral nature of life. She has become aware of the mortality of animals, but more specifically she has become aware of the mortality of Takahashi. Her age is not explicitly given, but judging by her voice she is roughly the same age as a normal human girl that has yet to witness the passing of her parents (in other words, perhaps in her 20s). Through her near-death experience at the beginning of the film and the passing of this cat, she has become aware of her own morality and the mortality of Takahashi.
This brings up an interesting observation one might make about the attitudes between aging and marriage in Japan. Although I am not Japanese, I have read in the news that Japanese people will generally give up looking for a partner by their 30s because they feel they have gotten too old. Considering that Takahashi and Elemi are both in their 20s, I cannot help but feel that not only has Elemi become conscious of her mortality, but she has also become aware of her age. Not only mortality, but Elemi could also fear that she is reaching the end of her ropes and she must find a suitable partner soon. However, I cannot imagine how important romantic relationships are in the society of utility poles.
This whole scene also illustrates a difference in interpretation and in generation brought about by a difference in experience. Elemi interpreted this experience in a profound way, but her peers did not. The reason is simple: they are nothing like her in age or experience. Their voice actors gave Elemi’s peers either older voices or very young voices; in other words, her peers are either old enough so they already experienced what she felt, or they are too young to understand. They saw this as nothing more than a tragedy of a cat becoming road kill. To some, that is exactly what happened; to Elemi, there was something more there.
At this point, the film has established that Elemi is infatuated with Takahashi and that Elemi, now sensitive to death, has realized that she should talk to him while she has the chance. However, what do her peers think? This love affair leads to a generational difference. The premise of the film—utility pole falls in love with a human being—allows the film to address a generational difference in a believable way. The entire premise is utterly fantastical, but none of Elemi’s peers seem to want to believe that a utility pole can love a human being either. After her closest friends fail to convince her, they go to the oldest pole in the group. He confronts her (the movie even calls it a “trial”) on the grounds that love between a utility pole and a human is ridiculous nonsense that will never work. An expected reaction. Whether that is true or not, however, is not the point the film is trying to convey. The point of the film was given to us at the beginning of the movie, during her near-death experience.
During her near-death experience, Elemi is present in a desert at night, covered by dark fog. In the far distance we see a light, possibly the sun. Elemi decides that she wants to head towards the light, and grows legs. As she is walking towards the light, her cables are pulled from behind. When she looks back, she sees her friends pulling on her. Despite her resistance, she is eventually pulled back to life by her friends.
This near-death experience has given us two important interpretations that are cleverly incorporated into the film’s central theme of difference. First, there is the obvious one: when a person is unconscious and they see a light at the far end of the tunnel, what does that light symbolize? The answer, of course, is the after-life and the implication that they are walking towards their death. Second, we have a more subtle interpretation. Elemi is walking away from her group, but her group is desperately trying to bring her back. Not only does this happen in this fantastical dream, but it also happens in the film: Elemi is entering new territory by reaching out to a human being and her friends are desperately trying to reel her back in. The film simultaneously applies this experience as a means to broaden an Elemi’s perspective on life and it also uses it as a metaphor for a generational difference. Her form of love is not accepted by her elders, so they try to reel her away from it. Eventually, everyone decides that Elemi should be free to do this. They accept her decision.
Considering all of this, what do I ultimately think about Denshinbashira Elemi no Koi? To be honest, not much. While the story is certainly a well-written one, I am not a fan of stop motion. Elemi has exquisite stop motion, but that is a form of animation that I do not particularly care about. The film has a very atmospheric feel to it as the director attempts to capture the feeling of a passing sadness. In other words, this is not a film to watch when you are anything but mildly sad. It is definitely a film whose enjoyment is heavily reliant on the mood of its audience. It feels like an experience that requires a certain mindset. Not only does it require the right mood, but it also requires patience—the film moves at a snail’s pace, which is to be expected when a film attempts to make the audience feel something.