March 3, 2004
On Your Mark is something of a novelty for Miyazaki fans outside of Japan. It is a 1995 music video directed by the filmmaking great for a Japanese pop duo called Chage and Aska. This six-and-a-half minute video debuted alongside Whisper of the Heart, and by all accounts, the song was a success for the pop group.
I should probably say that it helps if you are a fan of the “J-pop” sound, but that really isn’t important; you tuned in for the Miyazaki animation. The video itself is stylish, smoothly animated, and is remarkably impressive; an entire storyline is delivered in under seven minutes. Essentially, a seven-minute silent film.
The story unfolds as follows: Chage and Aska play two cops, in a futuristic, cyber-punk world, who lead something of a SWAT team assault on a religious terrorist cult and make a startling discovery. They find a girl with large wings, chained to a wall. They nurse her to health before she is taken away by the military. Later, at home, they reflect on the event; the film intersects with a sequence of the two, driving in their convertible, helping the girl to fly. They resolve to rescue her from her new captors, break into the military fortress, subdue the guards (in an oddly goofy sequence), grab the nameless girl, and escape in an armored vehicle.
They make their escape on a suspended highway several hundred stories high. Suddenly they are attacked by armored helicopters. One tries to block the road, but collides with our heroes; the vehicles crash, and the armored car plummets off the side.
The rest of the film involves flashbacks and reenactments. The collision on the bridge is repeated, but this time, the car mysteriously flies away to safety. The film finishes with another refrain of Chage, Aska, and the girl, driving in the open countryside; the two help her into the air, she takes flight, and flies away. It’s a terrific little moment.
Just what happened is up to interpretation. Did one of the two escape attempts never happen? Did that tank have the ability to hover and fly? Did the angel possess unknown powers? Did all three die on the first attempt, imagining the successful escape as they fell to their deaths? To quote Dylan, nothing is revealed. One important thing to note is the empty countryside. The road is littered with warnings of radiation, and the background reveals an enormous structure; Miyazaki has claimed that the building contains a nuclear reactor that has long since melted down. The area is the remains of a suburban city, long since abandoned due to radiation. So did the final sequence really happen, or was it only an idyllic expression of hope? I’ll let you chew on that for a while.
Marc Hairston, a professor from the University of Dallas-Texas, has another angle on this short film, which I largely agree. On Your Mark was Miyazaki’s first creative work since finally finishing his epic graphic novel, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. This is his life’s work, an 1100 page saga that consumed his life for the better part of twenty years. The 1984 Nausicaa film (adapted from the novel’s first two volumes) led to the creation of Studio Ghibli and all of its later successes; the novel itself tackled complex issues so thoroughly that Miyazaki was forced to change many of his personal beliefs.
Hairston’s assertion is that On Your Mark is Miyazaki’s chance to say goodbye to his character. Nausicaa fans will immediately recognize the angel in the video; it’s one of those things that are stunningly obvious after it’s pointed out to you. Miyazaki is setting his heroine free.
I think it’s very telling that he chose, instead of letting go, he drove ahead, wrestling with the complex issues and themes in Nausicaa for his next feature film: Princess Mononoke. That movie is, in every sense, Miyazaki’s Ran. On Your Mark, it sees, is his Kagemusha.
On Your Mark is destined to remain something of a lost treasure; it was overlooked for DVD release in Japan, and it almost certainly will never be seen outside of its home country. Americans will have to rely on lucky connections, fan bootlegs, and Internet file-sharing if they want any chance to watch this video for themselves. Consider yourself fortunate if you are among them.