End of Evangelion
1997, 87 minutes
directed by: Hideaki Anno
Some people have pinned it on religion as the reason why the Japanese are so much more quick to adapt to and be comfortable with technology; because their native religion, Shinto, attributes a living spirit to all objects in the world. This is as opposed to Judeo-Christians, who believe that humans are distinct from and fundamentally different from everything else. Whatever the reason, it may be the first impression upon a visit to certain places in Asia that their culture offers a more sophisticated and mature exploration into the complex relationship of mankind with technology. It is on display on every street corner, window display, technical and artistic endeavor, and adorned all over the youth of certain Asian cities. Japan makes movies like End of Evangelion, we make movies like The Terminator and Robocop.
What Japan seems to understand intuitively is that technology is simply an extension of human nature. It is not an alien thing, diametrically opposed to nature in that binary way Euro-centric societies tend to view everything. This “man-versus-machine” perspective can be seen in European films as early as Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Later on, certain films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner explored a much more subtle and meaningful theme, which wasn’t whether human would prevail over machine, but instead where the line was between the two. Much in the way that everything that happens in nature is by definition, natural, such it is that everything humans create, including technology, is an extension of human nature.
End of Evangelion was a film that culminated twenty-six television episodes of an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion, an extraordinarily popular and critically successful series that still supports a huge sub-industry involving manga (Japanese comic-books), action figures, video games, and, uh, hentai based around the characters of Eva, as the series is known for short. In fact, the image of an Evangelion can be still be considered the iconic image of Japanese anime and was the de facto subject of a Greg Lynn studio here at Yale two years ago titled “Giant Robot.”
The imagery in this movie is stunning. As one can probably infer from the convoluted and indecipherable title alone (Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion), this movie fuses biological, religious, military, and scientific themes into a dense mix filled with cultural allusions that are ambitiously diverse. The story involves a military project that may or may not be trying to fuse humans and robots to usher in a new theological era. This results in some of the most startling, imaginative, and just plain weird visual sequences I have ever seen, juxtaposed with an equally diverse soundtrack (Frank Sinatra plus Pachabel plus J-pop, anyone?), on top of some of the most refined and beautifully drawn anime ever done.
On another note, the director, Hideako Anno, spent several years of his life essentially isolated in his room reading comic books and playing video games in a particularly Japanese affliction known as “otaku.” Otakus are defined by William Gibson as, “the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects. . . Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.”
- quang truong (originally written February 11, 2008)