Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer

It’s the day before the school festival. Ataru and his classmates have been busy transforming their classroom into a “Third Reich Decadent Teashop” for a long time. Somehow, the day of the festival never quite arrives. When a frazzled teacher goes home to rest, he finds that his apartment is filled with dust and mold, as though it had been abandoned for years. Apparently, the town of Tomobiki has been re-living the same day over and over for a very long time indeed.
Although Beautiful Dreamer begins with a premise similar to Groundhog Day, writer/director Oshii takes the story in a very different direction. Initially it’s spooky as the characters discover various anomalies, such as trains and buses that don’t actually go anywhere, or musicians performing in the street in the middle of the night for no apparent audience. Later it becomes a sort of post-apocalypse tale, albeit with lots of partying and roller skating in the ruins. Toward the end dream succeeds dream and reality seems to be forever out of reach.
Those hoping for 100 minutes of classic Urusei Yatsura zaniness will be disappointed in Beautiful Dreamer. There is a lot that’s funny throughout the movie, but humor is not the emphasis. Oshii is more interested in playing Dickian games with dream and reality. For much of the movie, Ataru and Lum are secondary characters while Mendou and nurse/miko Sakura puzzle out the situation. Possibly because it isn’t just humor, Beautiful Dreamer is more satisfying than most of the Urusei Yatsura television series and is worth seeing by anyone interested in complex anime. M.C. Escher fans will also find something to enjoy.
It is helpful to watch a few episodes of the TV version before seeing Beautiful Dreamer. Oshii assumed that everyone who saw the movie would be familiar with the characters, and newcomers to Tomobiki might be confused by them all the first time through the movie.
I could have done without the Nazi nonsense in the first part of the film; it adds nothing to the story and is pointlessly offensive. There’s also a brief visit to Ataru’s ideal world, which is as trashy as you would expect. Beyond that, though, there is little that’s objectionable. Youngsters and people with short attention spans might find the movie hard to follow.