Review: 'Gusko Budori no Denki' ['The Life of Guskou Budori']
Gusk? Budori no Denki (The Life of Guskou Budori) is a 105-minute anime film released in 2012. The story had been previously adapted into anime in 1994, however the 2012 version did it with anthropomorphic cats - largely identical to the cats in the 1985 anime film Night on the Galactic Railroad. Not coincidentally, both films were directed by Gisaburo Sugii, and both were based on stories written by Japanese author Kenji Miyazawa, published in the 1930s.
The 2012 Life of Guskou Budori is visually rich, but has an incredibly dull narrative. Full spoilers ahead! Budori, his parents and his younger sister have an idyllic life in a forest by the mountains, but two years of sudden cold weather leads to the death of his parents and everyone leaving the local village. Oh, and his sister is taken away by a mysterious entity. To paraphrase:
Supernatural cat: I'm here to save you from famine. You're good kids, but that won't help you. Hey girl, if you stay here, you'll starve. Come with me.
(Budori's sister goes to him, seemingly in a trance.)
Supernatural cat: Well, bye! (vanishes)
Budori: ...Hey! You thief!
With nothing left, Budori leaves the forest and is hired by a married couple to help with their farm. Things are OK at first; then there's a drought and they can't afford to keep him on, so he leaves for the big city. Not knowing anyone, he finds a university where there's a professor who's written some textbooks he enjoyed reading. Sitting in on his class, the prof asks him what he's doing there. He replies, "Oh, I just came to town, I'm looking for work," and the prof immediately gets him a job without asking what his skills are.
Given that his skills are in farming, it's only natural that he fits in perfectly at his new job as a volcanologist and climatologist, working with a whole bunch of research scientists in an advanced laboratory. Another cold period is on its way, and Budori doesn't want anyone else to suffer the way his family did. Idea! Make a volcano erupt, releasing carbon dioxide into the air, creating global warming, and the cold period will be eliminated. But his co-workers are doubtful about being able to control the weather.
Budori: (Alone in his room) Other people have helped me all my life. Now I want to help them back. I'll do anything.
Supernatural Cat: You called?
Supernatural Cat: I can take you to the volcano.
Budori: Can I make it erupt?
Supernatural Cat: I dunno.
Budori: If I can make it erupt by giving up my life, I'll do it!
Supernatural Cat: Ok, here we go!
The volcano erupts. There's no cold period, life goes on just fine, the end.
This film has a couple of big flaws, such as the unresolved issue of Budori's missing sister. At three points, Budori goes into a dream-state where he finds himself in a bizarre alternate world. In the first dream, he's given a surreal job to harvest silkworm guts. In the second dream, he chases the supernatural cat through a city and sees an image of his sister on a poster, now working as a hypnotized circus acrobat. In the third dream, the supernatural cat takes him to court for trespassing in his reality. So why does Budori trust him at the end of the film? Beats me.
Then there's the farmer he works for. Keep in mind that this film has advanced technology, is kind of steampunk (with valves and airships), and also has modern-looking computer readouts and displays. This is in stark contrast to the naïveté of the farmer, who thinks he's god's gift to farming, except he doesn't understand that he's over-fertilized his crops, and tries to deal with plant disease by irrigating his fields with a mixture of water and motor oil.
Or take Budori himself. His whole life is about work. That's it. He's never shown taking a vacation, or having any friends, social life or romantic interests of any kind - even his spare-time reading is work-related, and he barely accumulates any personal property. He never shows any emotional distress due to his lifestyle. The work ethic mindset in this film is very Japanese, it's all about devoting himself fully to his employers. At the end of the film, his outlook is that this has been an act of kindness given to him, one that he's never been able to pay back, and that sacrificing his life is the ultimate way to achieve it.
More bizarrely, the primary antagonist in this film... is bad weather for farming. Another problem is that large volcanic eruptions actually reduce temperatures because of all the dust and ash they release into the air. (At least, on Krakatoa's scale.)
And man, is this film boring. The first quarter is Budori's daily life, growing up and losing his family. Another quarter are his otherworldly (but largely useless) dream sequences. The rest is him working at his jobs. All it's got going for it are good visuals. Some obvious CGI here and there, but still well-drawn.
Let me contrast here with the director's earlier 1985 animated cat film, Night on the Galactic Railroad. Its pace is also very slow, even sleepy. ("Ethereal" is how a friend of mine described it.) The animation quality is relatively more primitive - though pretty average by 1985 standards. On the plus side, it's very atmospheric, a bit of a mind-trip, and has a better soundtrack. Still, it's rather lacking in subtlety in terms of using a lot of Christian symbolism, and the ending is quite depressing. It's not a film I'd like to watch again - and yet it's still far more interesting to watch than The Life of Guskou Budori, that's how dull it is.
My recommendation: only for dedicated, watch-everything anime fans. Otherwise, don't bother.