Production Company: Ogura Jimusho, Hakuhodo, TV Tokyo, Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Release: 1 July 2000
Length: 108 min
Director: Taikan Suga
Producer: Fujimaki Naoya
Screenplay: Izume Shin’ichi
Yuji: Ito Hideaki
Mami: Sanada Masami
Terada: Otsuka Akio
Hasamoto: Yamazaki Yuta
Otaku Film Causes “Blistering” Headaches
It seems like otaku are having a hard time of it. Ever since the Miyazaki Tsutomu child murder case made the term famous, it is as if every incident of youth crime, or the very decline in social ties itself, is being related to otaku, those fans of animation, manga, dolls - you name it - so absorbed in their pursuits they have supposedly lost touch with reality.
While the champions of “subculture” like Okada Toshio have tried to rescue otaku from such criticism, all the attention has forced many fans to do some soul searching. Anno Hideaki and the Evangelion brouhaha represented the most visible of attempts at “self-critique,” but Oshii Mamoru and other artists have long been using the otaku fields of manga and anime to question the social phenomenon itself.
Suga Taikan has spoken of his new film Blister in the same light, and certainly one of the movie’s themes is the problem of fandom. But as an otaku film too caught up in its own world, Blister rarely peeks out its wrapper.
“Blister” is in fact the term from “blister pack,” that hard, transparent plastic used to wrap toys and action figurines, and Blister is about the fanatics who collect such figures. Yuji (Ito Hideaki) is one particularly extreme case, who practically ignores his live-in girlfriend Mami (Sanada Masami) and wastes all his cash to pursue his ultimate goal, the legendary Hell Banker doll.
Mami’s problems with Yuji do much to put his fanaticism in perspective, but all of the otaku around him duplicate his case. Terada (Otsuka Akio), the manager of the bar where Yuji works, runs himself into debt in his pursuit of Star Trek paraphernalia, and Hasamoto (Yamazaki Yuta), a graphic designer of fantasy robots, can only seem to relate to women by picturing them - to their disgust - as the faces of his androids.
As if afraid to let these depictions drag down the story, Blister aims as much for entertainment as critique. As those involved in the creation of the Hell Banker doll die one after another, we soon learn that the figure, inspired in part by the environmental scientist Dr. Soong (shades of Star Trek: The Next Generation), may be a key to resisting the government’s foolish efforts to control the earth’s weather. Blister dizzily moves back and forth from the past to the present to the postapocalyptic future, putting in the pieces in the somewhat absurd explanation as to why Hell Banker is so important. Riding the trend of other mangalike films like Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl (“Samehada otoko to Momojiri musume,” Dir: Ishii Katsuhito), it crudely imitates comics in its excessive and sometimes sloppy style, adding as well the still presentation of panels from the Hell Banker comic.
It is in this mood that one feels Blister is more a celebration of figurine subculture than its critique. With the publicity material touting all the original figurines made for the movie by young artists, it reads as a movie made for otaku by otaku. In fact both Suga and Ito profess to be figure fanatics, and Otsuka is the voice for Riker in the The Next Generation Japanese dubs. Real-life figure otaku even emerge at the end with the credits.
What the film ultimately judges wrong about Yuji is that he does not open the blister pack: He distances himself from the artwork of the figure creators and thus separates himself from the creative side that first joined him with Mami. Creation is thus supposed to take precedence over collection, but with a “have your cake and eat it, too” ending, and a view that creation is merely the inheritance of tools, not the product of hard work, Blister’s message can’t stand the light of day outside its own wrapper.
Blister may be fun if you’re a figure fan, but it doesn’t figure for much in the real world.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 6 July 2000, p. 9
Copyright 2000: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow