"Angel's Egg" (1985) Review
Here's a question that sounds rhetorical and snarky, but one that I can't help but ask when facing down the barrel of this particular film:
How do you review a film that's based entirely around a single punchline in the form of its final shot because the film plays its cards so closely to the chest that for its seventy-one minute duration you have no idea what it's about?
Angel's Egg might be best described as relentlessly cryptic. I've reviewed a pretty wide range of films on this site so far, from surrealist modern Greek tragedies like The Killing of a Sacred Deer to blockbusters like Wonder Woman. I like a really wide range of films, so take me at my word when I say that Angel's Egg is one of the most unaccessible films I've ever watched in my entire life.
It almost ended the career of its director permanently, but thankfully it didn't. The director of Angel's Egg is Mamoru Oshii, who went on to direct the original Ghost in the Shell a decade after Angel's Egg. Some people have complained about the slow pace of Ghost in the Shell, but trust me when I say that his direction in that film was clearly restrained compared to Angel's Egg's methodical pace. I still don't know to this day if I actually think if Angel's Egg is a good film or not.
But man is it worth talking about.
If you attempt to watch Angel's Egg, you should know that it takes about over twenty minutes into the movie for two characters to speak to each other. There's a moment of voice over before that in the first five minutes, but that's all it is, a moment. Truth be told, you don't even need to pay attention to most of the dialogue in the movie. Only a brief scene where a character tells a long story ends up mattering, but the story he tells ends up being the key to the entire film, so I highly recommend tracking down a copy of the film with English subtitles (I know I say "a point I'll be revisiting" a lot in my reviews, but keep the "tracking down a copy" part of that sentence in the back of your head for the rest of the review).
This is the part where I usually try and put something like a synopsis together, but I literally don't know what to write here. To put it plainly... Uh... Okay. A little girl lives in humongous ruins that appear to be made from the remains of giant beasts long since dead. She carries a giant white egg around and goes into a city each day to gather jugs of water for the egg when it eventually hatches (the city is populated by mute fishermen that hunt the shadows of giant fish that cover the buildings). Her life is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious man, bearing a staff in the shape of a cross that seems a bit too interested in her egg.
That's it. That's the best I can do to lay down any semblance of plot, and I couldn't even find room to mention the part where the first scene shows the mysterious man watching an orb made out of statues descend from the sky and scream in fits of steam.
For all of Angel's Egg's madness, it does kind of have a story about faith and the nature of belief that feels distinctly bleak, but one that I can't go into detail about without spoiling the final shot of the whole thing.
So, this review begs another question, one that I actually can answer:
What merit does this movie have beyond that final shot? What's worth talking about here?
Angel's Egg is absurdly beautiful and grotesque to look at. Visually, it's one of the most beautiful animated films I've ever watched. The art design influences go way beyond what 80s anime was ever known for, drawing from Gothic and Victorian architecture with a dash of H.R. Giger. It's art direction is worth examining at every level, but its paired up with music that's practically a synonym for haunting. The overall aesthetic is so overwhelming that the incredibly long shots (some of which are static) become far easier to bare.
It might sound shallow, but animation is a medium where literal visual art can far more easily take the place of concrete storytelling and get away with it, and Angel's Egg stretches that idea to the limit. Fans of esoteric animation and storytelling are going to have a great time with this, but there's a larger group of people out there that need to see this film. It's an odd group to suddenly introduce in this review, but here it goes:
Fans of the video game Bloodborne need to watch this movie.
I don't know how many people who end up reading this even know what that last sentence means, but if you're a fan of Bloodborne's aesthetic and cryptic nature, Angel's Egg is an essential viewing experience. The game feels deeply informed by Angel's Egg's iconography, in particular the city the girl wanders through feels like a predecessor to Yharnam.
Unfortunately, if you do want to watch this film, it gets tricky. Technically, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube, it's been posted multiple times, but the quality of the video is 480p at the absolute maximum, and even then it's streaming video so there'll be quality loss. Buying it legitimately on DVD requires you to have a Region-Free Blu-Ray/DVD Player and the only legitimate Blu-Ray that exists for Angel's Egg is entirely in Japanese and has no English subtitles.
I'll tread lightly here, but the "easiest" way to watch Angel's Egg on Blu-Ray with English subtitles involves bootlegs. I'll leave that at that.
So... This movie is for fans of weird animation and Bloodborne. That's the best way I can put it. There's no denying that it feels way too pretentious for its own good, but it's undeniably gorgeous enough to get the benefit of the doubt. And man, the final shot does almost make the whole insane enterprise worth sitting through.