On Your Mark

When is a music video not a music video? On Your Mark shows that in the capable hands of Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's premier director of animation, a music video can truly become a short film that takes on a life of its own. Though ostensibly a video for the song "On Your Mark" by the incredibly popular Asian group Chage and Aska, On Your Mark is nothing less than a featurette that happens to have their music in the background. On Your Mark completely transcends the genre of music videos and delivers more in just under seven minutes than most films do in two hours.

On Your Mark has a complete story compacted into its short timeframe, and it revolves around a world poisoned by nuclear catastrophe and pollution. The populace apparently lives underground in a megacity that oozes Blade Runner. In the opening moments, police overrun the headquarters of a religious cult, and in the aftermath, two policemen find a young winged girl. Soon after they discover her, they realize they have traded her from one prison to another, and they take on a desperate quest to release her to the outside world. Over the course of six minutes and forty seconds, we become enamored with the young girl and her rescuers as they plan their daring escape.

On Your Mark is remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which is its stunning animation, a trademark for Miyazaki. For one, On Your Mark is a non-linear film; it plays with the audience in much the same way that Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Amores Perros do. Miyazaki toys with this, even putting in a "false" sequence that is later replaced with one that ends differently. Although Miyazaki also still wears his environmentalist hat, it's very interesting to see him deal (albeit briefly) with a dark cyberpunk world, something he's never touched in his feature films despite the popularity of that genre in anime. He also tells his story without any spoken dialogue, which makes him rely on visuals alone, and the result is stunning.

Interestingly enough, Miyazaki also has no interest in dealing with the song's lyrics except when it suits him, and so only occasionally do they actually reflect anything on screen. The music acts as a nice soundtrack, but in no way is it the focus of the work. Credit does need to be given to Chage and Aska, the Asian superstars to whom the tune belongs, for allowing Miyazaki the freedom to do what he did. Although virtually unknown to the West, Chage and Aska are extraordinarily well-liked in the Eastern world, with over thirty albums to their credit as a group and many more as solo artists; that they let Miyazaki use their song as a backdrop in their own video rather than a focal point shows grace virtually unknown among major rock stars in America. Of course, the fact that the two cops in the film bear a striking resemblance to the duo may be part of it.

There is actually a great deal more that could be said about On Your Mark from a theoretical perspective. Many viewers thought that the winged girl could be a representation of Nausicaa, Miyazaki's best-known heroine whose story was told in manga form over a fifteen year period. Miyazaki himself has made allusions to this possibility, and a recent college class at the University of Texas at Dallas had an in-depth discussion about the short's symbolic release of the Nausicaa character after Miyazaki's release of the final volume of the manga series. The short also contains nods to the disaster at Chernobyl, an event that in many ways helped shape Miyazaki's eco-view, and many other snippets worth studying.

All this would be meaningless, however, if the video wasn't enjoyable. Thankfully, it is incredibly fun to watch, and I don't doubt many a copy of this has been worn to shreds by multiple viewings. If you can find it, by all means pick it up. It is well worth having, especially if you are a Miyazaki fan; since there is no dialogue, even an NTSC videotape original from Japan would suffice. Although I'd seen most of his films and wasn't too worried about finding this short before seeing it, I really have to say that On Your Mark shines as one of Miyazaki's best and should be a part of every anime fan's collection.

On Your Mark -- violence -- A+