Writer Kanara Ty learns the hard way that sometimes free screenings are not always free.
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Writer Kanara Ty learns the hard way that sometimes free film screenings are not always free.
As a 9-5 working girl, I find it hard to pass up free movie screenings – especially films from foreign countries. So when I received an invitation to attend a free screening of The Laws of Eternity, I jumped at the chance. This particular screening was being presented by the Japanese organization Kofuku-no-Kagaku USA (also known as the Institute for Research in Human Happiness). The fact that The Laws of Eternity was an animated film from Japan, directed by Cowboy Bebop director Isamu Imakake it even harder to pass up. The Laws of Eternity showed promise because I've seen a variety of anime, but never one with a storyline that went like this:
“In the near future, four high school students, who study the most advanced scientific technology, receive a message from a mysterious shaman. That is the beginning of their spiritual adventure! What is Heaven? What is Hell? What is the Realm of Angels? What is the surprising truth they see behind the mystic veil? The adventurous journey is starting now!”
– Synopsis from The Laws of Eternity film site
I had to give it a try.
As I stood in line outside the Daniel Zanuck Theatre with my brother and best friend, we started a conversation with a fellow audience member about the publicity material that was given out by the Institute for Research in Human Happiness. He told us, “Once you go in, you’ll never get out!” We looked at him and nervously laughed. What were we getting ourselves into?
Eventually, we were let in. In an earlier phone conversation with the organization, I was told that more than 600 attendees were expected to show up to the screening -- so I had to arrive early. Unfortunately, about ten minutes after the screening was supposed to begin, out of the 475 sears available, the theatre was only one-third full. Thirty minutes later, the movie still had not started. A man announced that there was “major traffic,” and they weren’t going to start screening until more people arrived.
After a whole hour had passed, more people arrived. A different man walked up to the front of the theatre and began a speech about the importance of this film. He emphasized that while it was important for everyone to watch, it was crucial for a teenage audience, in light of the events of Virginia Tech shootings. He then encouraged everyone to enjoy the film, saying that he hoped that it would give them the courage “to find love, happiness…” Snickering followed, from the audience, as if to say, “Did he really just say that?”
The film finally opened up and the organization’s logo was emblazed across the screen. Apparently, I failed to realize that the film was actually produced by the organization and based on the book of the same title by the organization’s founder, Ryuho Okawa. It felt different from watching regular films on the big screen, because I am very used to seeing the logos of film studios appearing before me. However, with the organization’s logo in place of a studio's, it felt something along the lines of a propaganda film -- where it seemed like it was going to be more about the organization’s mission, than an actual film with a compelling storyline. This was going to be a very interesting movie experience. Little did I know, it was going to be over very soon.
The Laws of Eternity is about three friends who take a trip to New York. They end up at the Thomas Edison exhibit, where the lead character Robert gets a “feeling” about the spirit phone -- which is one of the inventions that Thomas Edison worked on before he died. The spirit phone was supposedly a device Edison worked on to communicate with members of the spirit world, but he failed to complete it. In the film, Robert says he actually sees visions of some of the formulas that Edison had worked on for the spirit phone. Later on, they come across a Shaman and find out Thomas Edison is actually trying to communicate with them from the dead. Later, they find out they are needed for an important mission, but, in order to get there, they needed more help (which later came in the form of a spiritual prayer from another character in the film).
At this point, I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that Thomas Edison was actually a character in the film. I wondering if a spirit phone ever really existed. (I found out later, in actuality, that Thomas Edison joked with a reporter about working on a spirit phone, but unfortunately the reporter took it seriously, and it was printed in many newspaper articles.)
The characters do eventually get to the spirit world and are greeted by “Golden Eagle” -- a Native American-like character. This was where people started to walk out. The film continues to go into more detail about the spirit world, specifically about how one must live in order to enter the spirit world. The “Golden Eagle” states that for one to completely enter the spirit world, one must rid themselves of their material possessions, or else they drown. Then afterwards, they would enter an auditorium, where each person is judged by an audience (members of the spirit world). Basically, the situation alluded a lot to the judgment of souls before entering Heaven. If you had impure thoughts, you would not be allowed to enter the spirit world and would probably end up in limbo. At one point, a character inquires about knowing whether or not you were going to heaven or hell -- and in the blink of an eye, the whole group started to hold hands and pray.
Thirty minutes into the film, about a third of the audience had left the auditorium. We felt bad for the organization, but after watching the characters pray for the third time in the film, we decided to take it as our cue to exit as well.
The organization did a very good job of drawing an audience into this film screening, using different sorts of marketing methods -- such as featuring a high-profile Japanese director and showcasing it at a top-notch venue. However, I would say, a good half of the audience had probably been duped. Initially, I thought this film had more science fiction elements behind it, but instead, it ended up being more of a cultish religious film than anything else.
It seemed to me that the organization wanted to draw the audience with the storyline, so they wouldn't scare anyone away with their organization’s mission. I’m sure the attendees realized the organization was religious, but that does not mean the audience couldn't have expected the film to be done in good taste. They kept the synopsis vague and mysterious to lead us in, before we could realize the film was not what the synopsis suggests.
I truly believe the organization was attempting to make a film appealing to all, to spread their message to the masses. Why would the representative from the organization bring up the Virginia Tech shootings if he had not meant for everyone to seek some sort of peace from this film? It’s interesting how the organization tries to include a diverse group of characters (i.e. the appearance of the Native American), but it does not work at all. The appearances of random characters also made it harder to focus on what was taking place in the film; it broke the flow of the film, and turned it into quite a circus.
To make things even worse, the film was dubbed in English. Not being a fan of English dub tracks, when I first heard the characters speaking in English, I cringed and shook my head in disbelief. A film loses its essence once it is presented in a language other than its original track. The voices did not match the characters appearing on the screen, and the English voice actors displayed lifeless personalities in their characters. A marker of a good film is when the audience can connect with the characters. Come to think of it, I probably would have tolerated the film a lot more had I heard it in Japanese, along with an accompaniment of English subtitles. Bad decision on their part.
In the end, I spent more time waiting for the film than watching the actual film. I may sound insensitive, but I’m a religious person myself, and I have enjoyed religious films when they do not stray away from the story by preaching ideals to an audience. I firmly believe that a bad film is still a bad film regardless of the message. Too bad there isn’t some sort of an actual time travel machine because I would have liked my hours back. I guess, free screenings are not always free -- sometimes there is a catch.
Date Posted: 6/8/2007