Reviews of Yesteryear: Adolescence of Utena

As someone who finds it fun to read books and explore their themes and symbols, I love this movie. It’s probably my favourite movie of all time. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s definitely up there. This movie is a perfect example of how to do symbolism so that it’s rich and complex but isn’t inaccessible and doesn’t make the audience do all the work.

The story revolves around the protagonist, Utena, entering a High school where she inadvertently finds herself involved in duels to become engaged to the rose bride, Anthy, which will grant her the power to revolutionise the world. So if you’ve seen the anime the basic plot is the same. The difference is that the movie is set in a more surrealistic world where just about everything is symbolic. You might ask, what is the symbolism about, what does it all mean? Well, I can’t answer that.

Like all the best stories that use symbolism heavily it’s open to interpretation. Some people say it’s a summary of the events of the anime, which I consider lazy, since it requires very little thought, but it is a valid interpretation. Some say it’s about going through adolescence. Some say it’s about overcoming tragedy and moving forward and there are many other valid interpretations. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss interpretations I would be open for that. Now, the movie does help the audience. About half of the movie uses “light” symbolism with mainly realistic elements so that you can watch it without really thinking about the symbolism. Then the second half opens and the symbolism takes over, forcing the audience to use their brains to figure out what it all means. I think that’s what I love about this movie. It’s intellectually stimulating and entertaining.

I could spend hours discussing the rich symbolism, but I don’t want the review to be too long so I’ll move on. The artwork is good for the time period, although it’s admittedly a little dated now. The imagery is amazing. It adds to the symbolism and works with the music to make the atmosphere stellar. Some scenes are bright and vibrant, others are darker and more piercing. In either case the atmosphere is well thought out and achieved perfectly. The voice acting is great. Kawakami Tomoko and Fuchizaki Yuriko just do a perfect job in the main roles. The supporting roles are all very capably done. Koyasu Takehito and Mitsuishi Kotono especially do a good job. The fight scenes are vivid, dynamic and very graceful. They’re a real treat to watch. It’s a very emotional movie that elicits emotional responses ranging from rage to despair to happiness to “oh my Gods that is so cute!”

How could it possibly be better? The romantic scenes. Adolescence of Utena may very well have inspired some of the most common scenes in shoujo ai/yuri anime that came afterwards. The surprising and awkward but adorable first kiss, the dramatic moment where they almost kiss seriously for the first time, the scene in which one girl paints a nude portrait of the other, the elegant dance scene and the moment where they gaze into each other’s eyes and share a squee inducing kiss. Do I even have to mention that the yuri factor is a 10/10?

Adolescence of Utena is very complex without moving into the territory of being convoluted. It’s intellectually stimulating and entertaining The atmosphere could not be better. The voice acting is awesome. It’s also very good at getting an emotional response. My final rating is a 10/10. If you haven’t seen it, do so.

This was my first perfectly scored review. The film is almost like an exercise in using symbolism that can be validly interpreted in multiple ways while managing to stay cohesive. I still re-watch this movie about once a year alongside a small number of other favourites. 

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