REVIEW: In the Aftermath (1988)

intheaftermath_posterThis is one of the more unusual feature film projects that I have seen. In the mid-1980s the independent movie studio New World Pictures, run by the legendary low budget film producer Roger Corman, acquired the American rights to the animated short feature Angel’s Egg by director Mamoru Oshii (future director of Ghost in the Shell). Of course in the USA in 1988 there was no viable market for a one-off 65-minute anime. Corman, never shy of thinking outside the box in the name of turning a profit, hired director Carl Colpaert to use a minimal budget and cast, film some live-action scenes set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, integrate them with select scenes from Angel’s Egg, and release it as an all-new feature film.

This end result, In the Aftermath, is barely longer than Angel’s Egg at 72 minutes. It cuts back and forth between Oshii’s anime – dubbed into English in the typical fashion of 1980s USA – and Colpaert’s live-action interludes. It was not a commercial success, receiving its only theatrical release in Australia of all places, and wound up as a brief curiosity on home video. Last year the feature was released to bluray by Arrow Video; it was the first time I had even heard of the film.

In the Aftermath is genuinely strange. The live-action sequences are shot with a cast of six and a production budget that would not quite afford an oily rag. It is relatively slow, particularly static, and based more on dialogue than action. At the same time it does hold a certain level of attention; the conversation is idiosyncratic enough, and the narrative sufficiently intriguing, to sustain audience interest – assuming the audience has a taste for typical low-budget post-apocalyptic science fiction. The later half exceeds the earlier section thanks to a touch of romance and an unexpected but lively piano performance. There are also nice low-key performances by stars Tony Markes and Rainbow Dolan.

Throughout the film, sections of Oshii’s anime are appropriated to tell the story of a young girl’s journey from one universe to the next to deliver a large mysterious egg to the live-action survivors. She is accompanied on her journey by her brother, a moody sword-wielding warrior. The animation is absolutely beautiful, and represents some of the finest hand-drawn imagery of its time. Angel’s Egg was originally produced with barely any dialogue at all, leading the characters here to incongruously communicate with ever moving their lips – cynical anime fans might appreciate this as almost inescapably the most egregious English-language dub of all time. The original narrative of Angel’s Egg is effectively pushed aside, with less than half of Oshii’s original work left on screen. It makes for a striking contrast to In the Aftermath‘s other half.

The animation and the live-action are blended together more carefully than one might expect, with cross-fades and inserted art not just cutting between formats but actually mixing them together from one key moment to another. While Angel’s Egg is effectively obliterated as a discrete work in the process, it is brought with remarkable alacrity to boost and develop Colpaert’s contribution. It all feels as if it should be a visual and narrative disaster, and yet with a little understanding – and an appreciation for Colpaert’s mild arthouse pretentions – it becomes a rather entertaining curiosity. It’s just a shame we cannot easily see the original Angel’s Egg for ourselves.

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