With his somber, bloody apocalypse fable X, veteran anime director Rintaro turns down the usual moon-surface gravity of japanimation to zero; characters seem to bob bemusedly on air, and when an ethereal girl is impaled on a sword, her blood doesn’t flow so much as float out of her body, tidily, in one viscous mass. We’ve already seen little Koteri die twice before in hero Kamui’s many visions, because time in X is apt to bend, reverse, or stop altogether, spiraling through flashbacks, flash-forwards, hallucinations, and prophetic dreams. With time and space abstracted and aestheticized, X perches at a cool distance, prioritizing bleakly beautiful visuals (Tokyo resembles Tim Burton’s Batman Gothic) and fatalist regret over action and suspense.
Standing on the edge of the end of the world (set in 1999, X‘s future never happened), the rebellious and possibly bipolar Kamui must decide whether to vanquish the Dragons of the Earth, who will return the world to mother nature, or the Dragons of Heaven, who will preserve civilization. He’s variously aided and abetted by a sprawling cast of characters (a wry brothel worker gets the best line: “I have mastered all the vagaries of water”). The final battle, fought far above Tokyo, transpires as if underwater, with the city sleeping beneath and bearing the sickly green cast of environmental illness. X, to its credit, delivers neither a happy nor a redemptive ending; indeed, its very premise preempts both.
Waking the Dead also twists time, but trips up in its herky-jerky, flashback-strewn trek across the psyche of a callow congressional hopeful haunted by the accusatory ghost of his dead lover. A strident righteous hippie who doth protest too much, Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) rattles her chains often enough to convince working-class, to-the-manor-named Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) that he’s both sold out and gone around the bend. As shrill as its heroine, Waking the Dead (executive-produced by Jodie Foster) does offer one weirdly moving scene for Crudup late in the film, when he finally breaks down at what is supposed to be a celebratory family dinner. Billy gives crying in public a good name.