Monday, 13 June 2016

#27: Roots Search (1986)

Director: Hisashi Sugai
Screenplay: Michiru Shimada
Voice Cast: Keiko Han (as Moira), Banjou Ginga (as Norman); Kenyuu Horiuchi (as Buzz); Osamu Kobayashi (as Marcus); Takao Horiuchi (as Buzz); Yusaku Yara (as Alien X)

Amongst the obscurities that were made in the golden age of straight-to-video anime back in the eighties, Roots Search managed to both be notorious amongst older Western fans but managed to dig its way out of the vortex many obscurity is stuck in because of this infamy. A sci-fi horror story, a space station built to research ESP and psychic powers is unexpectedly graced with a deserted spaceship appearing in its dimension. With only one survivor on board called Buzz, the occupants of the station including its sole female member Moira find themselves up against a monstrous alien entity which, prefiguring Paul Thomas Anderson's Event Horizon (1997), changes itself into figures of guilt for each of its victims before gruesomely killing them. Amongst the ghosts the alien plays includes the ex-lover of one of the men and a soldier killed by a giant extraterrestrial dinosaur before one by one disposing of them.

Roots Search is a strange, malformed entity, only around forty minutes or so and managing in such a small space of time to feel like a line of grease and dirt has covered a viewer's eyes with its schlocky tone. In terms of actual virtue, it's a complete failure, too short to really be able to pace itself well and instead a catalogue of strange plot tangents for such a simplistic plot. Instead this is one of those anime that if you have a high tolerance for lack of quality, the virtues (and fun) is to be found in that griminess. For example, that aforementioned giant extraterrestrial dinosaur which Event Horizon could've made work but is a prominent part of this anime's scare tactics. There's also a subplot involving Moira and Buzz falling in love that will either clinch whether you hate the anime or appreciate it, Moira's precognitive abilities allowing her to have a premonition involving them naked running on a field, under a candy floss pink sky, and leading to the creation of what's effectively the star child from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). Moments like this cannot be taken seriously, so the anime depends on whether you find humour in it or not to find any entertainment within it.

It's quite gristly as well, not only in gore that is gooey and bloody but in general body horror where people explode into tentacles and various forms of viscous dripping alien limbs or the contents of an anatomical book. It's no way as detailed or nasty as some of the more infamous anime of the eighties like Angel Cop (1989-1994) or Urotsukidoji (1987-89) but its veneer of grime is actually the thing for me personally that helps Roots Search have some saving grace to it as it leads to it having a personality. There's also a creepy sexual edge to it by accident or on purpose, such as the alien having, for a lack of a better term, a vagina dentata-like mouth, adding to the level of scuzz. The lurid tone is matched by an animation style which can, honestly, be summed up as a mess, about to collapse into the shambolic. Even on a VHS rip, there's a dirt ridden look which, despite the work of the production staff, cannot be ignored especially when it comes the character designs, varying between looking like many have been visibly devoured by their anxieties from the amount of black lines beneath their eyes to Moira's strangely giant eyes and incredibly large pink beret. It would've been a much duller anime if this hadn't happened as it actually makes the work far more memorable, the generic character designs and bland environments given over to gross body horror and characters who look like an eye is about to drift down to their cheek if they don't concentrate on keeping it in place. Paradoxically it's the mistakes which give some life to the aesthetic of the production if you're not just focusing on the horror aspects.

Plot wise it starts to get ridiculous as it goes along, the alien proclaiming itself to be God and metaphysical dialogue being crowbarred into a running length not long enough for it. Immediately after the station's captain is killed gruesomely, which should cause people to feel at unease or terrified, you have Moira suddenly starting up a polite conversation about the existence of God in the kind of abrupt change of pace that you expect failed live action horror movies from the West to commit, not an anime. The ending is entirely vague as well, sexual and anatomical imagery abound as the survivors suddenly end up in a womb-like, living environment walking optimistically into white light, no real conclusion when the credits kick in with a jazzy J-pop ballad.

Depending on your viewpoint of this anime watching it, it's in some ways for the better practically that an industry like the straight-to-video era where there was enough money about, before the Japanese economic bubble popped, to fund stuff like this doesn't exist anymore. But bad anime is still made in large quantities,  and for all its failed examples this system also lead to good anime and even beloved classics, making one pine for such a system to still exist. A contradiction yes, but that reflects how bad to the point of being charming Roots Search is in a sick way. Hilariously the same studio who made this also created Crystal Triangle (1987), melding Indiana Jones and a crackpot Dan Brown mystery plot into a memorably bonkers feature length anime. That's for another day however...


No comments:

Post a Comment