Judge Mike Pinsky proudly slaps his names on his creations.
"In retrospect, it was silly of me to plaster a smile on my face for you to see, wasn't it?"—Closing Theme
When you stick your own name in front of your projects, it is usually a sign of terrific hubris. "This is my creation," you seem to announce. In Hollywood, we are used to this sort of thing. But in Japan, the signature is often accompanied by an apology. "Yes, I made this modest thing," you acknowledge with a bow, "and I hope you find it acceptable." This is especially so if you are a woman, since Japanese society is traditionally male-dominated. Never mind that the creator of the novel form was a woman (Murasaki Shikibu), or that the most powerful and successful manga artist currently working is a woman as well.
Rumik World. Rumiko Takahashi Anthology. You have to be pretty marketable to sell a series simply by tacking your name to the front of it. You also have to be fairly prolific. Rumiko Takahashi is both. In between (and even during) her longer series—Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½, Maison Ikkoku, Inu Yasha—Takahashi has accumulated a hefty stack of one-shot stories covering a variety of genres. Every now and then, the best of these stories are translated to animation. In 2003, producers selected 13 of them for Rumiko Takahashi Anthology, a breezy collection of comic suspense.
I see so many shows and movies claim to capture the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, but most of them are aimless thrillers with no real wit. What they all seem to miss about Hitch is that the suspense was always blended with a dry humor. Take Takahashi's "In a Pot." Neighbors like to gossip about the recently widowed Mrs. Tonegawa, even at the funeral of her mother-in-law. Everybody has heard how mean she was to her husband and his mother. And isn't it suspicious that the two died so close together?
Our narrator, a young neighbor of Mrs. Tonegawa, is surprised when the widow asks for help caring for her plants while she returns to bury her husband and his mother in their ancestral home. But when the narrator accidentally breaks one of the pots and finds a shard of human bone—there must be murder afoot!
Takahashi generates amusing and brisk suspense out of the worry the normally reticent Japanese urbanite feels about the relative strangers surrounding her in society. Think Rear Window meets Desperate Housewives. Do you really know your neighbors? Takahashi balances horror and domestic comedy in a manner that does capture the wit of classic Hitchcock in its ability to satirize the anxiety of ordinary life.
The second volume of Geneon's DVD release of Rumiko Takahashi Anthology contains too few episodes for its inflated price and no appreciable extras (textless closing sequence and a few production sketches). But it does contain three excellent tales that show how skillfully Takahashi can juggle moods while creating vivid characters.
"Aberrant Family F" steers a little more toward farce than the previous story. The Fuma family is very, very nice today. Dad laughs all the time. Mom prays. Son Shohei gets all his favorite toys. Daughter Hazuki is convinced that her family can only be nice for one reason: they plan to commit family suicide to avoid the disgrace of bankruptcy. It is all another case of anxious misapprehension driving a darkly comic portrait of Japanese family life. There is an underlying sadness to all these stories, reflecting the difficulties of middle class obligations. Nothing quite as delicately constructed as an Ozu drama, but still, much of the suspense here is derived from bourgeois anxiety: financial status, marriage pressures, job transition.
This third situation, that of the insecurity of the modern job market, forms the basis for the third story in this volume, "As Long As You Are Here." Mr. Dohmoto is a proud company man put out of work when his corporation goes bankrupt. He decides to help out his sick wife by filling in at her part-time fast-food job. How does a man with no people skills (other than a penchant for scaring subordinates) fare in the service industry? Naturally, wacky hijinks ensue.
But even at the end of this comic piece, when everybody has learned a helpful lesson and grown a bit, there is still a sense of loss, as there is to all of the stories in this volume of Rumiko Takahashi Anthology. Families might get their issues settled, but there is always some lingering tragedy, downsizing, or bittersweet failure that never completely heals. This reflects a maturity in this phase of Takahashi's work that goes beyond the romantic comedy antics of her more well-known series (only Maison Ikkoku comes close). And this view of the complexities of modern life translates well to any audience, making Rumiko Takahashi Anthology a good series for both fans of this popular artist's work and new viewers who simply love solid storytelling and well-developed characters.
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