Time Stranger
Remi Shimada finds herself in a mysterious dream world
Cynthia Ward · December 6, 2003 | I ran something of an experiment when I watched the new DVD of Time Stranger. My significant other had seen no anime besides Spirited Away, and until we met he'd never heard the term "anime." For our first anime together, I chose Time Stranger. I originally saw this movie almost twenty years ago, when it was known as Goshogun: Time Etranger; I'd only seen a couple of other anime videos when I watched it on a snowy third-generation VHS dupe in Japanese, which I don't speak. Etranger/Time Stranger blew my mind. But the reviews I've seen since that day were all negative, so I chose it with an ulterior motive: I wanted to witness an innocent reaction to Time Stranger.

The sequel to the animated Japanese TV series Goshogun, Time Stranger is the fictional film biography of the life and (perhaps) death of the apparently ageless Remi Shimada, who was the only female member of the Goshogun giant-robot team. As ambitiously nonlinear as Pulp Fiction, Time Stranger alternates subplots: one occurs when Remi is ten, another when she is seventy, and a third when she may be twenty. This uncertainty results because Remi is lost in memory on her potential deathbed, and the events from her young womanhood may be interpreted as alien-world adventure, as hallucination, or as delirium. Is Remi dreaming, or remembering, or dying?

Opening some forty years after Goshogun, Time Stranger races into an overlong car chase, in which Remi manifests a multiple sclerosis-like disease symptom that causes her to crash. Members and enemies of the Goshogun team rally around her hospital bed as she remembers and/or hallucinates.

In the main subplot, the young woman Remi finds herself in a mysterious, quasi-Muslim city/world with three suns—a world that is also a realm of horror. Turning on the shower in her primitive hotel room, Remi unleashes a flood of bright red blood—or does she? The nature of reality remains ambiguous as Remi's teammates gather and she receives perhaps-supernatural but clear omens that she will soon die. The locals insist that everyone receives warning of his death, and no one evades his destiny. Remi refuses to bow to fate, though illness blurs her vision and destroys her strength, and though escape from the alien city proves bizarrely impossible.

Time Stranger
Central Park Media, 2003
Originally released in 1985
Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama
90 minutes

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The movie polarizes viewers, and not just because it's bigoted against Muslims. If you take every event literally, Time Stranger doesn't make logical sense, and the conclusion is a mystery. This is not because the decades-separated subplots create a nonlinear movie; Pulp Fiction, though also nonlinear, makes logical sense. But Pulp Fiction operates according to traditional plot logic. Time Stranger operates according to dream logic. Time Stranger makes emotional sense.

Seeing it at long last with English subtitles, I finally understood Time Stranger. Naturally, this made the movie less mystifying, but also, oddly, less compelling, less evocative, less awe-inspiring. Still, unlike most movies enjoyed in youth, Time Stranger remains strong and interesting; and I know I'll be watching it again down the years and decades. I cannot report that Time Stranger blew my lover's mind (except afterwards, when I told him this giant-robot-free movie was a giant-robot movie). But I can report that he too found Time Stranger fascinating and entertaining. Time Stranger fulfilled my second ulterior motive: it proved the value of anime.

DVD Extras: Time Stranger backstory; trailer.
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