Serial Experiments Lain (1998)Also known as "Serial Experiments Lain Volume 4: Reset "
Starring: Kaori Shimizu, Ayako Kawasumi, Ryûnosuke Obayashi, Rei Igarashi, Yôko Asada, Chiharu Tezuka, Mazabi Mizuno, Shô Hayami, Kotomi Muto, Kento Takimoto, Yuki Yamamoto, Sora Tômo, Takumi Yamazaki
Director: Ryutaro Nakamura
Running Time: 72 minutes
US MPAA rating: N/A
UK BBFC rating: 12
Animation, Mystery, Science Fiction
Everything that has a beginning has an end. So boasted the portentous motto for the final film in the Wachowski brothers' Matrix trilogy - but a whole year before the first instalment of Matrix appeared way back in 1999, Ryutaro Nakamura had already laid down all the protocols for this kind of apocalyptic reality-bending cyberpunk in the stunning animé of 'Serial Experiments Lain' - in which thirteen year old schoolgirl Lain is forced to question who she is, where she comes from and for what purpose, after the boundaries between the real world and the wired world of the internet start to unravel before her big doe-like eyes. While Lain's adventures through the looking glass lack the violent action of Matrix, they deal with similar questions about the relationship between man, machine and god, but are far more challengingly elliptical, confoundingly psychedelic and just plain weird than anything the Wachowskis could dream up.
'Reset', the final DVD volume of 'Serial Experiments Lain', comprises the series' last three episodes (or 'layers'). 'Infornography' opens with a bewilderingly impressionistic ten-minute reprise of all that has happened so far (introduced with the caption 'no, it's nothing as ambiguous as "memory"'), after which God reveals to Lain that she is 'software...an executable program with body', two ghosts from the past argue about whether suicide is easy, Lain uses her powers to erase all trace from reality of the intimate rumours about her best friend Arisu, and (in the episode's cliffhanger climax) Lain actually smiles.
In 'Landscape', Lain starts erasing people's bad memories of herself, the men in black realise too late that they have been manipulated into destroying the Knights by the deceased programmer Masami Eiri, Arisu teaches Lain the value of having a body, and when God/Eiri assumes his own bodily form in the real world and attacks, Lain reveals that he is only an 'acting God' and destroys him.
The last episode, 'Ego', opens with a staticky image of Lain giving voice to what most viewers will be thinking: 'I'm confused again'. With 'God' dead, Lain apologises to her friend Arisu for messing up everything, and erases all remaining memories of herself. In a sort of reverse-'It's a Wonderful Life', the series' events are revisited with Lain no longer present to connect them, in a new alternative world where all the familiar characters are now alive, well and happy. Lain, however, alone, forlorn and with only herself to talk to, resists the temptation to become God of the reset world, instead having tea with her father (or should that be Father?) who promises to bring madeleines next time (making this one of the only cartoons ever to allude to Proust). Lain realises that she loves everyone in the world that she watches over but which no longer remembers her; and finally visits a happier, adult Arisu who is sure she knows Lain but cannot quite remember how.
'Serial Experiments Lain' addresses all of the questions raised by the series with answers which are so convoluted, and which themselves pose so many more questions, that viewers are left feeling that they have emerged, exhausted, from a trip that is still not quite over. Just as well, really, since any conclusion less open and indeterminate than this would just have seemed banal - and it is neat that a series all about making connections ultimately leaves this task to the viewers, who, like Lain herself, must find their own way out of a dark, shifting network of information.
Whether Lain is a self-sacrificing messiah, a piece of background spyware, or an avatar of the collective unconscious, her memory-twisting end, falling somewhere between The Butterfly Effect, Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is, for all its irrationality, strangely affecting, and guarantees that, for anyone who has seen her, Lain will remain difficult to forget.
DVD Extras: Choice of English or Japanese audio (each with optional English subtitles); elaborate episode and scene selection, plus brief, eccentric 'devices' appended to every episode, focussing on a different body part of Kaori Shimizu; promotional trailers for the DVD, television, cd, and Playstation game; concept art (18 design stills); plus suitably enigmatic (and very short) trailer for 'Lain' entitled 'the weird'.
It's Got: Madness, suicide, deicide, self-effacement, déjà vu, beautifully trippy artwork, a dark teatime of the soul, and a strangely moving conclusion.
It Needs: Close attention and an open mind.
Alternatives: Serial Experiments Lain Volume 1: Navi, Serial Experiments Lain Volume 2: Knights, Serial Experiments Lain Volume 3: Deus, Matrix, 'Avalon', 'Existenz', 'Videodrome', 'All About Lily Chou-Chou', Donnie Darko, The Butterfly Effect, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Summary: With this enigmatic but deeply moving conclusion, Lain will haunt the dark recesses of your unconscious for a long time to come.
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