• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Saturday, February 15, 2020

    The Japanese Anime Bible Series
    Tezuka Osamu no Kyuuyaku Seisho Monogatari
    /In the Beginning (1993)

    Despite doing this for 20 years, somehow I'd been unaware of Tezuka Productions' animated Bible series In the Beginning only recently registered with me. The series is discussed in passing in Fumi Ogura and N. Frances Hioki's chapter on "Anime and the Bible" in "The Bible in Motion". I guess this is because there are so many hand-drawn animated series and so much else to write about I've never looked that closely.

    Anyway, the series was actually commissioned by Italian TV network RAI to be primarily marketed towards children. Whilst Osamu Tezuka, the "Father of Manga", was the creative genius behind the studio,1 the company's CEO at the time was Takayuki Matsutani who later recalled RAI's producer telling them "There are a few restrictions, but you are free to do what you want".2 However, later there were disagreements with the series' biblical advisers.

    The pilot, The Story of Noah, was finished around 1986 and although Tezuka continued to work on the other episodes, he died in 1989 and the series had to be completed without him. Director Dezaki Osamu is credited with the remaining episodes. Ogura & Hioki say that the series debuted on RAI in 1993, though various online sources cite 1997, including this one which also gives airing dates and a crew list. You can read what Ogura & Hioki say about it at Google Books and view all the entries on this convenient YouTube playlist.

    The full list of titles in this series is as follows:
    1 - The Creation
    2 - Cain and Abel
    3 - The Story of Noah
    4 - The Tower of Babel
    5 - Abraham, the Forefather
    6 - Sodom and Gomorrah
    7 - Isaac and Ishmael
    8 - Isaac's Destiny
    9 - Jacob's Children
    10 - Joseph's Triumph
    11 - Moses, The Egyptian
    12 - The Fire in the Desert
    13 - Moses and the Pharaoh
    14 - The Exodus
    15 - Laws Carved in Stone
    16 - Israel's Treachery
    17 - New Alliance
    18 - Jericho
    19 - One king for Israel
    20 - King Saul
    21 - King David
    22 - King Solomon
    23 - The Exile of Israel
    24 - Release from Bondage
    25 - Prophets in the Desert
    26 - The Birth of Jesus
    I'm going to watch some of these episodes and report back. Judging by the comments on YouTube they inspired a strong connection in some of those who watched them when they were young.

    Incidentally this webpage also mentions a Brasilian anime series called "Superbook".
    1 - Osamu Tezuka is perhaps best known for his 1965-66 anime Kimba the White Lion which seems to have formed some of the inspiration behind The Lion King (1995).
    2 - Ogura and Hioki give the following citation for this, but I've been unable to locate it - perhaps due to the anglicisation of the original Japanese title and my lack of Japanese:
    Matsutani, Takayuki. 1994. "Seisho terebi shirizu-ka ni atatte." in Tenchi Sōzō. Ed Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka Osamu no Kyūyaku Seisho Monogatari Series 1. Tokyo: Shūeisha. Pp 284-286.

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    Monday, February 03, 2020

    Good Omens (2019)
    Episode 3:Hard Times

    In an effort to stay on-topic, rather than covering all of the episodes of Good Omens, I'm going to stick to those which deal with specific biblical narratives saving my comments on the overall end-of-the-world story for the end of the series.

    Episode 3 begins by returning to the series' opening scene from the Garden of Eden with Michael Sheen's Aziraphale trying to dodge God's question about what he did with the flaming sword. He seemingly gets away with it and we fast-forward to 3004 BC where he and Crowley are reunited in the moments before the great flood. As with Adam and Eve's banishment from Eden Aziraphale's classic British reserve and hesitancy leaves him a little uneasy with God's response describing God's plans to wipe out the human race as "a bit tetchy". Interestingly though this is only to be a localised flood "I don't believe the Almighty is upset with the Chinese, or the Native Americans...or the Australians".

    Crowley, however, seems indignant. "Kids? You can't kill kids?" adding "that's more the kind of thing you'd expect my lot to do.". There's a joke about unicorns, which was perhaps a bit fresher in 1990 when Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wrote the original novel. Pratchett and Gaiman had been keen to adapt the novel for the screen for years before Pratchett's death, but Gaiman only became ready to finish the project after he received a post-dated letter from Pratchett urging him to do so.

    The other biblical scene here is of the crucifixion. While the humour here is no less flippant and irreverent, it's a little more respectful. As Jesus is being nailed to the cross, Crowley observes "Your lot put him on there", to which Aziraphale can offer little defence. Crowley explains how he had "showed him all the kingdoms of the world"; Aziraphale explains that all Jesus did to cause his death was to tell them to "Be kind to each other".

    What is noticeable about this scene, however, is Jesus's teeth (see above). Nearly all Jesus films give themselves away by having their 1st century peasant messiah shown with 20th/21st century dentistry. In some cases this is hugely distracting, but even the less pristine Jesus films cast their lead with near-perfect teeth. Here they have deliberately blacked them out and made it look like the odd one is broken, an odd moment of veritas for such a playful and comic production, but one that is very much appreciated.

    Incidentally, if you want to find out a bit more about Terry Pratchett, I'd point you in the direction of my friend Marc Burrows' forthcoming book "The Magic of Terry Pratchett", the first ever biography on Pratchett, available for pre-order now.


    Sunday, February 02, 2020

    Messiah (2020): Episodes 6-8

    If this is the first time you've come across my blog I should point out this is not a typical post. In 15 years of blogging I've hardly ever used the term 'antichrist' - it just happens that both this and Good Omens have come out at the same time!

    Two things happened for me while watching and reading about episodes 6-8 of Netflix's Messiah (2020). The first is that it was in these episodes where is becomes clear that it is not just the filmmakers who are knowingly referencing events in the Gospels, but the character Al-Masih himself. Most significant in this respect is the main set piece of episode six when Al-Masih (who we learn is really called Payem Golshiri) walks across the Lincoln Memorial's Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.

    This is a miracle recognised even by those who have no other knowledge of Jesus. When Al Masih does it, it is a calculated move he has chosen as a way of staking the claim that he IS Jesus. Without tediously going into the specifics, this is exactly how the crowd in the programme interpret this miracle. This was not clearly the case in earlier miracles which lacked such a biblical parallel. So while there have been other parallels along the way, the Messiah's referencing of gospel events is part of servicing the series' broader aim.

    This is particularly significant because prior to this we have not been party to Al Masih's understanding of himself. Dramatically this serves to keep up the suspense: is he the real deal or an impostor? We've been denied any hint of what he himself thinks - even his typically flat and seemingly dispassionate delivery maintains this barrier. When, for example, in episode seven a woman turns up in Al Masih's room his initial response is blunt and a little offensive, as if he lacks social skills. Indeed, I find myself a little repelled by it. But then he turns it around, the reaction his abrupt manner produces gives him enough to work with to reach the heart of this woman, and maker her devoted to him. Again there are shades of the Gospels here, albeit it a mishmash of the woman accused of adultery, the woman who anoints Jesus, and later traditions about Mary Magdalene. Essentially a woman who has broken the supposedly acceptable markers of sexuality finds acceptance in the Messiah and becomes a follower.

    It's clear that Al Maish has a heightened sense of who this woman is, but is he genuinely helping the woman find self-acceptance, or just disarming one of his enemies weapons? Al Masih talks about love, but there's very little warmth. This is cunning because it sets the viewer against her/himself. We expect the two to go together, but because we want this encounter to be genuine we're also prepared to accept that the two don't have to go together.

    The second element to emerge for me during these episodes was the possibility that Al Masih is the Antichrist. One one level this has been there from the start, not least because of the Muslim commentators who were quick to point out the associations of the name Al Masih with Al Masih ad Dajjal (an Antichrist-like figure, see comments on episodes 1-3).

    At the same time, however, I've not felt the previous episodes of the show were that concerned with this possibility, but were more interested in three other options: that Al Masih is some variation on Christ returned; that he is simply a harmless impostor; or that his deception is more insidious but is part of a rogue foreign power's plan to compromise the defences of the US and her allies. That's what's concerning the CIA at any rate. It's perhaps significant then that these episodes see an increase in Muslim reactions to Al Masih, including Jibril becoming a leader.

    Thus far, what Messiah has done differently from, say, horror films which use an Antichrist figure, is to leave the viewer puzzling over whether or not Al Masih is the true Christ or a false messiah. In fact, biblically speaking the term is very low key. It's only use is in John's epistles, primarily 1 John 2:18-28 (but also ch.4 and 2 John 1), and is simply "one who denies the Father and the Son" (v22). A single, dramatic Antichrist is not on the cards so much as various people who will leave the community and deny their faith.

    From there various people have extrapolated the word to other parts of the Bible. Perhaps the closest is  Mark 13/Matt 24/Luke 21. The disciples ask Jesus a question about the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 A.D.) and he starts to discuss false Messiahs - people posing as Christ returned but who are nothing of the sort. Some have spun this out to be referring to the end of the world, hence this is the biblical conundrum these episodes pose.

    This is why Al Masih's deliberate rehashing of biblical incidents is significant. It's a claim to be a Messiah, but is it true or false?

    What we also see in this episode is references to some of the other, more vivid passages and characters, such as 2 Thes. and Rev.18, that some have linked to the idea of the Antichrist, even though the word is not used.

    Firstly, at the start of episode 8 we have Al Masih suggesting to the US President the possibility of a thousand years of peace, which seems like a reference to Rev.20's thousand years when the devil is locked up, though Al Masih's solution is for the president to "withdraw all American troops" from foreign soil.

    Then there is the scene where Philip Baker Hall's character, Kelman Katz, encounters a beach full of dead fish. For film fans, this very much evokes the famous moment in Magnolia when it starts raining frogs, but it also has echoes of a third of all the sea creatures dying at the start of Rev.13-18. The news of a tidal surge at the end of episode 8 also seems to evoke this passage.

    Thirdly, episode 7 also reveals a link between Al Masih and Russia. Some of the most extreme end-time predictions link Russia with Gog and Magog from Ezek.38-19 and Rev.20. It's a clever reference by the writers, more than anything else, designed to catch the ear of those who know more about this than is probably healthy.

    Finally, episode 8 also features Al Masih holds a press conference and is asked outright "Are you the Messiah", but instead of giving a straight answer he replies "I am a message". The journalist is not so easily satisfied however and demands that he "answer the question". This time he replies with a claim which could come from either a returning Jesus or an antichrist figure: "I am here to bring about the world to come."

    All of which has the effect of placing the audience in a position similar to that of the intended audiences for John's epistles and the synoptic gospels. Someone is making claims to be the Messiah, but is he; or is he a false messiah working to bring about the end of the world? The series wants it's audience to make it's own judgements and, unlike typical supernatural thrillers, wants to prolong that process so audiences have to wrestle with it themselves. The episode ends with a tidal surge putting lives at risk (perhaps the third trumpet in Rev.13?) and Al Masih being grilled again. When he says he only wants what God wants, he is pressed further. "What is it that God wants?" Al Massih pauses and looks wistfully out of the window "He wants the flood".

    Ongoing thanks to readysteadycut.com for the extremely useful plot summaries.