Monday, 4 May 2009

Serial Experiments Lain (Japan, 1998)

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…

Granted, quoting this much-addressed passage from Proust's In Search of Lost Time testifies a certain lameness on my part, and why is this extract which stems from one of the greatest achievements in literature (according to popular belief, as I haven't read the whole bloody thing) here anyway, in the vicinity of what is supposed to be a fervently propagandistic sort of summary of a dubious animated series from Japan?
The madeleine issue, for one thing, is alluded to in the very last episode. And the concept which said madeleine issue itself alludes to - memory, in Proust's instance memories which are connected with, unearthed really from a person's mind by some sensuous experience with a certain object, such as the taste of a madeleine biscuit soaked with tea triggers a memory of his childhood - looms large in Serial Experiments Lain. Here, it is put in juxtaposition with questions of existence and identity,

"What isn't remembered never happened. Memory is merely a record. You just need to re-write that record." / "If you aren't remembered, then you never existed."

and subjects such as God, psychotropic drugs, our individual perception and definition of reality and certainly, communication in this age of highly advanced technology. Infact, a frequently used shot in pretty much every episode is that of high-tension wires producing a permanent whirring noise, signifying that "everyone is always connected."

Lain, the eponymous protagonist of the series, is an adolescent girl who lives with her clinical mother, technology-obsessed father and her typically irritable older sister in suburban Japan. Some schoolmates tell her that they've received e-mails from a girl who has just committed suicide, and when Lain herself sees the message in her computer at home, the apparently dead girl Chisa contacts her, saying that she has "just abandoned her flesh" and has found God in the Wired, a global communications network similar to but slightly more extreme than the internet.

Visually, although a little dated by today's standard and not exactly as impressive as Mononoke, the style of Lain is still incredibly striking and atmospheric, alternating between landscapes bleak and gloomy, psychedelically colourful, and luminously bright. The omnipresence of the Wired is symbolized by red moving patterns in the shadows of buildings, and at times the creators make use of Godard-influenced onscreen typography (see his Week-end as an exemplary display of this technique). The "bruitage" of Lain fluctuates between simulations of sounds of machines and urban infrastructure on the one hand and pieces of both harsh and melancholic electronica on the other which emphasize the solitude and confusion of Lain herself. The opening theme ("Duvet" by British band Bôa) seems antithetical but effectively adds to the whole and gently resonates Lain's state of mind.

Hopefully I managed to ignite some interest in some of you despite my lack of reviewing abilities and didn't just make this sound like a shitload of Cyberpunk mindfuck. It's 13 episodes à 20 minutes, and as such tremendously dense and at times a little frustrating to follow, but it's still a rewarding experience.

(upload courtesy of Syphin / Spiral Nine)

Format: .ogm
Language: Japanese / English
Subtitles: English softsub

Layer 01: Wired
Layer 02: Girls
Layer 03: Psyche
Layer 04: Religion
Layer 05: Distortion
Layer 06: Kids
Layer 07: Society
Layer 08: Rumors
Layer 09: Protocol
Layer 10: Love
Layer 11: Infornography
Layer 12: Landscape
Layer 13: Ego


Dave M said...

Thanks a lot for this (and for Mononoke, which was fantastic!). Seems to be in English though.

Jessica said...

hey Dave,

actually you should be able to switch between the Japanese and English audiotrack, somewhere in the options of your player of choice.

vespucci said...

Out of context: Are you still looking for a better version of Lenica's "Laybrinth"? (kind of requested in late December)
Do you prefer an .avi file (Xvid compressed, about 180 Mb) or do you want to go for the the full DVD version (about 900 Mb)?

Jessica said...


that's an out-of-context question which I can absolutely tolerate. That 180mb file should certainly suffice. Thanks so much for your offer.

vespucci said...

Here you are:
(about 191 Mb)

Dave M said...

Thanks Jessica, that works! BTW I saw (what I think was) the American premiere of that Debussy opera fragment on your wish list, and it was really nice. I know there's a recording too - good luck!

ido said...

Thank you very much for this! Been wanting to check this out for a while. Love your blog.

Josh said...

Great post. I always enjoy seeing another artists process. I learn so much. Really makes me want to pull out my oils.
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