« Gravity Hill in Sonoma County | Main | That Almost-Forgotten Thing: Honor »

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie

Caution: Strong and disturbing adult themes are discussed in this post. Please do not read if you are under 18.

My daughter and I are both very fond of Japanese anime. Although there are some differences in taste between us, there are some we all enjoy, such as Rurouni Kenshin, Trigun, and Cowboy Beebop. (My host daughter from Japan, Manami, is also very fond of anime, and she is also a big fan of Kenshin.)

One of the differences in taste is that my daughter prefers the Revolutionary Girl Utena series, which I have not been so fond of. However, the Utena movie is a different matter. We currently have it rented (from NetFlix; if you haven't discovered NetFlix yet, do yourself a big favor and check it out). I watched it once through before my daughter had a chance to, then watched it through again with her.

The first time I found a lot of story to be puzzling. Things and scenes didn't seem to make sense. The second time I found arising unbidden in my mind a theory of what is happening that completely explains everything in the movie. When I told the theory to my daughter, whom I can normally count on to immediately find the weak points in my theories, she said it made sense, and, she says, the more she thinks about it, the more sense it makes to her. In fact, she says, it explains some things that she cannot find any other explanation for. With this theory, far from being a weird fantasy story that makes little sense, Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie is in fact a very wholesome story of healing and integration.

SPOILER ALERT: From this point forward, there will be facts revealed about the movie that might spoil it for you if you have not yet seen it, so read on with caution.

The basic story of Utena in the movie is that Utena is a new girl at an Academy where sword duels are fought for the hand of the Rose Bride, Anthy Himemiya. Utena finds herself drawn into these fights when Saionji, the current "fiancé" of the Rose Bride, comes upon Utena and Anthy talking together and gets angry. Sainoji is abusive toward Anthy, which angers Utena enough to inspire her to win the duel.

In the movie, there is also a girl named Shiori who is shown several times talking to a red-haired man named Touga. Shiori hates a woman named Jury and tries to urge Touga to do something about her, though he says he does not think he could ever be cruel to her.

During the course of the movie, it is revealed that Anthy had been being raped regulary by her big brother, whom she had idolized as her "prince." A story is also told about how "the" prince had really been the Lord of the Flies, but that the princess (shown as Anthy in the story) had turned him into a prince, then locked him in the castle, where he died. We see the ghost image of this young prince regularly.

Anthy's brother, we find out, had died when he discovered that his sister, whom he thought he had been drugging into unconsciousness, had been or had become aware of what was going on. On that revelation, he staggers around, suddenly distraught, looking for the key, saying that a car will rust without the key. He finds what he thinks is the key, stabs Anthy, then staggers around some more and falls off the balcony to his death.

Touga had also been raped by a man when a child. Touga and Utena had been close friends for a while, but he had gone away after rescuing a girl from drowning, and Utena has some issues about that.

In the course of the movie, Shiori urges Jury to fight Utena, which she does, but Utena wins by (inadvertently?) taking on the semblance of the prince. When this happens, Anthy is startled. Shortly after, Anthy vanishes and Utena goes in search of her, but not before entering an elevator in which Touga stands. As they travel in the elevator, Utena speaks to him, saying that she finally remembers it all: That Touga had died saving a young girl from drowning (he had drowned instead). Utena says farewell to him and thanks him, saying that he had always been her prince. All this time, the elevator on his side has been filling with water, and finally she kisses him farewell and he lifts and floats away like an angel.

After that, Utena finds Anthy and tells her to come back to the real world with her. Things get very weird here; Utena turns into a car in a huge car wash, and Anthy finds she has the key to the car. She uses the key and hops in to return to the real world. During their race, there are attempts made to stop them by first Shiori, multiplied many times and saying that she wants to be the only one, then by the machinery of the castle, and finally by Anthy's brother, who says she must stay in this world as a living corpse.

Anthy asks to be granted the power, and Utena is turned into a human being again as they both cry, "The power to revolutionize the world!" After which the brother breaks into pieces and they break through him and the last of the castle machinery into a desolate countryside seen mostly in silhouette, looking like some post-apocalyptic junkyard. Anthy and Utena talk of how they can make new roads for themselves and how they may not make it, but they hope to. However, in the distance at the very end we see a real castle rising into visibility.

This is the essential story line. It counds weird on the face of it, and I haven't even touched on all the weirdnesses.

The Theory: Split Personalities

My theory, simply put, is that Anthy, Utena, and Shiori are all the same person; in other words, they are all parts of a single personality that has split under stress. Each split happened when something happened to the base personality that it was enraged about but that it couldn't face.

The core personality is Anthy, who at the time of the story's opening is unable to say no to anyone whom she feels has the right to be her fiancé. She has lost her ability to be outraged and to speak up for herself, or to even be selfish enough to wish that one person would have died rather than another.

Split #1: Utena

Utena split off from Anthy during the time when Anthy's brother was raping her. It is after the split that Anthy was first able to be conscious through the rape; the part that was outraged at being treated that way had split off and was no longer present to see anything wrong with what was happening. This split unfortunately left Anthy with no defenses, no ability to say no, and no feeling that she deserves better treatment. In short, she is left helpless; she is at the whim of any person who has power over her.

Thus, without the ability to be outraged at her treatment, Anthy could be conscious during the rape. Also, without the ability to be outraged, her only other recourse was to idolize her brother. This is why she tells her big brother that what he is doing is "all right" and that he can do anything he wants because he is her "prince."

This is also why Utena is so enraged when she sees how Saionji treats Anthy; if you watch that scene with this theory in mind, you can see how she is in truth saying all the things that should have been said to her brother when she split off from Anthy.

Let's explore this a little further, since this is one of the central issues of the movie. Recall that at one point in the movie there is a story told of a girl who changed the Lord of the Flies into the prince, then later locked him in the castle. In that story, Anthy is shown as the girl who changed him and locked him up, and the prince is shown as a younger version of Anthy's brother.

The Lord of the Flies is the title of a rather horrible story of adolescent boys who crash land on a deserted island. Very quickly, they revert to a kind of savagery that it was once popular to think was the default human condition without the constraints of society to prevent it.

By saying that the prince was really the Lord of the Flies who had been turned into a prince (assuming that is an accurate translation) by Anthy, the underlying message is that Anthy's brother was so brutally bestial that he didn't even deserve the title of human, let alone prince. It was only in her mind, in a desperate attempt to deny the horrible things he was doing, that he became a prince; therefore it was within her power to see him for what he really was. However, she had locked him inside the castle--that is, she had trapped both herself and her fantasy of him inside her fantasy world (the castle) that has replaced reality. In order to be whole, she will need to both see him for what he was, and escape from the fantasy castle into reality.

Unfortunately, there is a mob outside the castle threatening to lynch her; this almost assuredly represents her fears of what people will think of her were they to know the truth of what her brother had done, and perhaps (though this is unclear), it may also represent her guilty feelings over the death of her brother. She may feel that she is responsible, or she may fear that others will feel she is responsible. The "chorus" represented by the two shadow girls further emphasizes this fear of accusation, as they say that she murdered her brother.

Note that there are two princes in the movie: Anthy's brother, who is a false prince, and Touga, who is the real prince. It is vital for Anthy/Utena to distinguish between the two and to choose which to emulate. Utena has already chosen to emulate Touga; Anthy, on the other hand, has been, not emulating her brother, but acting as though she is still his sex slave by allowing herself to be a (sex and other) slave to anyone who wins the Rose Bride duel.

Anthy is drawn to Utena in part because she senses that Utena has what Anthy has lost; she also is drawn to her because, during the duel with Saionji, Utena said things in defense of Anthy that Anthy had never heard said before, and those words struck a very deep chord in her. In fact, in the movie, Anthy's eyes go wide as soon as Utena puts on the rose ring, which means that Utena will duel for Anthy. This is the first hope Anthy has ever had that she might win free of the untenable situation she is in.

Split #2: Shiori

The second personality split came with when Touga died. Utena loved Touga deeply; she saw him as an oasis of sanity and strength. It is interesting that Touga had also been raped, because it shows a deep (if possibly unconscious) understanding in the creators' minds that often people are attracted to those who share similar personal challenges. Touga is perhaps more sympatico with Utena because of their shared background of having been violated, even if Utena is consciously unaware of it.

When Touga dies saving Jury, Utena couldn't face the loss of the person she saw as perhaps the only person who could save her. So Shiori, who could face the truth and who was also able wish that Jury had died so Touga could live (a thing that neither Utena nor Anthy could do), split off to handle those facts. This is why Shiori hates Jury so much: She blames Jury for Touga's death. This is also why she says she will force Jury to be a prince (i.e., Touga's replacement) forever. And finally, this is why she can never return Jury's love (Jury is in love with Shiori): because Jury was, in Shiori's mind, the cause of Touga's death.

Reintegration Begins

At one point in the movie, after a few interactions with the ghost Touga, Utena desperately accuses Anthy of being responsible for Touga's vanishing, saying that he started to act strangely after she, Anthy, had appeared. This wouldn't make amy sense if it were true that the two had only just met at the Academy, many long years after Touga and Utena had last spoken with each other.

But if we assume instead that this is a crack in the separation, and that Utena is finally beginning to admit that Anthy is a part of her, a part that has been left alone with no strength to defend herself ever since, then it makes perfect sense. At the time Utena knew Touga, it is possible that the Anthy personality made an attempt to reintegrate with Utena, perhaps feeling safer because of Touga's presence. If Touga saw glimpses of Anthy, then he might indeed have started to "act strange" around Utena: he would know that there was something seriously wrong, and indeed his own rape might have triggered further uneasiness if he sensed what the trouble was with Utena/Anthy. It is interesting to note that in the scene of Touga's rape, we see an eerie conversion of millions of cabbage moths turning into miniature Shioris with wings. This is another validation of the fact that it was at the time of Touga that the Shiori personality started to form.

The fact that Utena only now seems to be remembering that Anthy was somehow around when Touga started to act strangely shows that the cracks are starting to form in Utena's separating wall of denial. She is starting to become aware to some extent that she and Anthy are one and the same.

Anthy's response to Utena's tears and accusations is to try to replace one thing that Utena had lost. Her response shows that they can be complete if they join together; they don't need anyone else to "make" them happy. This isn't to say that they can't have others to love in their lives; it is instead to say that they don't need a prince to rescue them.

When Utena finally allows herself to remember Touga's death, she is reclaiming the most important parts of herself that had been broken off with Shiori. She is also now ready to re-integrate with Anthy, whom she finds immediately after and urges to go back to the real world.

The Shiori personality is the angriest and most twisted of the three. I think she knows about the splits and is aware that she, Utena, and Anthy are all the same. She is also deeply fragmented and the least whole of the three; she may even represent the imbalance between Anthy and Utena. In her deeply fragmented state, she pursues Utena and Anthy in the end to try to stop them so she can be the only one who is aware of reality, but what she is afraid of is being destroyed, for she cannot survive on her own. Utena has the core personality's high ideals and ability to speak out for and fight for what is right; Anthy, the core personality, has a gentleness and intelligence that is able to understand much. But Shiori is mostly a bundle of anger aimed inappropriately at Jury.

Toward the end, Utena turns into a car in a car wash because (a) the wash represents coming clean as well as being cleansed of old stains and hurts and (b) the car represents the power to get around in the world. Anthy's brother was shown earlier in the movie with an expensive sports car, but he says he cannot drive it because he lost the key and must use a taxi instead. This seems a pretty straightforward way of saying that

(a) he was impotent in a number of ways (including that he cannot get around in the world in his own vehicle or by his own motivational power) and

(b) he must use someone else's power to get around; in this case, he rapes Anthy because that is the only way he can get it up, but he cannot face the fact that she knows he is raping her.

During the flight scene, when the castle machinery is revealed, characters cry out, "It's a trap!" And it is. The fantasy castle is a trap and an escape from reality that arises out of denial and self-deception; until it is repudiated and gotten beyond, true healing cannot take place. Anthy/Utena must also do something about Shiori so she has no power over them. Utena has already reclaimed the memories that Shiori had been holding about Touga's death, and had also come to terms with his death in a wholesome way that the Shiori fragment had been unable to. Shiori was unable to let go of Touga; Utena was. For that matter, Shiori cannot release or forgive Jury, either.

The real world is, of course, the world in which Anthy and Utena are reintegrated as one whole person. The fantasy world they have been living in is, I think, populated with some real people (Jury, Saionji, and a character named Miki whom I haven't mentioned), possibly altered in Anthy/Utena's mind, but Anthy/Utena is unable to see them completely for who they are because of her insanity. Instead, she integrates them into her fantasy world. Later, these three help her escape at a crucial moment (coming out of a tunnel representing, I believe, a rebirthing), promising to join her in the real world someday.

The landscape outside of the fantasy castle looks so horrible because Anthy/Utena are going to have to go through a kind of personal hell as they come to terms with all the traumas they have been through. The real castle rising in the distance is an indication that they will succeed.

That is essentially it. I could go through the movie scene by scene and explain everything in light of this theory, but I won't. A few of the more minor aspects of the movie:

  • Throughout the movie, two shadow girls make comments on what is happening; these shadow girls are alternate versions of Utena and Anthy. They may be all that is left of Anthy and Utena's true selves that know what has happened, and all that is left of the ability for the true selves to communicate with each other.
  • At one point, Utena and Anthy climb to an observation deck that, according to Anthy, "no one ever comes" to. Utena is awed by the amazing view. The deck represents a vantage point in their own healing process from which they can start to see things they had been denying before.
  • During their time on the observation deck, Utena sees a group of paintings which had started out being draped with cloth. The paintings are initially of the prince and Anthy. Utena says with surprise and some dismay that "these paintings are all of you." As soon as she says that, the content of each painting changes so that they create one painting, separated by the difference frames and canvases, of a naked Anthy lying passed out on a floor. The first paintings represent Anthy's fractured memories and fantasies of her prince. When Utena comments on them, they change into the real picture, which is that of Anthy after being raped by her brother.

    This is Anthy's first inkling of the truth. Before Utena arrived (i.e., before Anthy and Utena started to reintegrate), Anthy could only see the fantasy images of her and the prince. After reintegration begins, Anthy is starting to be able to see the real picture--in other words, she is able to face her memories of being raped by her brother. She could only have had the strength to allow herself to recover those memories in the presence of her long-separated self, Utena. Anthy's dawning awareness is also why Anthy makes a very eerie statement right then about showing Utena why everyone wants the Rose Bride (i.e., her). Anthy is still in pieces in the pictures, though, both because that represents her shattered self and because she hasn't reintegrated with her split-off selves of Utena and Shiori.

  • In the final escape sequence, while Utena is a car, a room full of pink-haired women talks about the escape. These all represent Utena.
  • Toward the end of the movie after the escape, two straw dolls are shown with name tags saying they are Anthy Himemya and Utena Tenjou. These dolls show that there never were separate bodies; that the only differences were in the mind. They may represent the shadow girls, or they may represent the fantasy Utena and Anthy personalities, or both.


Well, that's strange seeing that the movie and the tv series have very identical themes and messages. The movie is a different retelling of the events in the tv series. Oh, and just in case you didn't know, the creator of Utena revealed that utena and Anthy are NOT lesbians!

We have just lately started to watch the series, and though we're only a dozen episodes into it, my fiance has expressed a strong desire to see the movie. I also heard that the movie is a different retelling of the events that happen in the tv series, so even though I read through the spoiler, hopefully it won't ruin the rest of the series.
When we watch the movie, I'll remember your theory. I'm interested in seeing how the story develops while watching it in that state of mind.

Hey...stumbled across this site through google...just gonna say a couple of things.
I watched the series, fell completely in love with it, then watched the movie. The movie is gorgeous, but there are a few things to keep in mind. One; the prince-princess-revolution power is explained in the series. Your theory is nice, and very deep, but it doesn't jive with the series. We have to assume that everyone (well, Anthy and her group aside) is real because the outside world is mentioned for each of them, including Utena. And Shiori switched schools in the series.
The movie is inherently different from the series. My thing is, it's all about perception. Because there is too much 'symbolism' and too much 'weirdness' going on to loop it ALL together perfectly.
About the car-scenes: When the director of the movie was asked about this, he replied that there was no special meaning, he just really wanted to have a car chase.
Another thing: In the series, a kitten was drowned by Touga's sister. I'm thinking there is a direct correlation, because the kitten was something Touga really loved, and it died at the hands of his own blood relation.
Oh yeah, I think you've also got the whole 'prince' thing wrong. Akio (key-rapist dude) is not the prince. He is indeed Anthy's bro, and he does indeed pull strings. But the prince is no real person, the prince is the ideal and some would say that Utena does indeed become the prince.
The reason Anthy is 'weak' and a victim has nothing to do with any split in personality, it has to do with her role as 'witch' and as the rose bride, as the person who had swords stuck in her for her brother. And the reason Utena is 'strong' is...well, that's the whole series right there; Utena arrives from somewhere else and changes everything. She is a seperate person, and that is how she is able to break Anthy out of this thing.
Sorry, I rambled on there quite a bit. My thouhts were not nearly as well put-together as yours were. But really. The movie is gorgeous, but it's on crack. You either treat it as something seperate from the series, which I think you did and which makes no sense to me or you treat it as a nicely trippy ending to a nicely trippy series.
Question: Why didn't you like the actual series?

Sorry, double post. Just wanted to say; One of the big reasons I love Utena so much is that it makes you think, and that you can draw your own conclusions.

ehe. I'm staying around longer than I thought I would:
Title: Talking about Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Title: Ikuhara Kunihiko
Title: Director/Creator Ikuhara Kunihiko
Ikuhara: Utena is someone I wish I could be.
Ikuhara: I want to be a fool. I want to be ignorant. I want to be naive.
Ikuhara: Anthy is, to me, the embodiment of reality.
Ikuhara: I can't reveal the motivation.
Ikuhara: But to give you a little hint, it will be something fun.
Ikuhara: I don't know if the character Anthy herself actually has any "venom."
Ikuhara: I portray her as having "venom" in her, yet at the same time I won't portray her as ever having "malice."
Ikuhara: Speaking for myself, I must say that she is an uncommon character.
Ikuhara: I don't think there has never been anyone quite like her in animation.

Ikuhara: But many people told me it was unintelligible right from episode 1,
Ikuhara: and yet I had meant it to be the biggest crowd-pleaser I could make.
Ikuhara: I couldn't make it any more so than I already had.
Ikuhara: I don't know whether it's what they wanted of me, though.
Ikuhara: I think from now on we are moving away from the atmosphere of episodes 1 and 2.
Ikuhara: You see, I don't want to make works that they will only say are "good."
Ikuhara: Of course, if they say it's good, then that means their reaction was good. I can appreciate that.
Ikuhara: I want to pursue a value of fun for its own sake.
Ikuhara: Since many staffers are working together, someone says "This is good, isn't it?"
Ikuhara: "What's so good about it?" And we go back and forth like that.
Ikuhara: ...Hollywood movies we saw long ago, animation we watched as teenagers,
Ikuhara: manga we thought were so good...
Ikuhara: ...so, what A knows... and what B knows... and what C knows... we keep refining what is good using our common language...
Ikuhara: Then, we notice it's turned out to be a parody. It's turning into an imitation.
Ikuhara: So, I wanted to avoid such imitations to the best of my ability.
Ikuhara: I feel each of the characters is my alter ego.
Ikuhara: The Shadow Play Girls are my friends.
Ikuhara: Those girls come from Planet Kashira.
Ikuhara: And they often talk to me via radio waves... almost every day.
Ikuhara: I think my generation, as well as the younger generation, lacks imagination.they can't imagine they will grow up to be happy.
Ikuhara: The grownups they communicate with are their parents, their teachers and the like.
Ikuhara: But looking at them, they can never be convinced that their future will be happy.
Ikuhara: I don't think that's because of their parents, but because of their lack of imagination.
Ikuhara: That may apply to me, too, though. I'm not so sure if I can portray this very well toward the audience, but...
Ikuhara: Through this, you may be able to imagine a happy future,
Ikuhara: or through this, you might be able to go on living happily. Or...
Ikuhara: These are the sorts of things I wish to portray.
Ikuhara: To put it nicely, this is why Utena is naive and foolish. She speaks of her Prince and the like, at her age.
Ikuhara: To our sensibilities, we think of that as stupid.
Ikuhara: I want to show that this sensibility of ours,
Ikuhara: that leads us to think of that as stupid, is itself absurd.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)