Filming and Re-Filming Culture in Macross

There are many aspects of Macross 7 that I didn’t care for, but one decision made that struck me as rather bizarre at the time has stuck with me since, and I even think of it as sort of brilliant now. That is, the choice to integrate Macross: Do You Remember Love? into the Macross canon as a literal movie filmed in the Macross universe. Even though it creates a whole host of logistical issues (they must have found some great lookalikes and soundalikes for everyone who died/was evil), I like to think that all the major players in SDF Macross played themselves in the Do You Remember Love? movie.

Almost since the invention of motion pictures, individuals and groups — particularly governments — have taken note of the potential of movies to be powerful tools of propaganda. (Note that while the term “propaganda” is often used pejoratively, for the purposes of this post, I’m taking a neutral view of it — that is, “propaganda” is a work created to further one’s cause, damage another cause or both. No judgment of positive or negative value here.) Think of Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin, Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, the numerous American-produced movies about World War II, the direction of movies following the Vietnam War and so on.

Although the general public is likely much more media savvy than even 20-25 years ago (much less 50-80 years back), movies and the images they portray still wield a great power. It’s one thing to read accounts of soldiers and civilians in war torn areas; it is quite another to see brutal images for ourselves, exaggerated or not. Probably very few people left, say, The Hurt Locker not shaken up at least a little bit. That’s the power of a movie: It can put us in another world, where we see and hear all that goes on. If done well enough, the audience is totally immersed, and that’s almost instant identification. A movie doesn’t even have to be overt propaganda to stick with us and affect us, really.

And that’s where the brilliance of Macross 7‘s decision comes in. Macross is about romance, but it’s also about celebration of culture, and what better way to celebrate and disseminate culture than through movies? It’s a window into a culture’s thoughts and views, however narrow or broad that window may be.

It all starts in the original, right? The goofy kung fu flick Shao Pai Lan – starring Minmay and Kaifun — is one of the Zentradi’s most memorable peeks into human culture. To humans, it’s just a fun movie to watch, kill some time and forget about being stuck in the middle of outer space after being warped to freaking Pluto. To the Zentradi, it’s a symbolic representation of the power humans wield, even if they at first misunderstand that power due to their lack of culture. We see Shao Pai Lan and think, “Man, those kung fu moves kick ass!”; the Zentradi think, “Holy crap, we had better think twice before screwing with these people!”

The culture of movies isn’t highlighted quite as much as the culture of pop music and idols in SDF Macross, but the points are along the same lines: It might be goofy as hell, but it’s something we share and enjoy, and therefore something to be treasured, even if it has the intellectual depth of Lindsay Lohan after a night of sake bombs. Those are the feelings that so-called cheap culture stirs up in the Zentradi as well. They enjoy Shao Pai Lan, “My Boyfriend Is a Pilot” and especially making out.

Then comes Do You Remember Love? Even though it is a bit strange to think about at first, it is not such a huge leap to accept that this movie could be an in-universe flick to tell the story of SDF Macross to audiences in a more palatable form. First off, just think of the money it would make for the producers. (Although, now that I think about it, does Macross ever address the economics of its worlds all that much? Considering the ultimate message of Macross 7, is there even money to be made in this universe?) People probably lined up for months to be the first to catch this flick. Certainly a hell of a lot better than Shao Pai Lan. I mean, there’s barely any Kaifun in it at all!

But as it is used in Macross 7, Do You Remember Love? is also another way to push the legend of Lynn Minmay, the woman whose song helped the U.N. forces make peace with the Zentradi who wanted to immerse themselves in human culture, and defeat those who would have destroyed humanity.

Really, this use of Do You Remember Love? even explains the differences between the TV series and movie. When real life events are translated into movie form, they are never completely accurate, and rarely even “mostly” accurate. It’s a common complaint about biopics and historical dramas and whatnot: “This isn’t how it actually happened. The writers changed the events to fit the story they wanted to tell!” There are many reasons this might happen. It could be as shallow as the creators want a big star in the lead role. (Like, I dunno, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.) Or the creators could want to simplify events to make them as exciting and daring as possible. (Think Bonnie and Clyde.) Or, most controversial of all, events could be altered to make political statements and/or to make heroes out of people. (The Hurricane is a relatively recent movie that came under heavy fire for how it bent the facts of boxer Rubin Carter’s life for dramatic effect.)

This reminds me of The Simpsons when Lionel Hutz tells Marge that there is, “The truth *frowns* . . . and The Truth! *grins widely while shaking head up and down*” I think people are silly to expect complete historical accuracy from a movie. Films are created to entertain and to tell a story, and their status as art (whether actual Art, or simply an art) means they are often (but not always) less interested in the truth, and more interested in The Truth. That is, an emotional truth, a political truth or whatever. Fiction uses lies to tell truths. That said, there’s also room for legitimate complaint since one man’s truth is another man’s pack of lies. It is perfectly fine, in my mind, to question a movie’s motives for changing fact rather than simply getting hot and bothered that fact was changed at all.

What Do You Remember Love? does in the context of the Macross universe is use fiction (or lies if you want to be more blunt) to tell its Truth. Did Hikaru and Misa really discover an ancient Protoculture city? Was Minmay really a big star when she and Hikaru met for the first time? Was there no Pineapple Salad to be found at all? And the real question . . . how much does any of that actually matter? Do You Remember Love? exists to entertain, and to push the story of culture filling a culture gap and bringing peace. That is its Truth. Is it any less Truthful because it is built upon lies?

(A quick aside: My favorite potential wrinkle of the “Macross crew starred as themselves in Do You Remember Love?” theory is Misa portraying herself as a huge bitch for most of the movie. Her relationship with Hikaru starts off bumpy in the original series, but not to the extent seen in the movie. In a way, it is an almost ironic reflection of Minmay’s portrayal in the same picture.

Imagine: You’re part of a generation growing up just after the events in SDF Macross. All you’ve heard are the stories practically deifying Minmay, her tragically unrequited love and how she selflessly sacrificed that to sing a heartfelt, beautiful love song to everyone fighting the war. If you were watching that movie, wouldn’t you be shipping the hell out of Minmay and Hikaru? And wouldn’t you feel just a bit upset that Hikaru ultimately chooses Misa, even though she gets better at the end? Wouldn’t you be moved by the grace with which Minmay accepts her romantic defeat at the end? Misa loves Hikaru, but she sees the power of Minmay’s image, and for the good of the U.N. she goes along with the story. Is it true? I don’t know. But it would be amazing.)

So, after that, time warp all the way to Macross 7 and its retelling of Minmay’s life featured in episode 11, The Lynn Minmay Story. It’s a piece of popular, morale-building entertainment, but Basara — slated to start as Hikaru — sees it as a recruitment tool for the United Forces. (And, really, considering the circumstances — a dangerous enemy has infiltrated the ship — it probably is, to an extent.) The Truth of art often comes down to what perspective people view it from.

Maybe The Lynn Minmay Story is just a piece of pop entertainment, no different from Minmay’s songs. Maybe it’s a reminder of how people from long ago fought against an enemy much greater in strength and numbers than they were. Maybe it’s a piece of propaganda meant to get people fired up and willing to fight. Maybe it’s all of those, or none at all. Everyone has a different view: Mylene is excited to star as Minmay. Ray wants to increase awareness of Fire Bomber’s music. Basara does not want any part of it due to the politics he sees in the movie.

The Lynn Minmay story isn’t really something on its own, I think. Rather, it’s something because it is made into something by those who view it. Maybe the creators had a specific goal in mind during the creation of the movie; however, as the Fire Bomber crew shows, different things come across differently to different people. A symbol is nothing unless it has something to symbolize, and how would we know it symbolizes something unless we were looking for that something? A work can make the hunt easier for people, but the viewer brings as much meaning to the table as the creator. After all, what is the point of having something to interpret if nobody is around to interpret it?

In a way, Basara does just what those who make historical movies do: He takes the story and changes it to what he desires to show. The enemy attacks during filming, and Basara rushes off to battle with the cameras still rolling. His song is intended to be purely for peace rather than for purposes of attack. That’s the story he wants to show, although he is not thinking about the cameras at the time. Basara sees Minmay as someone who changed the universe and achieved peace through music, and not as someone who enabled war through her songs.

(But he’s still a big idiot.)

Finally we have episode 10 of Macross Frontier, which is a big ol’ lovefest for fans of Macross Zero. The events of that OVA are retold in the movie Bird Human, based on the book of the same name, a biography of Shin Kudou written by Mao Nome. Aside from all the great Macross Zero fanservice with several scenes lifted shot-for-shot from the OVA (including the scene in the above screenshot where Mao uses underwater air transfer as an excuse to kiss Shin), the episode cleverly mirrors the central love triangle in Zero with the love triangle in Frontier: Alto, Sheryl and Ranka.

Unlike The Lynn Minmay Story, the reasons for making Bird Human – aside from it being a good story — are not made explicit. Presumably it is intended as a star vehicle for Miss Macross victor Miranda Melyn and Sheryl, who provides the movie’s theme song. But Ranka impresses the director so much with her singing that she is immediately cast into the role of Mao, and she then acts with Alto, who is filling in as a stunt double for the actor playing Shin, who hilariously refuses to do underwater scenes.

The mirroring of Macross Zero is taken to its height as Ranka struggles with kissing Alto during their scene; will she go through with it, or not? Sheryl sees that Alto is somewhat reluctant, as well, but he tries to play it off coolly by saying that a kiss is just a kiss. Sheryl agrees, and in one of those actions that makes her so very awesome, she seizes the moment and plants a kiss on the lips of the very surprised Alto. Ranka sees this, and is spurred on to do the scene — in that moment she understands Mao’s feelings, the feelings of a girl who loves someone seemingly unattainable but who desires to go after him anyway by any means necessary.

This demonstrates the final motif of movies in Macross: The main characters star in these films, and they play out not only the stories meant for the screen, but their own stories as well. Ranka gets the courage to do the scene with Alto because in that moment she sees much of herself in Mao. A piece of culture — of a woman’s life — from 2008 transcends time and finds someone who gets it in 2059. Ranka plays out Mao’s story — lives in something approximating the culture Mao experienced — but at the same time she plays out her own story. She gets something from the movie and puts a piece of herself into it at the same time. That’s the power the movie wields.

One final thing: I love the irony of Macross Zero being the story chosen to make a movie out of. A bunch of Hollywood types go to a (presumably manufactured) island to create a Hollywoodized movie featuring a character who wished to protect the sanctity of her home from outside influence — and played by a manufactured star, no less! Not so sure that Sara would have enjoyed this!

4 Responses to “Filming and Re-Filming Culture in Macross”

  1. The thing is… in the tradition of the Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy, DYRL? is also an attempt to fix perceived problems in the 36-episode TV series.

    This means there is merging of the continuity to some degree. Going forward I’ll attempt to present which events really happened in the narrative as a guide to fans and interested viewers.

    The same problem continues in Macross Frontier.

    As for your idea that the actors in DYRL are pretty much the historical figures playing themselves… I dunno man. It’s hard enough to get good performances from pros, much less from non-actors. Also it’ll be super ridiculous to act with people who play friends who got killed, etc; not to mention, the protagonists reliving the love triangle all over again.

    That said, great post on the idea of film in the Macross universe.

    • Yeah, it’s something I like the idea of, but realistically I realize that in the Macross universe it’s almost certainly just a bunch of actors, just as in the Macross Zero flick in Frontier.

  2. The Macross franchise has always used CG correctly, there fore the actors in DYRL are CG. How else would you explain the characters looking so shoddy on the tv series but beautiful in the movie.

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