8½ (1963) by Federico Fellini & Ranma ½ (1989-1992) by Rumiko Takahashi Review: The Smoke and Steam

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8½ (1963) by Federico Fellini
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Ranma ½ (1989-1992) by Rumiko Takahashi

Reader-Response Criticism Credibility

On the surface, it may appear that the only similarity to draw here is that both feature a fraction in their titles… but after critically analyzing  and Ranma ½, I think there are more parallels and deeper connections to draw.

Did these artists have any impact on one another? Probably not. And maybe the comparisons I’m about to draw are vague enough to apply to any movie or television series… but you know what, I spent four years in college (five if you count the eight months I spent on a tallship) learning about literary criticism. And while critics like to pretend that they analyze art through an objective lens, it’s not true. Every critic brings their baggage and personal experience with them using the vernacular of the medium, or even a branch of psychology, to prove their point. It’s a way of stating their opinion as though there’s evidence to back it up and unless you read through the literary canon chronologically, you’re reader-response..

This is reader-response criticism as I don’t even know anyone outside of my brother that’s seen these two works. And, in honoring our generation and the networking through the internet, it only makes sense that we should pull obscure, foreign pieces together and interpret them American-style.

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Behind the Smoke and Steam

Federico Fellini had stated that his film, , was intended to be a comedy,

“Ricordati che è un film comico.”

but perhaps the most humorous part is that his co-screenwriter, Ennio Flaiano would argue that that was when he had a “simpler idea.”

It’s interesting to learn that the complexity — that is undoubtedly perpetuated by an autobiographical meta-film — is what led to it becoming a drama. It’s interesting because Rumiko Takahashi has the opposite experience.

Takahashi’s editor wanted Ranma ½ to be more dramatic, but Takahashi kept it a comedy because she wanted “a simple, fun idea.” Doubly interesting is how Takahashi felt that later in the series, some drama did unfold and that was probably a direct result of the series’ longevity; eventually the simple idea needs to develop complex story lines to remain engaging over the years.

It seems that the authors had the same idea, but they pursued their paths on opposite ends.

The similarities do not begin and end with author intention either, as the protagonists, symbols, and themes parallel each other as well.

At the center of each of these stories are protagonists whose lives are complicated by women; women who represent the different stages of their lives. In 8½, the protagonist is Guido and in Ranma ½, it’s Ranma.

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“Two Ladies. Und I’m the Only Man, Ja…”

As I’ve said in my 8½ analysis, Guido’s women represent him at various ages. In each woman, there is a piece of himself and he longs to be whole — he’s aware that his wife is perfect, but he’s not aroused by her, and Carla is a tramp, but he can’t get enough of her.

The idea that each serves as a piece to him is most evident when he’s fantasizing of being in the steamy hot tub surrounded by all the women that have entered his life over the years.

He wants to control the women, not because he’s a misogynist, but because it’s the only way to pull himself together. It’s not intended to be anti-feminist when he pulls out the whip to herd them together, it’s intended to be his struggle for unification. Of course, women represent the fragments of himself, they’re the only people he’s truly intimate with — being nude (open).

Taking control over them, means taking control over his destiny.

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Similarly, every woman in Ranma’s life is reflective of a stage in his life; each girl is a shade of his character. And as Carl Jung surmised, we can only achieve self-actualization by pulling all our archetypes in a room.

All the women in Ranma’s life converge at this little town in Japan. What complicates Ranma’s life is the fact that just about all these women are excellent matches; each of them shares a piece of him.

Similarly, Guido assembles all his women in one location, not just in the fantasy tub scene, but also in Rome as he knowingly brings his wife and mistress together. And he doesn’t stop there as he lines up actresses and eyes them licentiously or runs off with them as well.

While those parallels line up, where they diverge is in the characters’ mindset. Guido is reflective, looking back, but Ranma is prospective, looking forward.

Ranma is trying to find himself, but each one of these women expects a commitment. And when you don’t know what part of yourself is the path to take, making a commitment becomes a challenge.

He fights for all of them and empathizes with them, but he is divided himself — being half-girl and half-boy. As a result, he wishes they were all sandwiched into one person which is paralleled in his quest to rid himself of his “girl curse” as he too wants to become one person.

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Presumably, then he’ll have clarity and finally be able to choose a path rather than be subjected to a path.

This subjugation occurs with both Guido and Ranma with the male figures in their lives.

“Good Men Must Not Obey the Laws Too Well.”

While the women are pivotal for the protagonists to discover their identity in a panoramic view, the men in their lives are equally as important.

For both protagonists, the men pressure them into their destinies; expectations are thrust upon them. For Guido, it’s the pressure to create more art in another exceptional film; for Ranma, it’s his inheritance of the family martial art and arranged marriage.

Guido’s fantasies are centered on his women because again, they make up his being. He even invents one in the hot tub scene, so that he can have wholeness. Yet, it is always the men in his life that bring him down.

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This is literally the case in his fantasy where he drifts up into the clouds, but then, his male colleagues and executives yank him back down. And while Guido’s biological father isn’t explicitly shown, he does have a Father in the church who is there to punish him for illicit thoughts (thoughts about prostitutes) and to reclaim him from his daydreams in the spa.

Same thing for Ranma.

Ranma’s father caused this whole series of events to unfold for him and as a result, Ranma has no say in the matter. Ranma does not have a choice as his father kept making choices for him. His father arranged the marriage, his father took him to the springs that caused his curse.

And if you ever want to see Ranma angry, just watch his reaction when his adversaries make comments about what it means to be a man. Almost all of Ranma’s foes are romantic rivals for the women he’s betrothed to (via his father’s handiwork). What would be a 16-year-old’s dream becomes a nightmare as the men pressure him to commit to one woman — releasing the half-dozen others.

If Ranma committed to one woman, he would be free of their pressure, but it would also enslave him to his father’s making.

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Both Guido and Ranma are pressured by men into following a path, but neither knows what path to choose.

And this is where the smoke and steam symbols — that I’ve used in both reviews — parallels even the authors’ stances on their works. They follow opposite paths to the same destination.

The Dissolution of Smoke and Steam

I’ll start with 8½ since Guido shot first.

The smoke in 8½ symbolizes Guido’s imprisonment. It is always followed by an unwanted return to reality.

In Ranma ½, the steam symbolizes Ranma’s liberation, but it’s also a conscious return to fantasy.

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“Happiness consists of being able to tell the truth without hurting anyone.”

Even though Guido yearns for escape — in his career as a filmmaker and in his daydreams — it’s the reality he’s lived in that makes his fantasies possible. Because he’s met these women over the course of his life, he’s able to daydream about them — they are ideas manifested in film. So for a man who claims to be out of ideas, his daydreams say otherwise.

In reality, and in his job as a filmmaker, he can turn his fantasies into something concrete (a film), so that he can witness it first hand. So even though his return to reality is “unwanted,” it is what makes his fantasies possible.

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“Did you really think sealing me in concrete and burying me in the yard was even going to slow me down?!”

Meanwhile, Ranma’s liberation happens when he douses himself with hot water because it transforms him back into a man, but it’s a fantasy because it supplies him with a false sense of security; a sense that he will always be a man. That fantasy is what makes him depressed.

The reality is that Ranma is still half-man, half-woman. And because hot water is (for the most part) unnaturally occurring, it appears that the universe intends to keep Ranma as a girl.

Conclusion

I can’t sit here and tell you these two works of art are related, but the stories are strangely similar. Even when they diverge, they split from a common thread.

Also, for a fun fact that serves as a way of showing where the authors’ creative process diverges, just look at their work environments.

If memory serves, Federico Fellini was notorious for hiring his past flings and mistresses to be in his films (even while married), a trait that was later passed on to his number-one fan, Woody Allen.

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So while Fellini was surrounded by his romances, Rumiko Takahashi strictly hired all women to assist her. Reason being, she didn’t want any distractions.

Not a parallel, just a perpendicular look at how their ideologies differ.

Both works of art handle the pressures of paternity and the fragmented personalities in feminine partners. For some, they may seem to be worlds apart, but to me (and Jung) it’s the collective unconscious at work.

Enter Animal Circus.
Enter Animal Circus.

Fin.

For more articles, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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