Knockin’ a Lot Harder: 3 Viewings of Cowboy Bebop “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

[OZC]Cowboy Bebop - Knockin' on Heaven's Door [2011 Release].mkv_snapshot_00.52.59_[2012.04.04_03.07.47]

[Cowboy Bebop 22 “Cowboy Funk”]

What was this movie for? I can imagine a number of purposes and all of them would be true to some degree. It was to capitalize on the popularity of the series, perhaps particularly in the west, several years after the original broadcast in Japan. It was a means to introduce the franchise to new audiences. It was to fill things in, to provide additional characterization to the main cast leading up to the end. It was a way to tell the whole story without saying much, really.

I rewatched this film three times over the course of two months before I could figure out what to write here. As a piece of referencing it’s too general to be interesting. The most I can say is through images – that is, the shift from depicting Martian cities as Hong Kong, and making them more New York. Sure there’s a Moroccan quarter, but such things can be inserted in any metropolis in this story.

Here’s a comparison of the setting from the series with the film:

Naturally there’s more than one city in Mars, and each city could be based on a different 20th century version, unlike say, Macross Frontier which is an amalgam of every major city Kawamori Shouji likes (Tokyo, San Francisco, Sydney, Singapore, etc.). But it’s remarkable here how distinctly New York the images are. Now I’ve never been to New York, unlike Hong Kong which I’ve visited twice, but I’ve seen enough American media to have a clear memory of how the city is portrayed. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is nostalgic for that setting.

There are many things to like about this film, most of them on the production and execution side of things. All the set pieces; the fight scenes from the convenience store, Spike vs. Elektra, Spike & Elektra vs. Vincent on the train (marvelous); the dogfight, & finally the final showdown on the fake Eiffel Tower. The planning, choreography, direction and animation are all incredible. I can’t say enough about them, except maybe the addition of the music and musical direction elevate them at the very top of anime productions. It rarely gets better than these set-piece action scenes.

[OZC]Cowboy Bebop - Knockin' on Heaven's Door [2011 Release].mkv_snapshot_00.42.21_[2012.04.04_02.58.52]

But I’m not really here to discuss those.

The movie, because of the opening scene in the convenience store, gives the feeling that it is introducing the characters. However, if I think of this film as an introductory piece and/or stand-alone, it falls apart. We don’t really get to know much about these Cowboys. It’s as informative an episode as is “Asteroid Blues” is. I don’t mean to say it’s not meaningful, it is. But as a standalone or introductory episode, it’s not a very strong one. But if it only means to get people to check out “Asteroid Blues” then it will have done its job.

But I’m not really here to discuss that either.

The genius of this film, is if it’s taken in context. The context being, the futility of everyone’s stories are – Spike’s in particular. This film was written and made years after the conclusion of the TV series. What it did with varying degrees of success involves three things:

  1. Be a Cowboy Bebop episode (and fit within the continuity of the narrative)
  2. Capture the spirit, verve, and overall theme of the anime
  3. Provide further context, meaning, and set-up for Spike’s death

I won’t explain the first item, but as for number 2 we get to see the cast take on a big, yet ultimately meaningless bounty. The whole exercise gets them nowhere, their lives are as empty, listless, and directionless as with any episode in the TV series. Cowboy Bebop is also, a show about nothing. Amidst the explosions, artificial weather, terrorist attacks, and duels in this film – nothing of significance truly happens. I think this is brilliant, overall.

As for the third item, it sets up Spike’s confrontation with his past obviously and clumsily. It’s pretty much because of the inherent futility of it all (and how savory this is) that makes the story marginally interesting.

[OZC]Cowboy Bebop - Knockin' on Heaven's Door [2011 Release].mkv_snapshot_00.43.41_[2012.04.04_03.02.53]

Vincent Volaju reminds Spike of himself, as a sharp contrast to Cowboy Andy from the previous episode. Vincent is the dark, serious, operatic projection of Spike. His date with his destiny is analogous to Spike’s own. I will go further and say Vincent inspired Spike to finally go close out his past when he finally heard about Julia later on. How did this happen?

It’s because Elektra came for Vincent, and this saved him. If we believe Vincent, he only remembered Elektra as the woman he loved in that final gunfight. That’s the kind of hope that breaks the mind and poisons the will. Vincent wanted to know if he was living in the real world. Spike wanted to find out if he ever truly lived in the first place. Vincent feels very contrived as a character, but in this case, Cowboy Bebop’s meaningless ends justify Vincent as a meaningless means.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in Cowboy Bebop and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Knockin’ a Lot Harder: 3 Viewings of Cowboy Bebop “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

  1. Cratex says:

    I found this before I found the series. I was confused by it – it didn’t make much sense. I later picked up the series and now know it was supposed to fit in, but I’ve never quite been able to see it that way. Not sure why. I guess it was because the resolution to the “threat” didn’t feel right to me.

    • It’s the same with me, I ended up watching this first, and then I purposely forgot about it as I went on to watch the series. I think by now I’ve figured out how it really fits.

  2. animekritik says:

    Gah, I need to rewatch this. And that looks totally like New York (some scenes suggest Chinatown, but it’s NY Chinatown too). What a sad show..

  3. megaroad1 says:

    Wow, I had watched episodes 23 and 24 in anticipation of your posts, so you kinda came from left field with the movie. Of course then I remembered that it’s meant to fit in chronologically after 22 so it makes sense that you blog it now.
    When I first saw the movie, I enjoyed it for revisiting these characters and its superb music and animation. However I couldn’t help but feeling that it was more than anything an exercise of capitalizing on Cowboy Bebop’s success outside of Japan.
    I guess your reading of it as a setup for Spike’s impending destiny makes it a more satisfying watch. (As if Knockin on Heaven’s Door wasn’t enough of a clue). I really need to find time for seeing this film again with this in mind.

  4. Pingback: Why Cowboy Bebop ep 23 “Brain Scratch” is Superior to Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door | We Remember Love

  5. Xard says:

    I’m one of those who watched the film before series after hearing it was good introductory, “stand alone” slice of what to expect from the series.

    I really did like it. The action scenes were great, music truly fantastic and Spike very cool lead character – but ultimately it amounted to a very good Hollywoodesque action movie and little more. I also was left with very poor grasp of Faye and Jet because they don’t really get much to do in the film. If something about film really stuck to series it would be how it made me look at ms. Valentine early on. Especially Faye’s uselessness vs. the action girl impression the film first seemed to drum up really stuck to my memory and combined with how she’s exactly as useless, constantly damsel-in-distressed (new word? :P ) female in her early episodes it isn’t surprising I didn’t like her much for a long time when I was first watching Cowboy Bebop. The initial impression given was that she was this badass femme fatale more than competent enough to stand next to Spike and Jet – when she failed most of the time she started to feel like waste of space. Add on this her trashy, uhh, sexuality and I was quite no no’d. Heck, I think I would’ve preferred the badass Elektra as crew member at the time!

    Of course impressions do change over time but I’m sure the film played part in my initial lack of care for Faye, especially since it also had competent Elektra as comparison point.

    Anyway, the film did its job in the end and I checked out the first episode… and rest is history as the show by far surpassed the film derived from it.

    So, if I had to judge the film I’d say it’s very good action movie on its own and decent enough introduction to the series but it doesn’t really do it a justice, doesn’t get the tone quite right (film feels too conventional Hollywood film in many respects to me, at least) and apart from Spike it isn’t very good introduction of the main cast.

    • But you see, Faye wasn’t useless. Electra did more action-girl stuff, but Faye basically acted like a terrorist and took over the weather station with an H & K MP5 submachine gun.

      But of course, that was after the Fayexploitation that would stick in our consciousness more, so it’s entirely forgivable to think of her as pretty useless (even if it is wrong).

      • Xard says:

        Yeah. I was definetly wrong about Faye and I like her a lot more today (when I first watched the series she belonged to “excellently written characters I don’t care for” category, now she’s among the ones I do like)

        As for taking over the weather station: it was cool, yes, but what she basically did was walk in smug as fuck and point a gun at group of harmless civilians. This wasn’t very “badass” or challenging thing to do when in contrast Elektra and Spike where busy either beating each other or Vincent senseless.

  6. kadian1364 says:

    Unlike a few here in the comments, I was thoroughly familiar with Bebop on TV before being treated to its film iteration. While Heaven’s Door is a tour de force in action animation and the characters interactions were true enough, what I felt was missing was the pop-cultural homage present in every other TV episode, a thing I intuitively understood through its visual focus and presentation even if I wasn’t familiar with half the things Bebop was referencing.

    When the TV series makes a reference, it’s more than a simple riff or gag. It internalizes the referenced movie or theme, makes it its own, and adds another layer of meaning to that episode. After the opening montage that screams NEW YORK CITY, the story is a generic, if excellently composed, action movie. Still, few anime action movies can compare to Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. It’s still great, just not transcendental.

    • Xard says:

      When the TV series makes a reference, it’s more than a simple riff or gag. It internalizes the referenced movie or theme, makes it its own, and adds another layer of meaning to that episode. After the opening montage that screams NEW YORK CITY, the story is a generic, if excellently composed, action movie.

      thank you for finding the words I searched for but couldn’t quite find. This is at the heart of it when I feel like film doesn’t get the tone quite right.

    • Yes, this articulates much of what I thought as I went through this exercise. I wonder at this, after giving off such a strong NYC vibe, it really takes its foot off the gas in presenting a central point of reference.

  7. Pingback: The Fantasy of Light & Fluffy: K-On! In Contrast With Gundam (& Cowboy Bebop) [No Spoilers] | We Remember Love

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