Angel’s Egg or Tenshi no Tamago is a weird experience. It is an artsy and extremely thought provoking film with a philosophical twist to it that requires patience and open mindfulness from the viewer if he is to understand it. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, the man responsible for great anime titles such as Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, and Urusei Yatsura, it is a film with a lot of psychedelic imagery that uses visuals instead of dialogues to tell the story and a film that will definitely make you ask yourself: ‘What exactly am I watching?’ Although it is often received as an ambiguous art film, Angel’s Egg is a mixture of profound meanings and symbolisms for which interpretations are open.
The story of Angel’s Egg can be written in only one line, but I will try to be more elaborate. The world is a wasteland that resembles a post-apocalyptic earth. The main characters are one girl holding an egg and a soldier holding a weapon. The girl goes around gathering water and the man looks like he is wondering around with no specific purpose. The two nameless characters eventually meet and the girl pleads the man not to destroy the egg. Throughout the whole film we never fully grasp if the man is a friend or foe but they start traveling together to this dystopian world so the girl can find a safe place to keep her egg unharmed.
Faith and Christianity
The film is made in a way that any interpretation can be correct, so on that note, let’s dive into a more in-depth analysis. Just to be on the safe side, I will warn you here that I will be talking about things related to faith, so if you are not comfortable with the matter, well maybe you should skip the whole article…
Angel’s Egg is all about faith, and more importantly, about blind faith.
The man can be seen as a reincarnation of Christ or even Christ himself. At the beginning of the film we see an orb that is probably the eye of God. We then see him standing on a chequered board looking at the orb descending from the sky. Does this symbolize the fact that he is a pawn of God? And if so, was he sent to Earth in order to reaffirm his faith and beliefs? What makes it even more apparent is the fact that he carries a cross-like weapon and his hands are bandaged in the same body parts Christ was crucified. He also seems to be missing important memories about himself that shows to us how lost and unclear he is about his faith. When the girl shows him the remains of what appears to be a bird, he steps into the water and seems to finally have some sort of clarity, showing emotion for the first time in the movie, as if he realized or remembered what his purpose is, the same way Christ felt when he was baptized.
The girl probably represents the innocence of blind faith. She carries the egg with her everywhere she goes and cherishes it more than herself. The man that seems to want to break the egg at the beginning constantly asks her if she knows what is inside the egg, but she doesn’t reply. He then mentions to her that she should keep the things precious to her inside her, which enhances the representation of the egg as hope. In the scene where she holds the egg next to her ear, she is sure that the bird is in the egg and that it will hatch despite the man telling her that it might be her own breath or the sound of the rain. To me, it looks like the man is there to test and question her faith.
When he finally breaks the egg in order to give her closure, the girl screams horrifically and starts running behind him. As she runs after him she falls into the water where she seems to have matured into a grown woman, and before leaving her last breath, she creates several new eggs that emerge from the earth, with birds ready to be hatched. After that we see her being on the eye of God as a statue. This symbolizes her keeping her faith, despite being constantly tested and as she is released from her test by creating more eggs (more hope), she is then praised to be a part of the statues in the orb that probably represent the rest of the freed souls.
Her whole existence seems to be there in order to remind the man never to lose his faith. Also, after the egg was broken, she may have screamed not because it broke but because it was empty. After that she is just left to die from the spiritual violation that happened to her where she joins the rest of the souls that have passed away.
The most interesting symbolism in the film is probably the fish and the fishermen that go after them. The fish are a metaphor for blind faith as well and the fishermen believers of God. In the Bible, several times the followers of God were often referred to as fishermen. We see them constantly going after the shadows of the fish that are not there and trying to capture them by throwing their weapon at them. I think that these scenes symbolize how religion and faith are the cause of constant conflict between humans. They won’t stop chasing it no matter how futile it becomes and no matter the consequences. That’s why the girl seems to be so afraid of them, because they are blinded by faith and their innocence and true meaning of faith is gone.
Angel’s Egg also references Noah’s ark. For those who are not familiar with the story, God decided to flood the Earth and instructed Noah to create an ark and save a couple of each living species. When the flood occurred, Noah sent a dove to find land and after several days it returned with an olive branch reassuring that there is land left to go to. Angel’s Eggs explores a twist of the story where the dove never returned. It shows that the flood occurred, but the Earth was never repopulated. Despite the man’s longest dialogue in the film where he tells the girl the story of Noah, there are shots that hint Noah’s ark even more. When the characters travel together, we see them going inside of what appears to be a huge ark. In the ark we see skeletal remains of animals along with several small rooms that could indicate the rooms Noah created for the animals to stay during the flood. On top of that, at the end of the film, when the last scene zooms out everything, they seem to be on top of something that looks like an upside down ark and the rest is just vague emptiness of water.
Another interpretation of this can be that the man is actually Noah, who has long lost his faith in God. He waited for the dove for so long that he forgot what he was waiting for. He even says the following:
‘Maybe you and I and the fish exist only in the memory of a person who is gone. – Maybe no one really exists, and it’s only raining outside. – Maybe the bird never existed at all.’
He has served God all these years, but he was devoid of faith and hope so God sent the lost soul of the bird in the form of the girl. She is obsessed by the idea of hatching her egg in order to show him that he must not lose faith in God. The man sees the girl’s undying faith in her egg and tries to tell her the truth, but she will not listen as her faith is unshaken, so he decides to break the egg to set her soul free.
A coming-of-age story
In the book Stray Dog of Anime: The films of Mamoru Oshii written by Brian Ruh, Brian writes that the film is all about the relationship between the girl and the man, resulting to a coming-of-age story. The girl is represented by the egg she carries and a man who is first introduced to her riding on a masculine tank. The author sees the man more like a soldier than anything else and he says that although the girl asked the man to not harm her egg (which is precious to her), he takes it from her while she is sleeping. He smashes the egg with a weapon that is somehow phallic but also resembles the Christian cross, and then the girl’s innocence is destroyed along with her faith in the egg. He also mentions that water is often employed as a symbol of femininity in Japanese culture, that’s why the girl as she falls into the water she seems to mature after her egg has been destroyed, resulting in giving birth to even more eggs.
Art & Animation
Angel’s Egg was released in 1985. There is an eerie and discomforting atmosphere to the surroundings and environments, mainly due to the great use of lights and shadows. This is a film whose every frame is a painting. The colors are not vibrant or happy and they make you feel the right emotions and become fully involved with the story. If I had to describe the animation with one word, I would say it is very ‘liquid’. Many of the scenes are dominated by water and how it really distorts the world through its reflections and refractions. The scenes of the girl looking at the world through the water in the glass are both beautiful and peculiar. Another amazing scene that uses water is the one of the girl falling into the water and then seeing her reflection as a more mature version of herself (a scene that we see in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell as well). Her movement in the water is so graceful and expressive that you can’t help by see it as an astonishing piece of art. Overall, the scenery is inspired by the 19th century Gothic architecture with a variety of Salvador Dali stimulated backgrounds that add even more to the ‘liquid’ element of the film. The character animation is truly unique and something you just have to see to fully grasp the amazing work behind it. The facial expressions and their movements gave me chills. When the man steps into the water and sees the skeletal remains of the bird, the way his expression changes is just excellent. The fluidity of the animation in general really stands out.
So, what is the meaning of the film?
When Mamoru Oshii was asked to explain his reasoning behind Angel’s Egg, he didn’t really gave a straight answer as to what it was about. He actually said that: ‘The meaning of the film is up to the viewer and not the director.’ This movie resonates to me as a representation of faith, and how faith is a process of discovering who we really are along with what to do when dealing with a crisis of faith. Nonetheless, Angel’s Egg is so unconventional and ambitious that any interpretation is acceptable. It might even represent a symbolic way of the reality we live in, or even a warning to the Japanese public about the evils of over-fishing, who knows? In the end, it’s up to the viewer to decide.