[Nine] The Red Room (Mawaru Penguindrum, Kunihiko Ikuhara, David Lynch)

Earlier this year, I watched David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Then I revisited Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Mawaru Penguindrum.

Penguindrum has never disappointed me. Upon rewatching, I’ve always been struck by things that I didn’t notice in previous viewings. During this specific, post-Twin Peaks rewatch, it was Episode 10, “Because I Love Him” that caught my attention and held it, enraptured, for the entirety of its 23:40 runtime.

When it first aired, the series’ tenth episode was as divisive of a Penguindrum episode as it could be. This is saying something when Penguindrum was already divisive from its opening monologue about disregarding fate. Now that Penguindrum has become at the very least a cult hit and at most a lasting and recommended critical darling, it’s important to remember that a large amount of people hated it from the beginning.

By Episode 10, most people who had disliked the series — and had possibly been cajoled or pushed into watching more of it than they intended by Penguindrum fans — had long since dropped it. Penguindrum itself was divisive, but “Because I Love Him” was panned even among Penguindrum fans. This was primarily thanks to the stuttering and frequently off-model animation work. “Because I Love Him” was the near-singular effort of Keiji Gotoh who not only did most of this episode by himself, but also had the unfortunate task of following Nobuyuki Takeuchi’s Episode 9, “The World of Ice,” which remains a visually-stunning turning point in the series. Only Shigeyasu Yamauchi’s Episode 18, “So, I Want You to Be Here for My Sake” was more despised.

Having watched Twin Peaks, “Because I Love Him” has only risen on my list of favorite Penguindrum episodes.

It’s easy to compare Kanba Takakura’s descent from his failed confrontation with Masako Natsume on the hospital roof to Special Agent Dale Cooper’s initial foray into The Red Room. In fact, if you’ve seen the latter, all I have to do is link the imagery above and your brain can fill in much of the rest. From the rustling of the white bedsheets to Kanba walking the maze of the hospital only to be confronted with bits of his past at every turn, this entire sequence is reminiscent of Lynch. Like Coop, Kanba walks down what appears to be the same hallway over and over. Instead of Laura Palmer speaking garbled words in one moment and screaming the next, Kanba is treated to a crackling Antonín Dvořák’s “New World Symphony,” interspersed with Masako’s prodding. “Because I Love Him” may have been a Keiji Gotoh episode, but it’s equal parts Ikuhara and Lynch.

The comparisons between David Lynch and Kunihiko Ikuhara are also easily made because Ikuhara has previously listed Lynch as one of his favorite American directors.

This isn’t to say that you need to have watched Twin Peaks to understand Penguindrum, just as you don’t have to have read Haruki Murakami’s Underground or studied the 1995 Tokyo Subway Attack to unlock the mysteries that the series contains. However, if you wish, the influences are present, visually impactful, and impart more questions than answers. Who killed Laura Palmer? What happened to Shouma and Kanba Takakura? These questions have both simple and infinitely complex answers that only lead to more questioning. I feel like I have less of a handle on what Penguindrum is than ever before, and I love that feeling.

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3 comments

  1. This is FASCINATING, and you have definitely peaked my interest (PUN INTENDED) on Penguindrum. Twin Peaks is my favorite western tv show, so you had me hooked from the title on. I feel like no one is better in American filmmaking in creating emotion through editing and sound design than David Lynch. His ability to make scenes of violence, terror, and viscerality, while also making scenes of nostalgia, joy, and sentimentality is next level stuff that I have yet to find an equal of. Great Post! I look forward to checking out the series.

  2. Okay, you’ve given me motivation to rewatch Mawaru Penguindrum. I enjoyed it enough when it first came out, but hadn’t yet seen Twin Peaks at that time. Now that I have (first season only), a Penguindrum rewatch seems in good order.

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