Our 100th episode special, featuring all of our regular hosts—Dee, Caitlin, Chiaki, Peter, and Vrai—looking back on the 2015 shoujo anime epic, Jupiter Ascending!
Date Recorded: Sunday 22nd September 2019
Hosts: Caitlin, Chiaki, Dee, Peter, Vrai
0:04:52 Personal histories
0:13:01 Anti-capitalist themes vs genetic predeterminism
0:16:28 Channing Tatum is hot
0:18:39 Is it an isekai?
0:21:12 Mila Kunis
0:24:44 Bureaucracy planet
0:25:43 Jupiter’s agency
0:34:56 Matrix redux
0:40:21 Audio mixing
0:43:33 Why’d it flop?
0:49:48 Final thoughts
DEE: Hello and welcome to the 100th episode of Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. You can find all my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can also hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
And I am joined today by a cadre of Chatty AF regulars: Caitlin, Chiaki, Peter, and Vrai.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am an editor and writer for Anime Feminist, as well as The Daily Dot, and I swear that someday I will continue to write for Heroine Problem.
CHIAKI: All right. Hi, I’m Chiaki. I am currently speaking from my old office and am funemployed as a writer! Yes.
DEE: Hooray! I think? Question mark.
PETER: [crosstalk] Congratulations.
CAITLIN: [chuckling] Congratulations.
CHIAKI: And I am currently moonlighting as a contributor for Hard Wired Island. A minor plug right there for a cyberpunk tabletop game. I’m also looking for a job. So, you can find me @Chiaki747. It’s a permanently locked account, but feel free to send me a request with a DM.
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an associate producer at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor on Anime Feminist.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai. I’m a freelancer. You can find all the stuff I do—I retweet all my articles—on my Twitter @WriterVrai, or you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod. We just recorded our first Patreon episode dunking relentlessly on James Franco, so that was fun.
CAITLIN: Oh, fun. I love to dunk on James Franco.
VRAI: Because he sucks? Yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, my sister went to UCLA concurrently with him.
PETER: Oh no. I’m sorry.
DEE: Well, we’re not dunking on James Franco today. Today we are celebrating our 100th episode spectacular by finally, finally tackling that modern cult classic, the shoujo anime film Jupiter Ascending.
Now, the reason we picked this is: Caitlin and I have been wanting to cover it for a while. The 100th episode seemed like a perfect excuse. It’s pretty rare to see a shoujo, debatably josei, sci-fi series like this. I mean, there’s Please Save My Earth, but I don’t want to be angry for a full hour, and I don’t think y’all do either, so—
VRAI: I hate it so much.
DEE: —let’s talk about something fun instead. So, for folks at home, a little bit of background on this film. It is a space opera. It was released in winter of 2015.
It is directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, often just collectively known as the Wachowskis. They are two of Hollywood’s three premiere anime directors, along with, of course, Guillermo del Toro. They have dabbled in films like the comic adaptation V for Vendetta, but I think they’re best known for their anime movies, such as The Matrix, a standalone sci-fi movie that definitely didn’t have any sequels—
DEE: —and their reboot of Speed Racer that they did in the mid-aughts, I believe. So, that is just a quick overview of Jupiter Ascending. It did not do well in the box office but has sort of quietly gained a little bit of a cult following over the years since it was released.
CAITLIN: It’s been getting reassessed. I’ve looked around the internet, and there are definitely people saying that, “Hey, we should revisit this movie because it’s actually kind of amazing.”
DEE: Yeah, and we’re gonna get into all the amazingness of this film in a little bit. But first, folks at home, obviously we’re going to spoil the whole film for you. That’s usually how these retrospectives go.
Quick plot synopsis, just as a refresher course for folks at home who maybe haven’t seen it in a while: This is the story of Jupiter Jones, a Russian-American child of an immigrant, since she was born on the way to the U.S. She is unhappy with her life helping her mom with her work as a housecleaner.
Her life is upended when aliens suddenly start trying to murder her. But thankfully, she is rescued by Channing Potatum, an air-rollerblading space wolfman who tells her she’s being hunted by the Abraxas siblings. They are Kalique, Titus, and Academy Award-Winner Eddie Redmayne.
VRAI: Professional douchebag Eddie Redmayne.
CAITLIN: [struggles to restrain laughter]
DEE: And she is… [Chuckles] amazing in this film. But we find out that this is happening because she is the reincarnated version of their mom. Yes, really.
The story unravels from there as Jupiter bounces between the Abraxas and a group of space cops who are actually pretty cool. She learns the truth of her heritage and the dark secrets behind the Abraxas family’s wealth and immortality. Spoiler alert: it’s people. The answer is people.
DEE: And I think that covers the gist of the film. So, from there—this is typically how we do these, is we all just give a brief summary of our personal history with it, if there’s any fun facts there that you want to share, and then just your general feelings. I think pretty much everyone on this call has seen this movie before, but Vrai, you’re a newcomer.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s one that’s been lowkey on my radar for a while. My wife, Dorothy, has been wanting to watch it, but we just kept putting it off. So, I watched it for the first time this morning. It was fine. I am a fan of the Wachowskis. I really like their visual aesthetic. Bound is freaking amazing, if you all haven’t watched it out there.
This was okay. I feel like how I feel with most shoujo, that there’s things I can appreciate, and maybe this particular wish fulfillment fantasy isn’t made for me. Also, I hate Eddie Redmayne so much. Sorry.
DEE: Yeah, well, at the time that this came out, nobody really knew who he was. And we can talk about Eddie Redmayne later a little bit as well. Okay, how about everybody else? Caitlin, your overall feelings on this film?
CAITLIN: I saw it in the theaters after someone… It was that time when everyone on Tumblr was making these wacky PowerPoint presentations about everything. And someone made one about Jupiter Ascending. And I was like, “Oh my God, that sounds amazing. I have to see it.” It was talking about Eddie Redmayne for some reason talking like someone is standing on his esophagus the whole time.
DEE: He just wants to give everybody all the ASMR for the entirety of the movie, until he screams in your ear. He’s not so much chewing on the scenery as he is throttling it softly.
DEE: But anyway…
PETER: All right.
CAITLIN: So, I saw it, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is incredible,” and I told everyone I knew that they had to see it, in hopes of helping boost its box office earnings. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how well I accomplished that, because it is considered a flop.
It’s just always been: “This is incredible. This is something two 15-year-old girls scribbled in their journal, taking turns telling the story to each other.” Which I have a suspicion it might actually have been.
And so, when it came on Netflix, I went around yelling to all my friends, “Let’s watch it! I need to see it again! Oh my God, this movie is the best!” And so, I’ve watched it twice since it came out on Netflix a month ago.
CAITLIN: And every time I do, I understand a little bit more of the actual plot and what’s going on. So, yeah, that is my relationship with Jupiter Ascending.
DEE: Very good. Peter, how about you?
PETER: Honestly, I’ve watched it once before, but I could not tell you when, where, or even how I watched it.
PETER: My theory is that I learned it was made by the Wachowski sisters, and I’m a big fan. Probably the best-known sibling duo in anime besides the Yoshinari brothers.
DEE: Yeah, I’d say so.
PETER: Yeah, when I discovered they made the project, I think that’s what made me decide to check it out, because I’d heard about the promotions, but I’m not a huge Mila Kunis fan. Love her work in the hit anime Family Guy, but… big—great voice actress.
PETER: [Chuckles] The movie was pretty good. I’m not sure if the original manga was a three-story-arc deal, one for each sibling that she meets or something like that.
VRAI: It does have a very “and then, and then, and then” sort of pacing.
PETER: Like a three-arc structure, one for each sibling, and so it felt like a trilogy. So, I thought the structure of the movie was very interesting the first time I watched it, and I appreciate it more this time, so I’m glad I rewatched.
DEE: It definitely feels like it wants to be longer and maybe wants to be the beginning of a sequence of films. This feels very much like an origin story. It works on its own, but there is definitely that sense of “You had a big, big world you wanted to play around in, and you only had two hours to do it.”
PETER: Yeah. It felt like the source material might’ve been a trilogy, but the Wachowskis don’t really do trilogies, so I guess they just decided to put it all in one movie.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s true.
CAITLIN: No, that’s true.
DEE: Yeah, that’s a good point. [Laughs]
CHIAKI: So, I did not watch this in the theaters. That’s for certain. I can’t remember exactly when I watched it. I know it was on DVD at the behest of a friend of mine who said, “This is the worst film ever. You have to watch it with me.” And she brought over a copy of the DVD and we watched it together.
At the time, I kinda just rolled with it, said, “Okay, this is just really, really weird and really, really bad.” But my opinion of the Wachowski sisters’ films are that they’re like fine wine. When they first come out, they’re a little too young; they’re not good enough. After a few years, you start realizing that they’re actually really good, including the Matrix trilogy.
VRAI: Bold take.
DEE: You acknowledged it! You said it! You said the forbidden words! [Laughs]
PETER: It’s like the Voldemort of movies.
VRAI: I mean, the Burly Brawl is a great piece of action choreography. I think we can all go ahead and shake hands and agree on that.
CAITLIN: I only ever saw the first Matrix movie.
CHIAKI: I mean, the whole highway chase scene…
CAITLIN: I was not allowed to see R movies in the theater until I was literally 17.
PETER: That sucks.
DEE: We must’ve snuck in, because I definitely saw the second one and was not a fan of it, and then never saw the third because I didn’t hear anything about it that made me want to. So it is completely unfair of me to rag on the other two Matrix films when I haven’t even seen the third one. I mostly just did it—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, no, I’ve seen the third one. I can confirm it’s bad.
DEE: Okay, I mostly just did it as a goof. [Chuckles] So, folks at home, I hope no offense was taken if you genuinely and sincerely love the trilogy. Power to ya.
VRAI: I’ll catch you up: Neo is Jesus Christ.
DEE: Oh yeah, I mean, I knew that. That’s fine.
CAITLIN: Oh, fuck. I didn’t know that.
CAITLIN: No, I knew that.
DEE: Yeah, so before we jump into the conversation, just a quick on my end mostly, because I want to give a shoutout to the article that got me into this film. This was not even on my radar, and then Sam Maggs, who was writing for The Mary Sue at the time, wrote a review of it that was called “Jupiter Ascending Is The Worst Movie Ever Go See It Immediately.” And the review is inspired and hysterical, and I’m mentioning it partly so I can link to it in the show notes.
And I read it and turned to my friend and was like, “Okay, well, clearly we have to go see this movie this weekend.” And so of course we did, and we had a great time, and we’ve been plugging it to our friends ever since.
It is not my favorite anime film. That’s Spirited Away. But it is up there; surprisingly high on the list. I think I’ve watched it about once a year since it came out. I own it on Blu-ray. It’s one of the only movies… I think it and The Muppets are the only movies I’ve bought on Blu-ray in the last four years.
VRAI: We are very different.
PETER: A selection.
DEE: Sorry, not including… I guess there’s a couple of other anime films, because I got Liz and the Blue Bird recently. But I don’t buy a lot of Blu-rays that aren’t anime television series, is the point I’m getting at there. But I bought this one so I could watch it whenever I wanted to, because that’s how much I enjoyed it. It is definitely my favorite “bad” anime film, and I’m putting “bad” in a lot of air quotes because I think we have to discuss that later in more detail.
Which—Vrai, you kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, that you said you weren’t sure if you were quite the audience for this particular power fantasy—but I think that’s probably a good place to start, with the conversation about Jupiter Ascending as this sort of shoujo, josei…? Again, I’m kind of keeping it in a fuzzy area there.
VRAI: Well, what kept me at arm’s length about it is just that, me personally, the whole secret princess, secret royalty thing has never been a fantasy that appealed to me even as a kid. I was always very anxious in a way that didn’t let me indulge in that sort of wish fulfillment. And also, I could be a dick and get into the whole thing of “Genetic predisposition towards greatness is kind of a terrible thing,” but I won’t.
DEE: Actually, that might be an interesting point to talk about later. God, maybe we’ll just talk about it now. Screw it. Who cares? There’s no structure to this conversation.
Because the film does have these very intense anticapitalist, anti-nobility overtones. I’m not even sure. “Overtones” suggests that it’s there but not shouting it in your face, and it is shouting it in your face. It’s trumpets. The villains are these siblings who are literally remaining young and rich by murdering the quote-unquote “lesser classes,” people who are less powerful than them. Academy Award-Winner Eddie Redmayne has… which is how I’m going to refer to him every time I refer to him…
VRAI: [crosstalk] Carry on.
DEE: He has that whole speech about humanity being a pyramid and some lives are just worth less than others, and Jupiter is standing up to that and fighting back against The Man. But it does kind of undercut that by the fact that she is a princess and continues to own the Earth when the story is over.
So, I think in some ways it is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, by giving you the power fantasy for Jupiter specifically, but having her be like, “But no, I’m not like one of those rich, noble people. I’m not actually going to hurt anyone with this power.”
CAITLIN: Well, she continues to clean toilets.
PETER: Yeah. And they’re continuing to harvest planets.
VRAI: It’s like the same thing that goes back at least as far as Tolkien: it’s not that the system is necessarily broken; there’s just the wrong person in charge of it. And I genuinely don’t think people who find enjoyment in other aspects of that have thought about it that deeply. I think the Wachowskis wanted to do this anticapitalist thing and then they just didn’t dig that little bit further because they love their aesthetics, do those ladies.
DEE: And that’s part of the reason why I almost wonder if there wasn’t the thought of “We’re gonna have more films set in this universe.” Because, first of all, there’s a lot of backstory and other side characters who swoop in and out and feel like they could be more important later down the line; but also because none of the Abraxases—well, other than Academy Award-Winner Eddie Redmayne… The Abraxases survive and continue to own planets. And so, it feels like maybe there was more story there, where they were going to address that. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
PETER: At least one of them is definitely evil, too. Super evil. It’s hard to tell with the sister.
DEE: Oh, Oedipal Fuckboy? Yeah, he’s definitely evil.
CAITLIN: I mean, let’s be real. The main reason she enjoys the princess angle at the end is not because she actually wants to own the Earth, but rather because it turns her on hearing Channing Tatum call her “Your Majesty.”
VRAI: Which is very good.
PETER: Can’t fault her for that.
VRAI: Also, I can’t believe you forgot to mention that her boyfriend is in fact a half-albino werewolf boy.
VRAI: With angel wings.
DEE: Runt of the litter! He doesn’t get his angel wings until the end. I couldn’t mention that at the early going.
VRAI: [crosstalk] All of these are important.
CHIAKI: So middle school.
PETER: I’m kinda glad he got them because, honestly, a lot of people have tried to make hoverboots cool and I don’t think anyone has succeeded.
DEE: So now he can just fly.
CAITLIN: I love the space-rollerblading.
DEE: I kinda do too, actually. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Honestly, I love rollerblading in any context. I loved it in Code Geass, I loved it when it briefly showed up in Promare, and I loved it in Jupiter Ascending. But yes, Channing Tatum is a… And this why I’m like, “This feels like something scribbled into a 15-year-old girl’s notebook.” Half-albino werewolf with wings.
DEE: [crosstalk] Runt of the litter.
CAITLIN: Runt of the litter, so he’s angsty.
DEE: [crosstalk] One-man wolfpack! He’s searching for his pack! He’s so sad!
VRAI: He’s a lone wolf, you might say.
DEE: And he doesn’t really have a personality.
PETER: Not really.
DEE: No. That’s why I called him Channing Potatum. He’s pretty much just there to be shirtless, a lot. And listen, that’s not great. That’s not a great way to deal with a character. That’s objectification. But there is something kind of refreshing about seeing it with a dude in a fantasy sci-fi epic rather than a lady love interest.
PETER: Did you know that he didn’t close his mouth once in the entire movie?
CHIAKI: Are you keeping track?
PETER: And there’s a reason, not a narrative one, but he could not close his mouth because of the prosthetic he had in his jaw to make him look more like a canine. It prevented him from fully closing his mouth.
DEE: That’s why he always looks vaguely startled.
CAITLIN: Kinda dumbfounded.
DEE: Mm-hm. I do kind of agree with you, Vrai. It’s fun, because I enjoy this movie for the fact that it is this very specific kind of female power fantasy. It is not mine. I’m also not a kid who ever dreamed of being a princess or having a shirtless wolfman sweep me off my feet. But I appreciate it being in this big Hollywood blockbuster anime film because that is really rare, and it’s done with so much sincerity.
One little note I made, because I like the way Jupiter is also kind of cynical and also doesn’t really believe in the fairy tales: she starts the story with this line, like “What a bunch of bullshit,” basically. And the story feels like a fairy tale for tired millennials in some ways, where it’s like, “We know these stories are fantastical and kind of silly and don’t really happen in the real world, but you can indulge in it a little bit.” Which is why I do like that she kinda goes back to her real life at the end, but is also up on the Sears Tower rollerblading with her wolf angel boyfriend.
VRAI: Oh yeah, the sincerity of the film is the best thing about it. It’s very sweet and I don’t begrudge it at all. Although I do think it’s kind of glaring the fact that… First of all, let me throw out “Is this movie an isekai?” because they go to space and she can’t get home. Is space not another world?
PETER: Well, that’s some… Hm.
CAITLIN: I have that argument with Jared all the time—not about this specifically, but about anything. So, [chuckles] I’m not sure if I want to get into it today.
PETER: I was already dreading that conversation next season of whether Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun is an isekai because he goes to hell.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Is Dr. Stone an isekai?
PETER: Oh, God.
DEE: It follows the pattern of your ‘90s shoujo isekai very much in, you know, a seemingly normal girl is whisked away to another world where she’s special and has to go through a lot of trials and comes to realize her own power and wield it, and then returns home grown up and more mature and ready to face reality.
That’s also a standard quest narrative, so I’m hesitant to say this is an isekai. I think they’re all building off of the same genre. But [in] Jupiter Ascending, you can definitely feel those elements of the ‘90s shoujo isekai genre laced within it, I think.
CHIAKI: That’s definitely how I read it.
VRAI: Yeah, and for me, it made it a little bit glaring that Jupiter is an adult. I feel like those narratives work a lot better when they are talking about characters going through that metaphor of puberty and becoming an adult, whereas she has responsibilities and stuff already.
DEE: I’m okay with it because I think her character is… I mean, Mila Kunis is quite a bit older. I think Jupiter herself is supposed to be like 20. Pretty fresh out of high school, was the sense I got.
CAITLIN: Which, good for Mila Kunis, being cast relatively young for her actual age.
VRAI: I mean, I do like Mila Kunis. I think that she is really charming in this movie. I enjoyed her performance a lot. I think she made Jupiter really likable.
DEE: Yeah, I wanted to ask how people thought of Jupiter as a protagonist, because she has a very slow-burn sort of coming-of-age arc here where she does get bounced around a lot in the early going. But do people generally like her?
CAITLIN: Yeah, I liked her a lot. There’s a certain self-awareness to her character. There’s a sense that she’s kinda grumpy and unhappy but also kinda awkward. The moment where she tells Channing Tatum, “I love dogs. I’ve always loved dogs…”
CAITLIN: … is just incredibly endearing. [Chuckles]
DEE: It’s such a line.
DEE: It’s like that and “Bees don’t lie.”
CHIAKI: “Bees are genetically designed to recognize loyalty.” [Chuckles]
VRAI: [crosstalk] It’s so good.
CAITLIN: The thing about “I have always loved dogs” is she realizes the moment after she says it—
DEE: That it’s the stupidest thing to say? Yes!
CAITLIN: And I think Mila Kunis does a lot of very subtle—I mean, as subtle as possible in this kind of thing—acting. She has a really good physicality that brings a lot of character to Jupiter and really communicates a lot of aspects of her personality that wouldn’t necessarily come across in the script alone and wouldn’t really work with a more wooden actress.
DEE: Yeah, she plays Jupiter very guarded in a way that I think is unusual and unique to this kind of—what the hell, we’ll call it a shoujo isekai because it does follow those beats—where the characters in those, sometimes they’re exhausted or they’re dissatisfied with their lives, but she is actively distrustful of everything going on around her for most of the film. Which I think lends an interesting twist to this, where it does feel like the isekai genre, but for an adult who has maybe moved a little bit further away from these fantasy stories, but at the same time still kind of wants to live it out. And so it makes her stand out in the protagonist land.
She’s also very smart, which comes across in little subtle ways, like when she meets up with Titus and just immediately rattles off these laws that he’s breaking by kidnapping her and she can take this to court. And it’s like, when did you have time to read their entire legal system? Because that is impressive. I guess it was when she was—
CAITLIN: Waiting in line.
DEE: I was gonna say, it was while she was in Bureaucratic Hell.
PETER: That was such a weird sequence.
VRAI: No, it’s the best sequence!
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] I appreciated it.
PETER: No, I loved it, but it was like, “Am I in Hitchhiker’s Guide suddenly?” It was like for ten minutes in the movie, they just have to go to the Hitchhiker’s Guide universe.
VRAI: Well, Terry Gilliam is in there as a cameo, so… yes.
PETER: I guess so. But that just seemed very tongue-in-cheek for the very brooding seriousness of the rest of the movie, outside of the really bizarre shoujo tropes.
DEE: Yeah, it feeds into some of the film’s… Again, it has this very unsubtle undercurrent of anticapitalism and anti-the-hierarchical-structures and stuff, and so sticking in this bureaucracy is a funny little tongue-in-cheek parody of some of those elements, I think. It kinda comes out of left field, but it’s very enjoyable.
VRAI: Again, I think it’s a testament to Mila Kunis’s performances that I don’t get annoyed with Jupiter as a character, but I did get a little bit annoyed that the plot forces her to essentially be reactive for 80% of the film.
DEE: Yeah. Again, that’s why to me it feels like an origin story, almost. The amount of time it takes for her to… But again, that’s very common in this genre. I mean, you think about a character like Miaka. It takes her a long time before she finally stands up and wields the power of Suzaku. Spoilers, I guess? Sorry, folks at home.
CAITLIN: It’s like the protagonist tends to be reactive because she’s thrown into this new situation where she doesn’t know what the fuck is happening around her. And then the climax is her learning to be active because she has finally found her footing and she has found within this situation the power that she needs, and it is the finding of the power that is the big climactic moment.
DEE: And the story does some kinda clever things in gradually moving Jupiter in that direction. Throughout the film, especially in the early going, there’s these threats of bodily control.
The lady Jupiter’s cleaning house for gets attacked while she’s in her underwear. Jupiter gets attacked while she’s in a hospital gown. People keep changing her clothes while she’s unconscious.
And the moment when she says, “I would like to change into something more practical than this stupid dress, by myself, while I’m awake,” is right before she claims her title, and it’s from that moment on where she slowly starts to gain power. And then the next step of that is figuring out who she is, as opposed to this reincarnated mom that everybody wants her to be; and what’s really important to her, which is her family back home who become under threat.
But I liked the way the series drew in these elements of—I hesitate to use the words “feminist themes,” but I’m going to—feminist-relevant themes with Jupiter taking control of her own life, and part of that is taking control of her own body. One of my favorite little metaphorical links that I caught this time through—it is like a wine, Chiaki, you’re right—is Jupiter’s family yells at her cousin for treating her like a chicken by trying to harvest her eggs—against her will, really. She does not want to do that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and then also taking most of the money.
DEE: And taking most of the money, because he claims, “It’s capitalism, baby,” is his actual explanation for it. But then that links to the outer space story about how they keep talking about humanity as cattle. And so there’s this dehumanization of people and thinking of them as a resource—and the way it connects to Jupiter’s story, both just as a human on Earth and then also as a woman trying to find power in Chicago, is… That’s one of the elements that isn’t overt, and it’s actually pretty well done, so I like that part.
VRAI: Yeah, totally. And there’s definitely something potent about the fact that these two trans filmmakers have put a lot of importance on clothes and the ability to choose one’s clothes.
CAITLIN: I think Jupiter might also actually be stateless. She was born in transit to the United States with—
CHIAKI: On international waters.
CAITLIN: As an illegal immigrant. So, she actually might not legally exist. That and the cynicism would also explain why she is primarily reactive, because she doesn’t have a lot of power within her family—or how, not just her shitty cousin, but the rest of her family talks to her.
So, she’s not even using her own name to donate eggs, which, as someone who started on that process, is not really feasible, but that’s okay. [Chuckles] Yeah, so it makes sense that she’s primarily a reactive person, both thematically and within the universe.
DEE: Plus, it makes the moment when she finally beats Academy Award-Winner Eddie Redmayne with an iron pole and shouts “I’m not your—”
PETER: [crosstalk] A space pipe.
DEE: A space pipe, thank you. And shouts “I’m not your damn mother!” So good! It makes that moment very satisfying.
And then of course she gets rescued by her angel wolfman one last time because this movie very much… it is toeing the line between the fantasy of having someone who will care about you and sweep you off your feet and look after you, but also being able to wield your power and kick your own ass when you need to. I’m not sure how successfully it toes that line all the time, because she does get rescued by Channing Potatum a lot.
VRAI: A lot.
PETER: Yeah, the hostage sequence and the wedding sequence, I remember thinking, “This is the same thing all over again.” It’s her about to make a really bad decision maybe, and Channing Tatum flying a spaceship through some space dorm, and will he make it in time?
CAITLIN: Yeah, but that wedding dress…
PETER: Oh yeah, that was sick. I love the set design and costuming.
DEE: And the key difference there to me is— Both times she doesn’t know he’s coming for her, so she really does think she’s all alone in both those scenes. The big difference for me is the wedding scene gets interrupted and that’s why she stops. The scene with Academy Award-Winner Eddie Redmayne is she says, “No, fuck you, I’m not doing this.”
So, to me, that’s a big jump for her character for her to make a decision and go, “You know what? You guys keep screwing me over. There’s no reason I should trust you, and also, the entirety of Earth’s population is on the line, so I have to make a call for the greater good.”
PETER: Yeah. Especially versus her family, who hadn’t really been established as sympathetic characters yet.
DEE: I sympathized with her mom, just by virtue of…
PETER: Her tragic backstory?
DEE: She just seems so tired.
CHIAKI: Everyone else, though…
VRAI: It is weird that her mom isn’t a more prominent character.
PETER: Yeah. Yeah, when her family was captured, I very cynically thought, “Oh well.” You never got a scene where they were nice to her. The only time they ever got upset or felt anything on her behalf, I think, was the harvesting thing, and it seemed like they were more angry at her brother and their reasons weren’t quite clear.
I wasn’t sure what her relationship with her family was at that point, until the very last scene, where she goes throughout her normal day and then they say “Happy birthday” to her. And it’s like, oh, no, she actually does an okay relationship with most of her family except for shitty… What was it, brother, cousin?
PETER: Whoever that asshole was, yeah.
CAITLIN: And her uncle, who tells her that guys don’t like it when girls are smart.
DEE: The men in her family suck, and the women in her family are tired. [Chuckles] Is the general dynamic that we get from them.
PETER: Well, it seems like they’re the ones who are working, and I don’t know what the guys are doing.
CHIAKI: I think the guys are also doing the same thing. Just the women in the family have their own jobs to do, because you have that whole exchange about “I’ll give that guy the house instead, then.”
CAITLIN: I was expecting something to tie into her father being killed at some point.
PETER: I thought her father was gonna be special or something, because he had that space connection, but he really was just a guy. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] You know, just a random act of violence.
PETER: Yeah. Wow.
DEE: Well, moms get fridged at the beginning of stories all the time, so this time the dad got fridged.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
PETER: That’s fine. Since we mentioned it very briefly, I did want to touch on how great visually the movie was, the set design and costuming and everything.
CAITLIN: So stunning.
PETER: It is really hard to do space opera, and space opera’s one of my favorite genres. So, when somebody can really capture that tone, which I think the movie really did well, with its horrifying galactic capitalist hellscape and all of this excess and all the robot handmaiden things and the crazy dresses and stuff. It felt like a space opera.
And I guess the whole organization… The whole idea of harvesting planets so that people can live for 14,000 years and continue to push all wealth upward and stuff, it’s a good higher concept for a space opera, too. So, from that standpoint… This was based on a book series, right?
DEE: No, I’m pretty sure it’s—
PETER: [crosstalk] It wasn’t? It was straight from the Wachowskis?
CHIAKI: It’s an original piece.
DEE: I’m pretty sure this is straight from their brains, yeah.
PETER: Very good.
CHIAKI: I was gonna say this a little earlier. I feel like since the Wachowskis came out as trans, it almost feels like it’s their retake of The Matrix in a sense.
DEE: Want to go into that a little bit more? I think that’s a really neat idea.
CHIAKI: Yeah. You have the similar concept of the human population is essentially cattle for this unseen enemy or this unseen force that basically chews out the entire civilization of Earth without really blinking an eye, ultimately, but then you have the chosen one. So, in The Matrix you have Neo, but here you have Jupiter.
The key difference here is that Jupiter is a woman, and she is taking on this “The One” mentality in an entirely different frame of reference. And that kinda feels like a letdown, as well, in a sense, because as you guys have said it’s a very reactive story, whereas in The Matrix, it’s more Neo is given the option of taking the reins a lot more sooner and is pushed to take the reins rather than be forced to constantly adapt.
VRAI: Yeah. Actually, if I can piggyback off of that a little, I wonder if maybe it’s… Because I think you’re right: there’s a lot of similar themes. I wonder if it’s something to do with everyone and their dog has talked about The Matrix as a metaphor for trans coming out and Neo and all that; whereas I wonder if Jupiter Ascending is their chance, now that they’re out, to live out in a big budget all those cool girl adolescent wish fulfillment fantasies that they weren’t allowed to have before.
VRAI: But big!
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, I 100% agree, and that’s why I say that it feels like something scribbled into a 15-year-old girl’s notebook. This is the Wachowskis making the really female-oriented narrative that they always wanted to make. I definitely got that sense. I 100% agree.
DEE: Yeah, I love that, and I think you can definitely see that in the story.
PETER: Can I talk about one scene that absolutely didn’t make sense, though?
CHIAKI: Which one?
CAITLIN: Which scene?
DEE: Just one?
PETER: I mean, yeah. I was gonna preface this by saying a lot of weird stuff happened in this movie, but the only time I said “Wait, what the fuck?” out loud was when the aliens attacked Katharine Dunleavy and she was in the closet, so she takes a picture and then gets a phone call. It makes a noise. The aliens see her in the closet, attack her, and then it just cuts to Katharine waking up, and Mila Kunis is still in the closet fully awake.
And it’s like, what happened to the aliens? Can someone tell me? Did I miss something?
CAITLIN: She got her memory—
DEE: She got her memory wiped.
PETER: Okay. Why didn’t they…? What the fuck happened? [Chuckles] Where did the aliens go? Why did they just leave instead of finishing what they were doing?
DEE: I think they did. I think they were just scanning Katharine because they thought she was the match. They thought she was Jupiter, the recurrence, because Jupiter put her name in when she was… Yeah, so I actually can explain the scene. Hooray.
They thought it was Katharine because that was the fake name she gave at the clinic, and that was where they got the DNA match. And so, they were checking her to verify that it was her, and then it wasn’t a match. And then their whole thing is they don’t want to cause attention on Earth, so they just wipe memories. They don’t kill people.
PETER: Ah… Okay.
DEE: 99.9% of the time, they don’t want to murder anybody, because that’s good merchandise right there. So, they just wiped everybody’s memory and then moved on.
PETER: And then just waited in the hospital for whoever had given the DNA sample to show up to donate the eggs.
DEE: Yeah, to figure out who had given that name. Because then they tested her as soon as she came in, and they were like, “Yeah, it’s a match,” and that was when they were going to kill her.
PETER: Oh, okay. I guess almost the same thing happened in The Matrix, where you’re like, “Why didn’t they just take Neo there?” It’s maybe a Wachowski signature or something, much like extremely long chase sequences that cost millions of dollars.
DEE: God, they wrecked Chicago, didn’t they?
CAITLIN: A weirdly empty Chicago.
PETER: They filmed every day for six months to make that scene.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Jesus.
[Exclamations of amazement]
CAITLIN: Yeah, I did not largely agree with the Flophouse episode about Jupiter Ascending because they said it was a bad bad movie, which we all know is not true. But Elliott did point out that Chicago was weirdly empty during that chase scene for shortly after sundown.
DEE: Yeah, it’s not that late. There should’ve been a lot more people out.
PETER: Cars were only there to be dodged by Channing Tatum. Every single car was exactly in the way.
VRAI: It was Sunday, so all the buildings were empty!
PETER: [deadpan] Yeah. Oh yeah. Nobody’s in the cities on Sundays. The city of San Francisco is just a ghost town.
CHIAKI: It is.
CHIAKI: Did you know that Baja Fresh was closed once on Sunday and I was starving?
PETER: Ah, that’s bullshit.
DEE: I’m so sorry for your loss.
CAITLIN: It’s really hard to be you.
PETER: There is one part of the movie that was definitely bad, and I will stick by this: the audio mixing was horrible.
DEE: Okay, I thought maybe that was just my Blu-ray being weird, but okay, the audio mixing is top-to-bottom a mess on this film. Okay, that’s good to know.
PETER: I watched that movie with my housemates with a remote in my hand the entire movie because I had to keep increasing the volume when it was a talking scene and then decreasing it. And sometimes they switch back and forth like eight times because somebody was fighting at the same time people were talking. I don’t know why they did that. Especially with Eddie Redmayne. Whatever you call the voice that he was doing, barely whispering, he was inaudible unless you turned it up almost all the way, and then an explosion would happen and you’d all go deaf.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] And then he’d scream.
CAITLIN: This is why I watch things subtitled just as a matter of course.
VRAI: Hard same.
DEE: I put subs on this time, which is the first time I’d done that, and I picked up some lines I’d never picked up before.
PETER: Well, I typically watch my anime subtitled, so…
DEE: Oh, I meant to ask if you guys watched this subbed or dubbed!
VRAI: We always have subtitles on, but sometimes we watch subtitles on with the dub because playing Spot the Difference is fun.
PETER: Oh yeah. Or not fun. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Also, the Netflix subtitles, as per the course for Netflix, are a little bit poorly timed. Sometimes they take a minute to get on screen.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
DEE: Oh, that’s annoying. I watched my Blu-ray copy, so I didn’t have that problem. Y’all should just get Blu-ray copies of Jupiter Ascending.
CAITLIN: I really should.
DEE: If enough people buy it, maybe they’ll make a sequel! [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Cult film! Cult film! Cult film!
VRAI: Yeah, you can come sit with me in the Hannibal season 4 corner of Things That Are Super Likely to Happen.
DEE: [Chuckles] No, I think Jupiter—
PETER: Jupiter Resending.
DEE: I think having a full space opera about Jupiter—
CAITLIN: Smashing the system?
DEE: Yeah, realizing she can’t just walk away and then returning to crush the power would be phenomenal. But that having been said, I think this movie is pretty damn good all on its own, so I’m not dying for them to make more of them. I mostly would just like to hang out with some of the supporting cast some more, because the bounty hunter characters seem very cool and I’m sad we didn’t get more of them. What great design for characters who are only in like five minutes of the movie!
VRAI: Space cop lady is my favorite.
CAITLIN: Oh, she’s so cool! I love her!
DEE: [crosstalk] Tsing? She’s great.
CHIAKI: I love the diversity of the Aegis crew. They just are cool.
CAITLIN: So many different kinds of furries!
DEE: There is a noticeably different vibe—and I don’t know if this was intentional casting or if it’s just a happy accident—but the Aegis crew is much more diverse than the scenes you see at any of the Abraxas households, where it’s overwhelmingly white people. And I don’t know if that’s an intended commentary on the wealth and power structures in place, or if it’s just a thing that happened when they were casting the extras.
VRAI: I mean, given that they did Sense8 after this, I feel like they were trying to be more aware of intersections between race and sexuality and power and all that stuff.
DEE: So, maybe. Maybe that’s something they would’ve continued to explore if this had been a franchise!
Which actually brings me to an interesting question, which is: “Why do you think this movie flopped?”
CAITLIN: Because it follows anime- and manga-typical plot structures. I have a theory that the Wachowskis are just absolute fucking weebs.
VRAI: I feel like that’s not a theory; that’s a fact.
DEE: Yeah, that’s a fact. They rebooted Speed Racer. They’re weebs.
CAITLIN: I mean, listen…
DEE: They did The Animatrix. They’re weebs.
CAITLIN: I mean, listen, there’s a line between “They like anime. They like the anime they watched” and full-blown weebs like we are. And I personally believe that they are full-blown weebs. But since it follows the anime plot structures but they tried to market it to mainstream audiences, especially since it is a movie about things that… Warning for mild gender essentialism, but it is a movie of things that girls like. The largely male critical community went “What the shit is this? Fuck this.”
DEE: Yeah, I kind of have a similar read on it. And I totally know what you mean about it being gender essentialism because, like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t my kind of power fantasy.
But I can appreciate what it’s doing in terms of taking some common elements of… How do we usually word this? It’s “female-targeted,” right? It is targeted towards girls in a way that a lot of these big, epic space sci-fi action-adventure-type stories are not. And we talked about this a little bit in our Fushigi Yugi watchalong as well, how quickly “Oh, it’s so sincere and imaginative!” turns into “Oh, it’s so cheesy and stupid” when the main character is a girl instead of a boy.
Watching it again, I watched it with a friend who was being kind of dismissive of it in a way that— My other friends and I, we poke fun at this movie because it’s very messy and there’s some goofy shit in there. Again, Channing Potatum has angel wings.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] “Bees can recognize royalty.”
DEE: Bees recognize royalty! Bees don’t lie! [Chuckles] Sean Beean, who bee-trayed them and then was rebeemed!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Who does not die.
DEE: And he doesn’t die! This movie is groundbreaking!
PETER: That’s why it got bad reviews. Sean Bean didn’t die.
DEE: That’s the problem. Damn!
PETER: [crosstalk] Has reason.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Ah! Just subverting expectations.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] You know who got totally written off, though? His daughter. His daughter. She just disappeared.
VRAI: Yeah, they did not resolve that!
CAITLIN: They… Yeah.
DEE: Well, I think she’s just still hanging out at their house back on Earth. I don’t know.
PETER: But she had some sort of illness, right? Because of that scene where she coughs and she has to reassure Sean Bean that she’s okay, right?
DEE: I think so. And Sean—
PETER: So you know she’s got space disease.
DEE: Yeah, well, and Bee Dad says something to the effect of the reason he turned Channing Potatum in was because…
CAITLIN: They were going to do something to his daughter.
DEE: Yeah, she was being held hostage, maybe.
PETER: [crosstalk] Or that planet’s gonna get harvested, right?
DEE: Oh, that’s true, too. Yeah, it’s not super clear, but it was because he was trying to keep his daughter safe.
VRAI: No, no, it’s because there was a cure and he couldn’t afford it.
PETER: Oh… Okay.
DEE: Oh, was that—
PETER: Well, there you go.
DEE: I can’t believe I missed that. I’ve seen that movie so many times and I completely missed that plot point.
PETER: A lot of things are happening very quickly.
DEE: This is true.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s a very dense movie.
PETER: This is a trilogy. It is a trilogy in a single movie.
DEE: Yeah. But yeah, the way he was being dismissive of it got my hackles up in a way that me and my other friends poking fun at it has not. And I think it was because a lot of the stuff he was harping on were things where I’m like, “They do this in space adventures all the time! And I know you like those movies. And you’ve never cared before, so why is this suddenly now a problem?”
And it was kind of irking me that suddenly it’s a female-centric power fantasy and these same goofball “plot doesn’t quite fit together, the space world is a little bit silly” elements are suddenly a dealbreaker problem. And I’m like, “Star Wars does this, too. You know that, right?”
VRAI: Yeah, because it is big and kind of dumb and messy, but not in a way that a billion big, fun, dumb space action operas are not.
DEE: Yeah! It’s a fun movie. I will maintain that.
CAITLIN: It’s super fun.
VRAI: It’s also absolutely beautiful. It’s so hard to make space opera look good. But the colors.
CAITLIN: Oh my God.
DEE: Yeah, this is one thing the next time I go through I want to pay closer attention to, the art design, because right towards the end of the movie, I started to notice some stuff about the way they were using color schemes and the design of each of the worlds as Jupiter got closer to the truth.
Because the early worlds like Kalique’s and uh… Fuckboy… Titus’s are very opulent and lush, and Kalique’s especially is genuinely beautiful. It has kind of a Grecian villa feel to it. And then you get to Academy Award-Winner Eddie Redmayne, and I believe I described it as the Capitalist Cathedral. It’s very stark. That veneer of civilization has been stripped away and it’s Hell, basically.
VRAI: It looks kind of like Anor Londo in Dark Souls, and that makes me laugh a whole bunch.
DEE: It’s like a cathedral factory, and the inside is very hellish because it’s all these reds and dark blacks, and his room is stark iron but with the rose window gothic designs to it. It’s really, really well done, which is why I did have in my notes “Burn down the Capitalist Cathedral, Jupiter!” [Chuckles]
PETER: Yeah, well, they definitely did that. [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah! They blew it up. It was great.
Okay, so we actually are kinda coming up on the hour. Were there any other points you guys wanted to touch on before we go into our final section here?
CAITLIN: I really do mean it when I say this movie kinda defies the good movie/bad movie dichotomy. It is so goofy, and I laugh hysterically watching it, all these insane lines, but I love it. My love for it is not remotely ironic. I fully, sincerely love this movie even though it is kind of silly. If someone was like, “Yeah, but is Jupiter Ascending a good movie?” I wouldn’t have a real answer other than “I love this movie.”
VRAI: It depends on what you’re looking for in a film.
DEE: It is so earnest, and I agree with you, Caitlin. I unironically really love this movie. And I realized that after watching it the first time. I was like, “Yeah, this isn’t even just a ‘Ha-ha, it’s so bad.’” It’s like, no, I genuinely enjoy this film. Again, it’s so anime: that big sincere mess of all these overly ambitious ideas and power fantasy elements.
Last night my roommate came out and was like, “Oh, what are you watching?” I told him, and he said, “I’ve never seen it before,” and I was like, “It’s bad.” And then I kind of hesitated. He was like, “I thought it was good.” I was like, “It is good, but it’s… I can’t explain it.”
VRAI: It’s so charming to watch you all come into my dumpster and take a seat. This is how I feel all the time!
CHIAKI: For me, I wanted to wedge this in somewhere, and I guess I’m gonna do it here, but it’s the same sense of appreciation I have for this other great anime I love called Lupin III: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy.
VRAI: Oh my God.
DEE: [curious] Okay.
CHIAKI: It’s a messy and not a great camp film. It’s very campy. But at the same time, you appreciate it. And the main reason why I wanted to bring that film up was that Jupiter gets all this power and she just kinda lives with it without really embracing that she has that power, just like Lupin.
CAITLIN: Except as a sex thing.
DEE: Yeah. She’s the working man’s Cinderella. She becomes the princess but continues to clean the floors. Yeah, make that money.
CHIAKI: It’s just like the Lupin movie where Lupin technically owns the whole Earth, and that’s why he just takes liberties playboying it up and never staying in one place or ever settling down.
VRAI: In a horrible white disco suit.
DEE: That also sounds amazing.
PETER: I was gonna make an anime comparison, but not quite that one. [Chuckles] I was gonna say it’s like Shoji Kawamori trying to tackle a Moto Hagio or something like that.
PETER: I feel like there are very few differences between Jupiter Ascending and Escaflowne, especially the last third of Escaflowne, where literally everything ceases to make any sense whatsoever.
VRAI: It’s because of Feelings, Peter!
DEE: But it doesn’t matter. Exactly.
PETER: Everything’s beautiful, there are a lot of very powerful feelings, and things are of questionable sense or narrative worth all the time. But everybody likes Escaflowne, right? Don’t think I’ve ever met somebody who watched Escaflowne and was lukewarm about it.
VRAI: Oh, you haven’t been to my house.
PETER: Okay, I’m sorry.
DEE: I’ve never met anyone who hated Escaflowne. I will say that. But no, I think Escaflowne is probably a very good comparison, and they even have similar story structures—
PETER: And endings.
DEE: —and characters who are struggling to take control. Yeah, and endings, to a point, although Jupiter gets way more makeout sessions with her winged love interest. So, good for her!
PETER: “I found my place in this new world. Guess I’ll go back.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I think that is why it resonates so well with anime fans, because anime is a diverse… [struggling to find word]
CAITLIN: Medium, thank you.
DEE: You’re welcome.
CAITLIN: Anime is a very diverse medium, but by and large it is full of these very wild, messy sorts of stories. It’s like Gundam Wing. Gundam Wing is completely insane, honestly. [pause] But…
DEE: Yeah, I know what you mean, though. Because like you said, anime can do pretty much anything, because it is a huge medium that does lots of things, but there’s a certain kind of story that I think you tend to think of as being “This is only found in anime.” And it is these big, bombastic, imaginative, usually messy, emotional, sincere stories, and Jupiter Ascending very much fits into that.
And I guess this is the part where we drop the bit a little and say it is a live-action Hollywood film, but it is also anime—and that’s why we half-jokingly, half-sincerely have been referring to it as that this entire podcast—in a way that I think is more successful than a lot of live-action anime adaptations that don’t lean into that earnestness. That’s one of the reasons Detective Pikachu worked, is because it’s so sincere.
VRAI: So sweet, that movie.
DEE: And energetic. And I think this one falls into that category as well, and I hope the Wachowskis keep making live-action anime even if it does get panned by critics, because anime is just its own unique beast.
VRAI: Or canceled by Netflix because funding is hard. [Mutters crankily] I’m bitter about Sense8.
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] What if they made the Akira movie?
DEE: Yeah… I mean, I’d be interested in seeing that, but I don’t remember who is.
PETER: Taika Waititi. If it still happens.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, okay, you know what? I’m—
CHIAKI: [crosstalk] But it’s been tabled.
DEE: [Sighs] I’m also interested in seeing that, actually. [Chuckles] I would be interested in seeing Waititi tackle Akira.
CAITLIN: I feel like Waititi is another fairly anime live-action director.
DEE: That is true. Thor: Ragnarok is the most anime of the Marvel films.
VRAI: That’s an anime for me! [Chuckles]
DEE: [Chuckling] You know what? That’s what we’ll do for episode 200, is Thor: Ragnarok.
VRAI: Hell yes!
PETER: Good. I’m down. See you guys in two years.
DEE: Amazing. I think that’s maybe as good a note as any to end on, so I will take us into the final minutes here.
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