Alternate History in Royal Space Force: Wings of Honnêamise
Filmed depictions of history, as we’ve seen in this series, run the gamut from quasi-psychoanalytical fantasy (My Winnipeg) to the procedural attention to detail found in a film like Che. Royal Space Force is yet another departure for the series because it essentially fictionalizes all of human history in order to portray it back to us in a transfigured form. Rather than playing on the familiarity of a real city and transforming it through a relentlessly subjective psychosexual lens, as Maddin does, this film creates another world with a similar history to our own and documents its first voyage into space. Its central plot follows the progress of bored pilot Lhadatt, who volunteers to join his country’s space program––that country being the titular Honnêamise. Lhadatt’s story essentially splits into two halves: his interaction with the space program and the military politics surrounding it and his relationship with a religious woman named Riquinni, who lives in an isolated house away from industrial society.
My problem with this mystified view of the Earth is connected to the film’s treatment of Riquinni. This character, being a homey rustic living out in the countryside and keeping the old faith alive, becomes associated with the Earth itself, with the unspoiled original condition of the world. In one scene, Lhadatt, exhibiting the “natural” human rapaciousness, attempts to rape her in what I interpret as a doubling of the film’s overall picture of history: human/mankind seeing that which is beautiful and attempting to master and control it for themselves. Riquinni, however, knocks Lhadatt out with a blunt instrument. Later, however, she forgives him without any conditions whatsoever. Lhadatt’s request for forgiveness in orbit is both personal and universal, therefore, but the treatment of this attempted rape seen is fairly perfunctory and downright outrageous. In no way do we see Riquinni struggle over this decision, nor, I believe, does the film properly address the kind fo moral blemish that Lhadatt has just incurred on himself, and he is treated as our protagonist in more or less the same way as before. Her forgiving Lhadatt indicates to us that there is a chance that the Earth, too, can be redeemed, but this forgiveness is cheaply bought and crassly portrayed. It’s symptomatic of the generally wrong-headed view of history the film preaches, mistaken just as any idea of a mythical “fall” is as an original point in human history.
At the same time, the film is at times gorgeous, and that one aspect of the plot mars what is otherwise an entertaining and well-composed story. It’s one of the first projects from the Japanese studio Gainax, which would attack the question of technology, morality, and sexuality more forcefully still in their Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, about which at this point the less said the better. Despite the metastasizing of NGE into a fan service monster, I actually prefer its own attempts at profundity to Royal Space Force’s, whose internal problems prevent it from reaching into anything profound.