I'm not a great fan of this one. Apparently it's Rumiko Takahashi's favourite Urusei Yatsura movie, but I can only think she hadn't seen The Final Chapter when she said that. The main thing it has going for it is that it's a simple story that doesn't involve multiple realities and can be understood without anyone having to compose a college dissertation on the bloody thing. You'll have to wait until the 5th film in the series to get that again.
However on the downside it's too long, it's slow and it comes from that early point in the series when they hadn't quite worked out how the show worked yet. Even if you overlook how long it must have taken to make, the movie was released between episodes 62 and 63, which is a few weeks before things got really funny.
The story involves yet another alien abducting Ataru or Lum in order to marry them. Admittedly it's a bit harsh to say "yet another" about the first film in the series, but the only exceptions to this plot formula are the mad films (2 and 4). This time it's a space queen called Elle, who rules a space empire that's sufficiently high-tech and badass to be able to slow down even the Urusei Yatsura regulars. This series's films often base their civilisations around a motif. The Final Chapter's aliens were based on fungi, but Elle's lot are all about roses. Those flowers are everywhere. They're on the wedding invitations that are the first thing anyone knows about Ataru's impending marriage to Elle, including Ataru. They're in the spaceship designs. We even get clouds of rose petals flying everywhere for no obvious reason. I actually quite like this, if only since it puts a twist on the standard "awesomely huge UFO descends from the clouds" scene.
Other things I liked included the children. The film opens with five-year-old versions of Elle and Ataru, drawn as black and white silhouette people in a world of solid red. This looks great and is probably one of the most memorable sequences in an Urusei Yatsura movie. Then at the end, the film comes full circle back to the children, which I thought was lovely. I've absolutely no idea how it happened or what we were supposed to be seeing, mind you. Time travel? Nostalgic hallucination? Hell, it doesn't matter. It's Urusei Yatsura. It never even occurred to me to wonder about that until a moment ago, which should tell you all you need to know about the franchise... yet this is one of its most straightforward movies!
The first half of the movie is basically about the reactions and overreactions of the regular cast, who take the news of Ataru's marriage even worse than you'd expect. I like this. I'm not convinced there's enough material to fill the running time, mind you. In addition this is the version of the cast from the show's early episodes, so instead of characters like Ryuunosuke, we have blasts from the past like Princess Kurama and, oddest of all, a nearly sentient version of Ran's boyfriend, Rei. I was more accustomed to the Rei of later episodes, from when he'd degenerated into a mere sight gag. This is a man whom I'd forgotten could even speak. I think he moos or something. You see Rei has two bodies, one being a drooling monstrous cow-creature and the other being a handsome young stud, but in neither form does he have enough brainpower for basic communication. However here he's capable of speech! He orders food! At one point he even pilots a spaceship, although that I could accept since you could probably train an ape to do the same.
Oh, and there's also Benten, who unfortunately appears in all the films bar 2 and 4. I've come to find her a bit boring. The problem is that she's supposedly this badass biker chick, but she never causes anywhere near the havoc you'd expect. With all her guns and stuff, you'd expect skyscrapers to be toppling and burning vehicles to be piled six deep at least once or twice by the time she'd finished.
One surprise for me was how long it took for Elle to get into the action. Admittedly with over a hundred minutes to play with, even coming in at the halfway point gives you a good fifty minutes in the spotlight, but it's surprising how much of the plot is given over to Lum, Ataru and co. Naturally Elle has her quirks, the biggest involving a warehouse-sized freezer and the kind of power abuse that you'd normally associate with serial killers and/or war crimes tribunals. By the end of the film, this has seemingly all been forgiven and forgotten and we're expected to sympathise with her. Oddly enough, you do. I can only suggest that Urusei Yatsura takes you into its own moral universe as well as violating the laws of physics.
If you wanted to explain the cultural impact of Urusei Yatsura to Westerners, I think the nearest equivalent would be Shatner-era Star Trek (excluding sequels like The Next Generation). Both were long-running TV shows that made an enormous cultural impact and continued in six movies. I'm ignoring The Next Generation, remember? If you really wanted to stretch the analogy, then I you could say that the equivalent of the Star Trek sequels would be Rumiko Takahashi's later work like Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, Inu-Yasha etc. Admittedly there aren't many people over here who've heard of Urusei Yatsura, but then again there aren't many Japanese people who've heard of Star Trek. To follow this analogy a little further, this movie would be the equivalent of Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. The three reality-benders would then be the equivalent of the Star Trek 2-4 trilogy, after which everything falls down with #5 being the worst original-cast Star Trek movie, since its Urusei Yatsura equivalent is my favourite.
They use the show's themes here for the opening and closing sequences, not to mention occasionally within the film too. I liked the songs themselves, but I'm less keen about how they're handled here. The songs tend to stop the film dead for what's basically a music video, after which the action resumes with only silence overlaying the soundtrack. I've always thought that the later Urusei Yatsura episodes made masterly use of incidental music, so it's a shame this film takes a different and much less successful approach.
It's worth noting that the director, Mamoru Oshii, was driven berserk by all the requests from the producer to alter the movie. I don't know what he had in mind, but looking at Beautiful Dreamer leads me to suspect something more extreme and weirder.
The art is cartoonish, but that's early Rumiko Takahashi for you. It means that there's nothing worth looking at in the moments of mild nudity, though.
This isn't a bad movie and indeed I can imagine it going down well with Urusei Yatsura newbies. There's nothing wrong with its story and it's a nice bonus that for once it happens to be comprehensible. However compared with the rest of the series, it's tame. In fairness I like its focus on the cast. Shinobu going berserk is always fun. Mendou is even more deranged than usual, while his private army actually goose-steps.
At the end of the day, this is a film with a hundred minutes to fill and not always a lot of urgency about doing so. Cut ten or twenty minutes out of the running time and I suspect I'd like it much better.