After several episodes where elements from the past reappear to save or enlighten the characters on Cowboy Bebop, a personification of the post modern future appears and attacks Spike. The show’s effective experiment in horror is another way to portray its fundamental thematic conflict.
Session Twenty: Pierrot le Fou
The title comes from the 1965 Jean Luc Godard film and the only way to make sense of the title’s use on Cowboy Bebop is to look at it in terms of a commentary on post modernism. Godard, as one of the leading figures of the French New Wave, directed many great, influential films in the 60s concerned with obtrusively subverting filmic conventions. Pierrot le Fou is a particularly striking example, its ostensible plot about a young man and woman becoming robbers on the run is constantly interrupted in ways that flaunt, dispel, or celebrate at an ironic distance the artificiality of cinema; abrupt breaks in the score, deliberate continuity errors, a woman who’s inexplicably naked at a party, a musical number with the actors’ voices recorded on location instead of in studio.
So what has this to do with the Mad Pierrot (Banjo Ginga), the seemingly indestructible flying clown who attacks Spike (Koichi Yamadera) for no apparent reason? The Mad Pierrot, or Tongpu (according to imdb this is a reference to a song by the Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra), kills to kill. He has no motivation; not to protect himself or anyone else, not to revenge, not for financial gain. He has no attachments and, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, this is his most dangerous quality. But he’s also a lot like Edward (Aoi Tada).
Tellingly, it’s Edward who discovers that Tongpu does, indeed, have a past, though, crucially, it’s not because she’s curious, it’s because Jet (Unsho Ishizuka) asks her to hack into the sealed ISSP files. Jet, the eldest member of the crew, is especially interested in the past and his strategy in response to Spike’s problem is to investigate, to research. But he’s no good with computers, at least he’s not as good as Edward, so here we have reverence for the past and a post-modern avatar working hand in hand. And it seems often times Jet and Edward share a particular connexion related to the fact that they’re such extreme opposites. Edward’s lack of attachments gives her freedom, but she needs Jet’s preoccupations to have motivation and context.
In Tongpu, the two extremes interact violently. Like Edward’s father, another model of post-modernism, Tongpu easily beats Spike in their first encounter. The only reason Spike survives is because Tongpu catches sight of a cat, triggering a memory of the animal that watched as scientists experimented on him and manipulated his anatomy. Much as post-modernism, like a science, relies on a process that begins with observation before manipulation and reconfiguration of art, so the scientists have remade Tongpu’s anatomy into a perfect killing machine. They free him from the bounds of a normal, mortal combatant, but, like many erring, brilliant scientists in Science Fiction, their lack of insight into their own motives proves to be their downfall as the directionless Tongpu turns on them.
Just as Edward, as a purer figure of post-modernism, is the one who can access Tongpu’s past, it’s the supremely post-modern, Disney-ish figures of Space Land that are responsible for Tongpu’s ultimate downfall. A robotic giant in the shape of a dog wearing a sailor suit, an amalgamation of Pluto and Donald Duck, stomps him to death after Spike finally succeeds in reminding him of the reality of physical pain.
Unless I missed something, I think this is where Spike’s martial arts technique, and general attitude, are presented as a response or potential solution to the conflict between chaotic change and persistence of the past. The Bruce Lee inspired “flow like water” technique has some of the advantage of a complete lack of attachment while also indicating an intimate connexion to the situation and environment. As the series draws closer to its conclusion, this solution is tested in several ways.
This entry is part of a series of entries I’m writing on Cowboy Bebop for its 20th anniversary. I’m reviewing each episode individually. My previous episode reviews can be found here:
Sessions Twelve and Thirteen