"URUSEI YATSURA": Behind the Anime Part 4

An exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Rumiko Takahashi's famous Japanese series.

Narrator: After the disappointing fourth season, and air disaster victims' benefit disaster, it seemed things couldn't get any worse for the show and its cast. But of course they could. After the revelation by Ataru, Mendo was arrested for capital tax evasion, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, he was released after one month for good behavior. In the meantime, his role was filled by his old high school kendo team partner, Tatewaki Kuno. Kuno had won the gold medal for kendo during the 1984 Summer Olympics, the only time it was featured. But Ataru and Lum were becoming full-fledged alcoholics and cocaine addicts, likely to try to forget their lives' troubles. Despite the livelihood of their two-year-old daughter Rumiko, their marriage was also coming apart.

Ataru: Dang.a lot of that time in my life is just a blur to me now. But I guess I do kinda remember a lot of fights at home.

Ataru's dad: It was becoming a disaster by that point. None of the cast members would even speak to each other. But I thought my son's marriage would break up before the show did. There wasn't any love anymore-except for substances and money. You know, your typical show-biz relationship.

Narrator: And ultimately, he was right. In early 1986, Ataru and Lum filed for divorce, with Lum and her parents claiming custody of their daughter. Just two months later, in mid-March, the TV series ended after a run of 4 ½ years, replaced by "Maison Ikkoku", a romantic comedy based on the strange inhabitants of a seedy apartment building near creator Rumiko Takahashi's college dorm. However, Miss Takahashi would continue the "Urusei" manga for another year.

Shinobu: We just needed some time off, you know. Working with the same people everyday for four years can kinda grate on your mind. We still all loved each other at heart; we just needed to go off and do our own thing for a while.

Mendo: I was so glad when that train wreck finally ended. I thought to myself, I'm free! I'm finally free from being tied down to these egocentric, sex-crazed jerks!

Narrator: The cast managed to find temporary roles in other shows. Ataru played a womanizing Japanese foreign exchange student in the British soap opera, "Coronation Street" and also played a few bit parts in "Maison Ikkoku". Shinobu landed small roles in "Maison Ikkoku" as well, and also "The Facts of Life". Mendo got a chance to play his dream role as a sidekick in "Magnum, P.I." And Cherry appeared as a homeless man in one episode of "Hill Street Blues".

Ran: I auditioned for the role of Christine in "Phantom of the Opera" when it was first coming out in London. A Dappya monster: We landed a record deal. You probably wouldn't remember us now, but brother, back in the summer of '86, everyone was doing "The Dappya Dance".

Narrator: Lum, however, was sinking into a downward spiral. Someone- probably the disgruntled Shinobu or the sex and publicity-crazed Happosai- had leaked to the press the secret that she and Ataru had actually been married, and the tabloids were all over her, spreading lurid, graphic lies about the alien girl. To escape this, Lum began consuming copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, and it started to show.

Benten: I saw her a few times during that "lost weekend" period. I-I couldn't believe how far she had fallen in just a few short months. I tried to tell her, Lummy-chan honey, you can't do this to yourself. You're only 25. You're beautiful, you have a wonderful daughter to take care of, you've got to get help.

Narrator: Unfortunately, Lum was too dazed with drugs to recognize that she needed help. Fortunately, Benten once found her, passed out on the kitchen floor of her house, and took her to the Betty Ford Clinic. Her daughter Rumiko was left in the custody of Lum's parents, and sure enough, by the end of summer, Lum was clean and sober. It was just in time to begin filming on what would become the first of several original direct-to-video episodes of "Urusei Yatsura", released in September 1986.

Sakura: It was nice to get back together with the gang, even if on a less regular basis. We all still loved the series, and now that we now had four months between shootings instead of one week, we had a bit more breathing room, and could feel more comfortable.

Narrator: In early 1987 the last chapter of the "Urusei Yatsura" manga appeared in Shonen Sunday magazine. The final story was so highly rated by fans, that the producers soon began asking the cast; how would they like to film one more movie, based on the final chapters of the manga series? There would be one aspect that one longtime cast member would much enjoy- the Space Taxi Driver, whose last major appearance had been in the second TV episode, would have a crucial role in the film.

Shinobu: You can imagine we were all pretty surprised. We didn't mind doing the video episodes, but the movies just involved so many tough stunts, and they, in my opinion, had been the most stressful roles. I was a bit afraid that another movie would burn us out and put us at each other's throats again. But then I thought that, well, that series was what had really made me famous and built up my life. That, and Inaba the Dream Technician was thinking of marrying me, and we needed the money for starting a family.

Narrator: So once again, the crew reunited for another full-length movie. And although everyone was quite tired and spent at the end of filming, when "The Final Chapter" opened in 1988, no one was disappointed. The movie was a worldwide success, and many critics, even the tough Siskel and Ebert, felt that the chemistry of the show's early years was back, at least for the time being.

Ataru: When we finished, we thought whoa, "The Final Chapter". The movie version of the end of our original manga series. It felt like the end of an era, so it was kind of a sad moment for all of us. Of course it wasn't quite the end.

Narrator: And indeed it wasn't. Several video specials would follow for the next three years. But after 1989's successful "I Howl at the Moon", many critics would feel that the series had run out of steam and deserved a rest.

Megane: Yeah, I think they carried on a bit too long with the show. The plots were becoming repetitive, the directing sloppy, and once again we were starting to have some friction behind the scenes. Plus the world of anime was changing so much. "Gundam" had gone through like two incarnations, even "Maison Ikkoku" had long gone off the air, and "Ranma" was the talk of the town. Heck, our last movie, "Always My Darling", was a double feature with the first Ranma movie!

Narrator: Unfortunately, many longtime fans also felt this. The last piece of "Urusei Yatsura" film was the sixth movie, "Always My Darling", released in late 1991. It had been a whole decade since the premiere of the TV series, and 13 years since the beginning of the manga. Sadly, the final film was a worldwide, critically panned flop, even in its native Japan. The popular franchise had ridden off into the sunset without fanfare or even much praise.

Shinobu (sighing): I guess you could say we had been around for so long, everyone just forgot about us, and didn't really care much when we finally left. But they were still some of the best years of my life, and I wouldn't have missed them for the world. (Wipes away some tears.)

Narrator: Today, more than a decade after their final screen appearance, the "Urusei" crew has gone their separate ways. Ataru attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Pornography Anonymous meetings, and in 1998 married Skuld of "Oh My Goddess" fame, despite her being 15 years younger. The two now have a daughter, Freya, and live in a beachside mansion on Japan's southern island of Kyushu. Shinobu finds occasional roles in Japanese movies and TV commercials including one with her husband, Inaba. Mendo married fellow old money-child Asuka Mizunokoji, daughter of the Mizunokoji Sporting Goods Company, which merged with Mendo Enterprises after the two were married. Shutaro considered improving on his singing and acting careers, yet felt committed to his new family and running his company, which he described as being like "a much larger child." He currently divides most of his time between his family's vast ancestral estate in Tomobiki and his beach houses near Tokyo and on Okinawa Island. Lum, meanwhile, has secluded herself from the media and public ever since her last film appearance in 1991. Ever since, she has not been seen in public, and declined to appear on this "Behind the Anime" interview. However, she occasionally meets with the rest of the former "Urusei Yatsura" cast, who say that she currently lives quietly in Malibu, California, with her daughter Rumiko. It is not known whether she will ever make another public appearance, but there have been some rumors that she is currently working on an autobiography. Her daughter, meanwhile, has plans of her own. Rumiko Moroboshi (who looks just like Lum, but with black hair and brown eyes instead of her mom's green hair and blue eyes. She's wearing an "Inu- Yasha" T-shirt.): Yeah, my mom's told me about how rough show business can be, but it also sounds really exciting, and besides, I want to carry on the tradition she started. I'd also like to be sort of an edgy femme fatale sex symbol like my mom, maybe a James Bond girl. Oh, and, my mom doesn't want me to say too much, but let's just say you're gonna hear from us both again sometime in the near future.

Narrator: And so, like most us, the cast of "Urusei Yatsura" looks back on their sometimes tumultuous, sometimes wonderful days of stardom with happiness.

Shinobu: So would I do it again? Umm.yeah. Sure, there were a lot of bad times, but also a lot of good too.

Benten: It was great. I'd like Lum's kid Rumi-chan to have a share of the action too. Maybe I'll talk to the director of the James Bond films and not only see if I can get her to be one of Bond's girlfriends, but also maybe ride around on my rocket bike! Yee-uh! Grrrl powah! (Pumps her fist into the air and laughs.)

Ataru: Aww man, those were the best years of my life. What guy wouldn't like having all those women around him-OOFF!! (Skuld just whacked him over the head with her mallet.)

Skuld: I thought you knew better than that, Darling. Now you quit talking like that and don't you ever.

Narrator: On November 20, 2002, as this "Behind the Anime" episode was being completed, Sakurambo "Cherry" Sakuragaoka died of old age. Since no records of his birth can be found, we cannot assume Cherry's exact age, yet since records do show him leading a Japanese delegation to U.S. President Cleveland, and also babysitting American entrepreneur Charles Montgomery Burns, we can assume he was a rather ripe old age. As he was not well liked by the rest of the cast, none attended his funeral except his niece, Sakura. Nevertheless, we at "Behind the Anime" hold him in our memories.



Narrator: Next week on "Behind the Anime", "Ranma".

Male Ranma: I mean, how many times do I have to tell people, I'M NOT GAY! That's like saying Ryoga, Mousse, and Shampoo are freaking animal fetishists, for crying out loud!