“No data available”, “Unknown” and “???”: that’s all the information on The Flying Luna Clipper I can get from Google. And I get this from the Laserdisc Database, one of the few sources acknowledging the existence of this 1987 “film” that has now reappeared on YouTube. OK, I’m intrigued now. Matt Hawkins, from Attract Mode, uploaded it and he says that the disc appeared in a second-hand shop… and that’s about it. End of story. There’s no trace whatsoever of Ikko Ono, director and scriptwriter, or of the rest of the team. Sometimes, as Gerard Casau says, you have to acCept the mystery.
And what a mystery: The Flying Luna Clipper is an animated 55-minute feature film with mutant fruits, living snowmen and zero gravity dances produced by Sony in Japan and exclusively created with 8-bit microcomputer MSX. A weird thing impossible to ignore both for its production and its content, a story ranging between the least modest kind of honesty and the most self-conscious kitsch, a forgotten relative of Minoru Kawasaki’s mad endeavours (Crab Goalkeeper, Executive Koala or Calamari Wrestler) or of the first Akira Toriyama. With pixelated and a bit arthritic graphics, The Flying Luna Clipper tells the story of a group of “dreamers” made up of vegetables, animals and other creatures that board the inaugural flight of a hydroplane (the Flying Luna Clipper of the title) over the Pacific. If you want weird and bizarre Japan, here you’ll have a feast. At least this is what Hawkins seems to think, who shared the piece admitting he expected it to become a big hit on Tumblr, “mainly among GIF creators, who will have lots of material to work with.” I accept the challenge, Matt: here, my gallery of favourite cuts.
The anomaly of The Flying Luna Clipper comes from the fact that it was made by a machine conceived to play videogames: this could be the first and only example of chiptune film ever. If the musical aesthetics of NES or Spectrum became independent thanks to musicians such as Anamanaguchi or Meneo, who understood those platforms as instruments, Luna Clipper allows us to imagine a whole genealogy of films created with Game Boys and MegaDrives, a lost future in which it would have been normal to buy a film for Super Nintendo or for George Lucas to create his digital fantasies with a Neo Geo. But that never happened. Since Luna Clipper we’ve had modest examples, like some music videos (The Name of the Game by Ural 13 Diktators or Move Your Feet by Junior Senior, for instance) or the pixelated sketches of 8-Bit Cinema or Dorkly Bits, but nothing beyond the mere experiment or parody. Films are still filmed as always, and consoles are only meant for playing.
Why didn’t these chipfilms ever come to exist? Difficult to know. Maybe because they don’t make sense as an industrial strategy. Or maybe because players wouldn’t probably want something that doesn’t let them be in charge, while viewers would reject such a limited and evident representation. And maybe no filmmaker would ever feel comfortable directing in an Atari machine. The limit for the style to prosper, in any case, seems clear: videogame aesthetics yes, but not too much. And when you see The Flying Luna Clipper it’s not so hard to understand why: its formal code can be alienating and, besides, it has nothing like a traditional plot. It’s easy to imagine it as a feverish idea for Google Deep Dream, films made not only with machines, but for machines; as if a primitive algorithm (maybe Ikko Ono was an artificial intelligence) had tried to imitate Yellow Submarine. A bit of an alien thing, yes, but to me, and I guess for many as well, that’s part of what makes it fascinating.
The Flying Luna Clipper deserves a second life as animated gallery free of the narrative seams of the kind of film genre it never fitted into. That’s why I accept not only its mystery but its anarchic way of reinventing technology as a creative tool, and upon seeing it as a collection of GIFs I finally understand the Laserdisc Database: “???” indeed; and what a good “???”!