This is a post about Happy Science. You may not have heard of them.
They are one of many ‘Japanese new religions’ (or Shinshukyo) that still operate. No way are they on par with the likes of doomsday cults like Aum Shinrikyo (now known as Aleph). It would be wrong to call them a hippy cult, but peace, love and understanding is essentially what they are about. Believers and converts are required to follow a set path in life, and must have “the aspiration and vision to seek the way and contribute to the realisation of love, peace and happiness on Earth”.
The founder and leader Ryuho Okawa (the reincarnation of supreme deity El Cantare) claims to channel spirits such as Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, Confucius, among others. However, while the group doesn’t aim for monotheism like most major religions, it recognises many gods…I presume one idea of this is that they see no need for religious war.
So why on earth am I writing about them here?
I’m pretty sure that it was when I was looking into how some religious organisations use anime as a medium to show people their beliefs (and whatnot). I first came across the shorts made by Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph, showing founder Shoko Asahara using supernatural powers like levitating and phasing; the shorts are still scattered here and there on YouTube. But this didn’t directly lead me to Happy Science, though. I’ve had this interest and fascination of religious groups and cults for a good long while; not at all joining them, but instead I think about what drives people from mainstream religion to such beliefs that, to some, could be seen as threatening to everyday life. I researched some more into ‘Japanese new religions’, and pretty much one of the first things that came up was concerning some anime movies that Happy Science had produced to show its beliefs; not so much as propaganda, but to act as information. This, and spreading the message that a deity known as El Cantare is there for all of us, to shield us from greed and lust.
And so I managed to find these movies, and see for myself…
To date, they’ve produced a good number of feature-length movies. I couldn’t find a complete version of the first one, Hermes – Winds of Love, anywhere, but I managed to find the others fine enough.
The Laws of the Sun (2000)
Out of all of them, this is the most ‘informational’, dishing out a lot of what the cult believe in, in regards to cosmic spirits, evolution, where humans come from, the existence of other species, the lost continents of Mu and Atlantis, how only love can drive aliens away from Earth…the title of the movie says it all, really. But the more I watched it, and the more the movie dragged on, the less it made any real sense…and the more I had to laugh.
This had no real story to speak of……well, not any kind of conventional one. I guess you could even call this one of those educational videos that Happy Science teachers show to their classes, to save them from getting out a chalkboard or PowerPoint presentation and telling them directly. And thus, without a conventional story, and choosing to be more ‘educational’ and ‘factual’, this was most certainly the most boring.
Apparently the one before it, Hermes – Winds of Love, had some kind of story…about how one of the great cosmic spirits (King Hermes) lived his life delivering wisdom to his disciples and followers. So at least it could have gone down that trend, like the next movie did…
The Golden Laws (2003)
This was the only one which story I quite enjoyed…even if it was rather formulaic. 25th-century Satoru from New Atlantis is studying to enter a elite religious academy, only to have a time machine, owned by 30th-century Alisa, land in his backyard. With his ‘The Golden Laws’ book in tow, the two end up on an adventure across various eras: ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, so on, to learn about the meaning of life.
Alisa was a very pretty girl who looked like she had the hots for gormless Satoru, who was just a simple kid who wanted to know more about the universe around him, and the great leaders (Hermes, Moses, Buddha, Christ, etc.) who shaped his world. Ultimately, the two turn to shooing away the Egyptian army so that Moses and the Israelites can cross the Red Sea (instead of letting them drown when the Red Sea closed), saving Buddha from a greedy assassin with a really bad twitch, calling themselves Hermes’ disciples before watching him take down Prometheus, and later witness the wonders of El Cantare with teary eyes before going home.
With this rather formulaic story, I pictured the two to live happily ever after in a single timeline, so it was a bit of a letdown when her 30th-century parents arrived to tell her how she and Satoru were actually related, and thus dragging her back home to her own century. I did picture the scenario where she stayed behind in his century instead. Okawa needs to write that sequel book.
The Laws of Eternity (2006)
This one concerns…well…it kicks off with kids (who actually look like adults…or maybe they’re college students…don’t know…) looking into one of Thomas Edison’s forgotten ideas: the spirit phone (more about that ‘invention’ here). They go all Steins;Gate in making it, before the spirit of the Incan shaman God Eagle arrives and whisks them away on a magical tour through the numerous dimensions in both life and death, meeting the spirits of dead people who really existed (and not just made up) and actually did good deeds.
This one talks about how people who have done good deeds have also done so in past lives. This is the kind of message that is more in tune with what Happy Science is about; we have all lived in past lives, and through happiness, both the material and the spirit world can co-exist in harmony. But I did find the idea of Thomas Edison having past lives of people who invented the printing press and the one who created parchment paper rather far-fetched though, and something that sadly reminds me of Scientology’s own beliefs in regards to their followers living past lives.
The moment they arrive in the spirit world, you can tell that this movie was to be more educational than The Golden Laws, although the main cast (the token open-minded guy, the token sceptic, the token joker, and the token happy girl) make it more easy to identify for the viewers than a story set in the far-future, with a mega-city that doesn’t exist, and a time machine from the 30th-century.
Sadly, this has something the previous movies do not have: the opportunity to easily poke fun at. The anime abridgers would seriously have a field day with this movie, especially with the bromance Patrick and Roberto have. Plus it was way too long; all of this could be squeezed into about an hour.
At least they predicted Google Maps correctly.
The Rebirth of Buddha (2009)
Out of all of them, this was the least fantasy-based, instead turning more to current events. It was also around this time when Happy Science had started to up their budget on movies. The story itself was rather uncomfortable, but I don’t mean that as a bad thing. It also had the best “What the hell is that?!” moment.
High school girl Sayako wants to be a journalist, just like her senpai Kanemoto. When he writes an article about a corruption scandal, he is disgraced by the public and commits suicide. Since then, Sayako has been able to see spirits, and as she learns more about this new ability of hers, the more stereotypical antagonists arrive to either take her away or kill her.
As the title suggests, this is another reincarnation-based story, but I was less impressed by this than The Laws of Eternity. Watching this made me think that the fantasy-based movies Happy Science produced were far superior than something like this. So yes, one could see this as Happy Science’s first real attempt to use subtlety and so-call real-life situations (troubled high-schoolers, dangerous organisations, a kid with a strange growth on his cheek) to deliver their message, without going all totally gung-ho. With Sayako seemingly saving Tokyo from UFOs with lotus flowers, then later convincing the population on live TV that a tsunami isn’t heading their way, like the antagonist says it is. Yes, all of their topics are touched on, but they are on that fine line. Okay, so perhaps in real-life we don’t get to see a guy in a white suit stand on a white elephant everyday. The Rebirth of Buddha had too many holes here, there and everywhere, and so this attempt at introducing a more realistic environment fell flat in my eyes. But one bonus is how Sayako’s father was freaking out that her daughter was thinking about joining some crazy cult but went wild when he later met said reincarnation. Just don’t watch the English dub; it’s…not that great.
Okay, there’s something I should say at this moment in this ‘marathon’. Towards the end of The Rebirth of Buddha, that hook that religions get to bring people in was clear to see. I mean, I had watched a good number of these movies by now, all of which had the same theme, and all of which bordered on propaganda. And now these ideas of theirs were all bouncing around in my head…I mean I could tell you already about (according to them) what happened to the lost continents of Mu and Atlantis, as well as the numerous dimensions in the spirit world after the material world. Hell I even enjoyed watching The Golden Laws!
There. You see. This is what has happened to me!!!
The Mystical Laws (2012)
And yet another reincarnation one. But this one is far more fantasy-based than its predecessor, and definitely the darkest out of all of them. And the fact that this was submitted to be on the shortlist to get an Oscar for Best Animated Feature is proof that they want to think big……too bad it wasn’t all that.
A fascist empire is trying to take over the world with super-duper fancy technology the world has never seen before. The resistance, Hermes’ Wings, tries their best, and with a doctor being told by Buddhist monks that he is the reincarnation of their savior, and only he can save the planet, its inhabitants, and the spirit world. This reincarnation has the weight of Earth on his shoulders, trying to stop the empire, with his fellow resistance members, fellow pure spirits, and even a pretty alien princess, helping him.
You can tell he’s the savior by his collar alone.
Perhaps when Happy Science realised that doing a movie that had modern-day characters wasn’t the best solution, they thought “Hey, our fantasy movies worked…so let’s get back to them.” But it’s actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be, however it was at this point where my patience had started to wear thin. I mean after 4 movies that pretty much echo the same thing, The Mystical Laws just seemed like another one, only with added space invasions and alien love.
By this time, El Cantare had effectively stopped appearing in movies altogether; instead the main cosmic entities take the most priority. This is most likely proof that drilling El Cantare into the viewers’ heads won’t exactly win them over, and thus focusing more on what the fundamentals are in Happy Science can attract more people. Also it does emphasise on the one theory that they do have: evil forces will invade the world through nuclear war. And it’s at this point where Happy Science movies turn more towards aliens and UFOs.
The Laws Of The Universe: Part 0 (2015)
The most recent one. I think that, out of all of them, this one was the most relatable to the common folk, despite it being set in a fancy boarding school and with the returning theme of UFOs and alien invasion. And yes, this was another one that I actually liked…kind of…in that laughable way.
5 kids at an elite boarding school find out that several fellow students are become A-grade all of a sudden. Using the conspiracy theory powers that every high-schooler has, they successfully discover that aliens are invading the planet. But it’s from here when it gets super-weird. About halfway through their mission, they end up on some guided tour of Vega and the Pleiades, where they take a crash course of Happy Science 101, and that love and forgiveness can save the planet from the invading Reptilians.
Oh yeah, that’s right…one thing I neglected to mention at the beginning of the post. One of Happy Science’s main antagonists are Reptilians; invading aliens who thrive on chaos and are prepared to ‘cleanse’ the planet by any means necessary.
It’s part 0, so is this some kind of prequel? Will we get a sequel? Or a spin-off? Have George Lucas or James Cameron consulted them or something?
I certainly wasn’t bought by any of these stories that were meant to pull at my heart strings, or the pretty mediocre 3D graphics…and El Cantare (or any of his cosmic spirits or disciples) didn’t show me the way. I never was the spiritual kind of person, am instead more of a sceptic. Nonetheless, I found the whole process interesting to say the least, and I just think these guys are having it a bit rough, what with being compared to other single deity cults who are sinister to say the least. They’ve been blamed by Ugandan athletes for causing them not to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, Vice were extremely unkind in their own article on them (but they have always gone for the shock tactic), and their books and videos about their claims that North Korea and China will invade the world through nuclear war have got many people rattled.
Make of all of this what you will. But despite being the sceptic, watching these movies has left me with something I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps this is what they call some great hook into believing. I won’t be going down that route, sadly. And to any believers who do read this (that’s less than unlikely), sorry I let you down. But I do give these guys a 10 for effort; despite the not-great quality, you can tell that they try so hard, and the fact that it doesn’t really work is no longer the point when you’ve watched all of their movies.
I could even call this another one of my marathons, but I actually quite liked The Golden Laws, plus The Laws of Eternity and The Laws of the Universe: Part 0 were examples of “so bad, it’s good” movies. Watching these 6 movies was an experience, I’ll tell you that; sadly it wasn’t an enlightening one.
UPDATE: Since publication of this post, an English-language Twitter account run by Happy Science has contacted me in regards to this article. I would like to say that I appreciate their kind words and thank them for taking the time to read this article and (hopefully) not be offended.
Sources: Happy Science official site // Wikipedia // Vice // The Japan Times // BBC
“Their books and videos about their claims that North Korea and China will invade the world through nuclear war have got many people rattled.”
This has got to be the weirdest anime I have ever heard of, but they predicted 2017? (I’m still more surprised that Vice has it’s own TV channel, and a somewhat Australian government-run channel has piggybacked the thing onto our commercial TV).
*apologies for the late reply*
Vice also have a regular spot on the HBO channel in the US, and here in the UK, it’s a free-to-watch TV station, albeit tucked away at the far end of the channel list. In their article, they went to the cult’s office in Paris and used their atypical shock tactic on just about everything there. People can think what they want about Happy Science, but that was still an unfair write-up on their part.