Psychedelic Anime and the Beatles Inspired 'Everything Everywhere All at Once'
The Daniels' raucous new multiverse movie was inspired by a little bit of everything.
From the moment Everything Everywhere All at Once spits Michelle Yeoh's dowdy laundromat owner into a multiverse of wild and wonderful possibilities, the movie becomes an I Spy of filmic and musical influences. It's tough to make a multiverse movie without referencing the aesthetics of The Matrix. You don't cast Yeoh in a film unless you're going to pit her against some breathtaking Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow martial arts choreography. Even casual moviegoers will spot its Pixar-inspired overtones, its love for the exaggerated visuals of Satoshi Kon movies, and its moody, green-tinted Wong Kar-wai homage.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as directing duo Daniels, represent the new class of weirdo cinema, having exploded onto the feature film scene in 2016 with the absurdist and touching Swiss Army Man, in which Paul Dano befriends a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe. For their second feature together, Daniels somehow came up with a king-sized playground of parallel universes that allowed them to create a cat's cradle of genre, tone, and structure that improbably ends up connecting perfectly together.
"We're very aware of the attention economy and how much we all collectively waste each other's time," Kwan explained over a Zoom chat with Thrillist. "I call it unethical attention extraction. Like, if I'm going to have you sit down for two hours, it better change your life." For Everything Everywhere, which tosses Michelle Yeoh into a network of increasingly absurd alternate worlds in an attempt to reunite her family, both directors took inspiration from the beautiful and the odd, and took Thrillist along for the ride.
It's a Wonderful Life and Groundhog Day
Structure is a crucial component to any film, but Daniels looked specifically at films that upended the traditional narrative cues and pathways. The two they mentioned both accomplish the near-impossible feat of providing an unconventional story presented in an unconventional way that also doesn't make the audience's head hurt.
KWAN: The stuff that really inspired us to push filmmaking past what other multiverse movies had done, that was stuff that I was watching and trying to figure out and dissect. The simple stuff like the structure of It's a Wonderful Life or Groundhog Day—both of those films were mind blowing for their time, but at their core really personal. I was like, I want to do that for modern audiences. And they're all digestible, too.
Masaaki Yuasa's Mind Game
Japanese anime director Masaaki Yuasa is known for his trademark stylized, two-dimensional look, which is evident in feature films like Night Is Short, Walk On Girl and Ride Your Wave, as well as series like Netflix's Devilman Crybaby and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Obviously, Daniels were immediately drawn to what is arguably his weirdest.
KWAN: It doesn't fully hold up, but it's wild, just in the finale, crazy. The last half hour of that movie moved me so much. And there's not a single line of dialogue. It's just chaos. I was like, if I could do this in live action, I will be so happy. It's just a scene where people are trying to escape a whale. It just is incredible, just virtuosic editing and animation, and you're like, what is life??? It fully ends, and then before the credits roll, there's just a full on five minute montage of just random images of life existing and you don't know any of the characters or you recognize some of them. It becomes a palate cleanser before you go out into the world.
A film that repeatedly shows up on entertainment publications' Best Movies of the Century/Decade/Whatever lists and yet is also impossible to explain, Leos Carax's bizarro opus Holy Motors was one of the directing duo's biggest inspirations. The film is basically a series of vignettes that follow a man (Denis Lavant) from one strange gig to another: performing sexy alien motion capture, donning a wig and climbing into a sewer, playing with an accordion ensemble in a church.
SCHEINERT: It was fun to bounce between stories with structure like Groundhog Day or It's a Wonderful Life and then get inspired by filmmakers who are willing to just blow up what a movie is supposed to be. So like we're huge A Ghost Story fans and huge fans of Holy Motors, Leos Carax's film.
KWAN: It was one of the best movies of the 2000s. Hands down. I think that that was the first film we showed our crew when we all started together. And it just blew me away.
SCHEINERT: We have a real soft spot for when a film or a piece of art just makes us suddenly be like, I don't know, anything could happen next. There are no rules.
A would-be television pilot that now languishes as a short film, The Passage is a genre mashup with so many elements you won't believe it's only twenty minutes long, following a man as he bumbles from location to location, meeting people and searching for human connection while on the run from three sinister figures. There is very little dialogue, none of which is in English, and our hero never speaks a word.
KWAN: There's a short film called The Passage. It's by Kitao Sakurai and Phil Burgers. It was supposed to be an Adult Swim pilot. And I don't know why anyone would pass on this thing. It's a work of art. It's Adult Swim meets, like, French art films.
SCHEINERT: It's a lot like Holy Motors. This guy is a clown, but not the classic version of a clown, just wandering through wild scenarios, making you giggle.
KWAN: It's so beautiful and so disorienting. Ultimately, it's kind of a metaphor for death chasing you or something like that. It's almost like The Terminator but filtered through Charlie Chaplin. And it got nominated for an Oscar. I'm like, who passed on this? I want to find a way to produce it so that we can watch the full thing.
"A Day in the Life" by the Beatles
Naturally, the two are also drawn to other mediums that refute and remix structure: they cite Kurt Vonnegut's "intentionally dumb but profound" science fiction books and Yoko Ono's performance art book Grapefruit, as well as the Beatles' two-in-one track "A Day in the Life," which combines its disparate elements—two completely different songs, one of the most famous final chords ever played, and blaring orchestral glissandos that inspired the THX "Deep Note" you hear at the start of all your old videos—into one single piece.
KWAN: Structurally, music was a big inspiration. "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles is one of my favorite songs of all time. It's two pop songs that are totally opposite of each other. John's pop song is about, you know, the random tragedy of life. And Paul's pop song is about how mundane life is. And they don't stick together at all. They're different time signatures, and then they're glued together by chaotic strings that feel like the song is about to implode, and then it gives you this resolving chord at the end that makes you feel so good. I was like, I want to make a movie that does that. We have a lot of fun pulling inspiration from things that aren't movies, and I think that's probably why our stuff feels very strange.