Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots @ La Jolla Playhouse
In 2001, the Flaming Lips released an album with a rather curious name: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. From November 6 – December 16, 2012, the album and two other albums—the Soft Bulletin (1999) and At War with the Mystics (2006)—from the Flaming Lips came to life in a musical of the same name at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego—its subject matter quite literally about a girl named Yoshimi who battles swarms of pink robots.
In the play, the pink robots are actually metaphors for the lymphoma cells waging war on Yoshimi’s immune system. After a valiant and visually stunning battle, she dies and leaves behind her loved ones. However, the inherently tragic nature of the tale is offset by the ethereal and otherworldly sounds and lyrics of the Flaming Lips where the inevitability of death is another undeniable fact of life.
The play opens with a question—one poised in the song, “Flight Test” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—as sung by Yoshimi’s boyfriend, Booker.
“I don’t know where the sun beams end and the star/ Lights begins it’s all a mystery/ And I don’t know how a man decides what right for his/ Own life, it’s all a mystery.”
“What is the meaning of life?” is a question that Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots attempts to answer—which the Flaming Lips suggests is often done best with the end in mind. Mortality and the ephemeral nature of life inspire the content of their music.
Soon after Yoshimi goes into remission, she relapses. While in the hospital, she sings, “Feeling yourself disintegrate” from The Soft Bulletin.
“Love in our life is just too valuable/Oh to feel for even a second without it
But life without death is just impossible/Oh to realize something is ending within us/Feeling yourself disintegrate.”
In the style of the Flaming Lips, the instrumentals echo as though filtered through another dimension—removed from earthly affairs and somehow detached from human feelings.
The serene and passive melody lends to Yoshimi’s eerily calm acceptance of her condition—noticeable from the time of her initial diagnosis.
Throughout the play, she never expresses anything beyond subtle melancholy or girlish delight—almost as though she is only a simulation spun off from the music.
The music nullifies any tragic significance. It diverts attention to the enchanting effects of the play’s technological charms: backdrops that create a sense of motion, props that appear to float off in a gravity-less environment, and animated combative robots—one 17 feet tall—that change color between white and pink.
Still, a subtle sense of melancholy exists in a story that pits biology against medical and technological innovation—highlighting the fact that nature’s still got the upper hand in an age of robots and other manmade marvels.
Those left behind after Yoshimi’s death solemnly acknowledge this in “Do You Realize” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
“Do You Realize – that everyone you know someday will die/And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know/ You realize that life goes fast/ It’s hard to make the good things last/ You realize the sun doesn’t go down/ It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”
The opening song expresses confusion about the cosmos, while the closing number reveals an enlightened perspective—insinuating a clearer understanding of one’s ephemeral place in this world.
The juxtaposition between life and death creates harmony. It keeps life interesting, love alive, and serves as a constant reminder to appreciate every moment.
Watching the technological splendor of the theatrics unfold lends to a sense of melancholy itself, in the sense that none of us will actually be here the day that some of the scenes—such as dining with a loved one in outer space—can possibly come true.