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Three amazing short films from true legends of the genre
on 20 November 2004
I'm still pretty new to this wide new world of anime, so I can't really compare Memories to other works in the genre. I can say that it is a most interesting and impressive production made up of three very different short films from some of the leading names in anime. I don't think the visuals are quite as dazzling as that of more recent anime films, but the artistry of these three episodes certainly does help define the very different worlds in which the action takes place and demonstrates the compelling, visceral powers of anime. We have the celebrated Katsuhiro Otomo to thank for this project; each of the three films, if I'm not mistaken, was adapted from a short manga piece in Otomo's graphic novel Memories.
Episode One is Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto of Animatrix fame. This is a beautiful, haunting tale of a most unusual space rescue mission. The crew of a space garbage collection ship responds to a distress signal from a dead part of space. Two crew members board the debris-shrouded vessel and enter a completely different world, one fueled by the memories of a beautiful young opera singer who apparently retreated to the isolation of space following a tragedy in her life. I won't pretend to have understood every thing about this story, but it is wholly captivating. The men encounter lavish rooms including opera houses and living quarters fit for a princess, holograms and other visual artifacts of "the young Madam" Eva entertaining guests and audiences, and decayed artifacts that sometimes come to life in front of their eyes. Each man is soon drawn into the vivid, colorful world of Eva's memories, but only one recognizes the unreality behind the vivid scenes he encounters - in his case, though, memories of his own wife and child serve as fuel for the increasingly realistic episodes he experiences. Much of the story takes place to a soundtrack of beautiful opera music such as that of Puccini, and the combination of such grand music and the amazing visual miracles that define anime of the highest caliber make this a most powerful film indeed.
Episode Two, Stink Bomb from director Tensai Okamura, goes in a completely different direction. Existing in some nebulous space between dark comedy and grim political satire, Stink Bomb is certainly entertaining but much less powerful than the other two films. In this story, a young scientific researcher takes an experimental fever pill that turns out to be something else entirely. He awakes to find everyone in the building comatose or dead (it's never really clear to me), and panicked company executives order him to find the pills and the secret documentation related to them so that he can bring everything to them in Tokyo immediately. He does just that, but he comes across death and destruction everywhere he goes. He does not understand that he has become a biological weapon emanating deadly gas from within his own body. It's almost comical to see the military firepower brought to bear - quite fruitlessly - against him as the military seeks to stop the spread of the noxious gas. The ending is also somewhat comical, on a dark level.
The last and shortest of the films comes from Katsuhiro Otomo himself. Cannon Fodder is an extremely dark film that vividly portrays a day in the life of a militaristic society along the lines of a post-modern day Prussia (i.e., pointy helmets are big in this world) dedicated solely and completely to the continued firing of gigantic cannons against some nebulous enemy. The obvious interpretation is one of the insanity of warfare, and the dark tones and grimly drawn characters bring the message home in a powerful fashion. Interestingly, the entire action seems to consist of one continuous shot that moves fluidly from one scene to another.
Memories dates back to 1995, but it is certainly an impressive example of anime's unique strengths and possibilities. The music, I should mention, plays an integral role in each film, especially Magnetic Rose - I think this DVD is worth owning just for this first amazing film alone. Otomo, Morimoto, and Okamuro are the same masters of anime who gave the world such wonders as Akira, Animatrix, and Ghost in the Shell, so anime newbies can rest assured that Memories will not disappoint.