Directors: Koji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura, Katsuhiro Otomo
Katsuhiro Otomo, the director behind the seminal anime film Akira (1988) is one busy dude. He not only produces, he also writes and animates! His productions include some of the best anime anthologies around; I’m talking about films like Robot Carnival (1987), Neo Tokyo (1987) and most recently Short Peace (2013), an anime anthology that I will try to get a hold of soon, so expect a review for it in the near future. Otomo also produced the anime anthology I’ll be reviewing today: Memories (1995). I’m really enjoying watching all of these anime anthologies because they offer a quick jolt of awesomeness. Though each individual story lasts about forty minutes or less, they are always entertaining because the filmmakers involved in each short give it their all in both the story and animation departments. Memories doess just that, visually it packs a wallop, yet it also has some depth to it. Let’s not forget these anthologies are an artistic tour de force, compiling a lot of talent into one single movie. As you can see, animated anthologies have a lot to offer. So, what’s this particular one all about?
Anthologies are usually connected by a theme, something that holds them together. But in the case of Memories, the shorts have no real connection to one another; all three stories are totally different. The first one is called ‘Magnetic Rose’ and it comes to use from director Koji Morimoto, a director I’m not entirely familiar with, but whose work I have seen a lot of. For example, he’s worked as an animator in films like The Animatrix (2003), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Space Adventure Cobra (1982). He also directed the ‘Franken’s Gears’ segment in Robot Carnival (1987). So anyways, he’s the director behind ‘Magnetic Rose’, a short that shows many interesting influences. The story is all about these space garbage men, who are suddenly given the responsibility of responding to a distress signal from a derelict spaceship. When they board the ship, they discover that the ships A.I. has created a holographic world completely composed of one woman’s memories. As they explore the ship, the astronauts begin to encounter visions of a woman called Eva. Who is she? And why are they all experiencing supernatural shenanigans?
This short reminded me of various films, but most of all, it reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) because for example, the whole short uses classical music, just like Kubrick used classical music in 2001. The similarities don’t stop there; the short is all about discovering a derelict spaceship and a ghost like entity living in rooms furnished in European style. It’s also about astronauts drifting through space for all eternity, so, if you’re a fan of Kubrick’s 2001, then you’ll more than likely spot the parallels because the filmmakers behind ‘Magnetic Rose’ obviously loved Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film. Magnetic Rose also reminded me of Event Horizon (1997) because it deals with astronauts facing their fears due to a supernatural force that’s messing with their minds, so you can expect a “ghost in the machine” type of story with this short.
Then we move on to ‘Stink Bomb’ my favorite short in the whole anthology and in my opinion, the one they should have closed the anthology with. This one was directed by Tensai Okamura, a director who’s concentrated most of his career on television series like Samurai Champloo (2004) and Wolf’s Rain (2003) rather than on theatrical features, but you wouldn't know it from seeing this short. As it turns out, Stink Bomb is the most entertaining of the three shorts on this anthology. It’s all about this lab technician named Nobuo. A regular Joe who works in a science lab. Unfortunately, he also has a cold! When he mistakes a bottle of experimental pills for cold medicine, he unwillingly becomes a walking weapon of mass destruction! When he took the experimental pills, he really took pills that are part of a weapons experiment being conducted in collaboration between the Japanese and American governments! After he takes the pills, he becomes a walking death bomb! Wherever he goes death follows! Anybody who comes within a few steps of Nobuo instantly dies! This short turns real epic real fast, my recommendation is stick with it till the very end, it’s a very entertaining and rewarding short. Because of its funny tone, you don’t expect it to get so epic, but it does! This short speaks about weapons of mass destruction, but it’s really just a fun short that plays out a bit like a Godzilla movie, with Nobuo being the destructive force headed towards Tokyo, while the military tries their best to stop him.
Finally, the anthology ends with Katsuhiro Otomo’s Cannon Fodder, a short that takes place in a fantasy world where society is built around war. Every single building in this walled city has a cannon or a gun sticking out of it. The story takes place in a city where its people only live for making bullets for their giant cannons, to shoot at an enemy they don’t even know. All they care about is shooting their cannons. It’s interesting, thematically, it reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984, because it’s a dreary, sad society whose only focus is producing, producing, producing. When they are not producing, they are being programmed to hate an invisible enemy they have never seen themselves. Since the short focuses on how a child sees the world, it comments on how the environment we grow up in forges our dreams and aspirations. The idea being that if we are surrounded by guns and violence; chances are we will want to become something associated with that world. Hence, the little boy who stars in the short draws guns with his crayons and aspires to become the man who pulls the trigger of the big cannon.
When this anthology was released, the short that received the most acclaim was Magnetic Rose, and I agree, it is the deepest of all the shorts, playing in the same ball park as Kubrick’s 2001, but also Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). ‘Stink Bomb’ was heralded as the most entertaining and funny of the bunch, though it wasn’t praised for its depth. Interestingly enough, it was ‘Cannon Fodder’, the short that comes from the most acclaimed of the directors involved on this anthology that got the worst reviews. Not that it’s a bad short; actually, it’s very unique visually. It focuses more on style and a certain type of tone. Stylistically, Cannon Fodder is amazing, very unique looking and it has a distinctive anti war message to it, which I think is where its thematic strengths lie. It sticks to its one theme through and through. I personally dug all three shorts for different reasons. One is deep and haunting, one is entertaining, funny and epic and one is stylish and offers social commentary. So we get a little bit of everything on this anthology. When we see it as a whole, it’s another gem in the world of anime anthologies. Highly recommend it.
Rating: 5 out of 5