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Director: Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura & Katsuhiro Otomo
Release Date: December 23, 1995
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Seven years after ‘Akira‘, Katsuhiro Otomo returned to the animated screen with ‘Memories’, a package film, which impresses, but fails to reach the heights of ‘Akira’. Indeed, the film is much, much less well known than either Otomo’s previous film, or ‘Ghost in the Shell’, which was the anime hit of 1995.

Based on his own short stories, ‘Memories’ consists of three unrelated parts: ‘Magnetic Rose’, ‘Stink Bomb’ and ‘Cannon Fodder’, which are discussed separately below.

Memories - Magnetic Rose © Katsuhiro OtomoMagnetic Rose
Director:
Kōji Morimoto
Rating★★★★★

‘Magnetic Rose’ starts the Memories trilogy, and it’s arguably the feature’s most satisfying episode. Animated by Morimoto’s own Studio 4°C, it is the only part that clearly deals with memories.

In this episode a rescuing squad of space garbage collectors is ensnared in the memories of a long deceased opera singer, who still seems alive in her remote satellite home in space, blurring the boundaries of reality. This accounts for an exciting story, greatly enhanced by Yoko Kanno’s superb soundtrack, in which she mixes an eerie choir, ambient guitar work and dark electronic with bites of Giacomo Puccini (the famous aria ‘un bel di vedremo’ and the finale from ‘Madame Butterfly’, an opera set in Japan, and a small soundbite from ‘Turandot’, which is set in China). Also featured is a stage set from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, in which the opera singer, as Tosca, steps Heinz, one of the rescuers.

Even though the science fiction setting with its touches of horror is typical anime, the underlying drama is very mature and quite unique. This episode’s screenplay was penned by future director Satoshi Kon. Kon certainly established himself with this screenplay, and he would further explore the theme of memory and loss in ‘Millennium Actress’ (2001), and the blurring of reality and fantasy in both that film and ‘Paprika’ (2006) with even more spectacular results. Director Kōji Morimoto, meanwhile, would prove his worth as a director in ‘Beyond’, the best episode of ‘The Animatrix‘ (2003).

In ‘Magnetic Rose’ the characters are from all over the world, and this is one of the few anime, in which the Japanese character looks distinctively Asian compared to the European characters.

Memories - Stink Bomb © Katsuhiro OtomoStink Bomb
Director:
Tensai Okamura
Rating★★★

Penned by Katsuhiro Otomo, but directed by Tensai Okamura, and animated by the Madhouse animation studio, ‘Stink Bomb’ feels like a comical interlude between the two more serious outer episodes. The story is set in present day Japan and features a very stupid, but surprisingly indestructible protagonist who turns into a nonsensical weapon of mass destruction. The story is simple: Nobue Tanake, our ‘hero’, works in a biochemical laboratory. To cure his cold one of his colleagues suggests he takes a sample of the new medicine they’ve developed at the lab. But Tanake accidentally swallows the wrong pills, which turn him into a lethal weapon, sweating poisonous gasses that kill everything in sight. Although he remains unaware of this, he becomes the cause of the annihilation of Japan.

This story is rather silly – there’s a lot of broad comic acting, and it even ends with a kind of punch-line. And yet, the episode manages to be unnerving at the same time; the short has some disturbing undertones, with the fear of mass destruction weapons and corrupt governments played out well. The unsettling atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Jun Miayke’s score, in which he uses nervous free jazz saxophones to a great effect.

Memories - Cannon Fodder © Katsuhiro OtomoCannon Fodder
Director:
Katsuhiro Otomo
Rating: ★★★★½

Otomo himself directed the last and most beautiful sequence of Memories. This episode once again is animated by Studio 4°C, but has a distinctive graphic style that doesn’t resemble any other anime. Especially the background art and character design are highly original. But even more startling is the fact that the film is ‘shot’ in one long camera take (with a little bit of smuggling, but very impressive nonetheless). The cinematography is outstanding, and uses a little bit of computer animation. One moving shot of a colonel ascending on a platform is a great piece of character animation. Nevertheless, the boys’ own dream of becoming a colonel himself, done in charming children’s drawings, may be the highlight of the entire film.

‘Cannon Fodder’ deals with an alternative, distinctively European world, where a totalitarian military regime enters every aspect of life. It’s a kind of steam punk, vaguely based on images of the first world war, with its giant cannons, gas masks, and pompous generals. We’re following one day in the life of a single family. They live in a city were all work and school is directed to a war with a mysterious city, which remains unseen throughout the movie. This war is fought entirely by using cannons, fired at the distant enemy.

Despite the caricatured humans, the atmosphere is hardly comical, but dark and disturbing. The unseen foe reminds one of ‘1984’, and one wonders whether the enemy is real – but then, in the end, the air alarm kicks in. ‘Cannon Fodder’ is more a film of concept than of drama, and thus less engaging than ‘Magnetic Rose’. Still, because of its unique style, and strict control of cinematography, ‘Cannon Fodder’ is a small masterpiece.

Watch the trailer for ‘Memories’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Memories’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Release Date: July 16, 1988
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Akira © Katsuhiro OtomoIn 2019, 31 years after World War III, which destroyed the old town completely, Neo-Tokyo is even bigger and more urbanized than the old one. And more violent, too. The city is constantly on the brink of anarchy.

We follow Kaneda and Tetsuo, two members of a rough motorbike gang. When Tetsuo is hospitalized and taken away from his friend, Kaneda tries to retrieve him, while getting involved with a girl, who’s a revolutionary and whose troupe is after Tetsuo, too. Tetsuo, meanwhile, discovers he’s getting immense powers. Tetsuo suffers from an inferiority complex, and he realizes it’s payback time. He sets out to seek the mystical Akira, destroying most of Neo-Tokyo along the way. But in the end his powers take control of him, and while he and Akira merge to form a new universe in a very 2001 A Space Odyssey-like ending, Kaneda and his girlfriend Kei can look to a new future in a partly destroyed Neo-Tokyo.

If this plot line may sound a little hard to follow – it is, and I left quite some subplots out of it, too. ‘Akira’ is a violent and action-loaded science fiction film. Its plot may be vague and all too complex, the violent images never cease to impress. The film’s depiction of apocalyptic destruction, its speed, its wide range of characters, and its use of extreme camera angles are unprecedented in any animation film, and sometimes the grandness of the film’s scale is staggering. Some of the scenes are very complicated, with many people animated within one frame. And the story, too, seems to aim to encompass everything within the feature’s 124 minutes. Not surprising, considering that the film is based on a manga story six fat volumes thick.

Although Anime had known earlier masterpieces, it’s ‘Akira’, which set new standards in its home country. Moreover, it’s this film, which put the Japanese animation feature film industry firmly on the map in Western countries, which thus far practically had known the country’s television series, only. Thus, for most Westerners Japanese animation was synonymous to cheap animation, and the use of ridiculously large eyes. However, ‘Akira’ showed the Western world that Japan was perfectly capable of producing films of a high quality and stunning originality. Japanese animation has only grown in popularity since Akira’s release, and has become a major inspiration for many Western films and television series, animated or not.

Watch the trailer for ‘Akira’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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