The Other Side of Animation: Memories Review

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After 10 reviews of nothing but European and American animated films, I am finally talking about one of my favorite animated films, Memories, from the land of the rising sun, ramen, anime, and Godzilla. This series of short films is by famous animator Katushiro Otomo, the mind behind famous and popular animated films/manga like Akira, Neo Tokyo, Robot Carnival, Steamboy, and Short Peace. The three short films that we are going to review today are based on short stories that Otomo himself has written. Let’s dive in and check out these three individual short films.

The first film up is Magnetic Rose, directed by Koji Morimoto, who is also well known for his work on games like Catherine, and anime like First Squad, Mind Game, and one of the segments in The Animatrix. The screenplay was helmed by one of my favorite animation icons, the late and always great Satoshi Kon, who worked on Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue, and Paprika. The story revolves around a four-person team in a salvage freighter, as they are traveling around in space. Upon finishing one job, they get an SOS, and head to this graveyard of salvage, into what looks like a giant metal rose. Of course, as they go inside, the SOS might be more dangerous than they thought.

The second film is called Stink Bomb, which is directed by Tensai Okamura. He is mostly well known for doing storyboards for a lot of well-known anime like Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain, Soul Eater, and worked on films like Neo Tokyo, Ghost in the Shell, and Jin-Roh. Stink Bomb is a black comedy revolving around a young lab technician named Nobuo Tanaka. Including him and everyone in his town, a serious cold breakout has been doing a number on poor Nobuo. Instead of doing the sensible thing and going home, one of his coworkers suggests he try a new prototype pill in their boss’s office. After taking the pill and resting his eyes, Nobuo wakes up to find everyone dead. This alerts the Japanese Government and, unknowing to Nobuo, the “experimental pills” Nobuo took caused a gas to permeate from his body that kills anyone or anything within a certain distance.

The final short is called Cannon Fodder, which is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself. The story is about an entire city that does nothing but prep cannons, and fire said cannons at an unknown enemy.

So, what is so great about these three short films? Well, each film has their own vibe, and are grand in scale in their own ways. Magnetic Rose is obviously everyone’s favorite due to how much of a complete story it is. At first it starts out as an atmospheric sci-fi tale, but then two of the crew members, Miguel and Heintz venture forth inside the location of the distress call. It then turns into a ghost story, with the giant metal rose-like location housing multiple European architectural pieces, holograms of the European countryside, and a large portrait of what is apparently the owner of said abandoned structure. I won’t spoil what happens in this short film, but it’s truly one of the best examples of not only animation, but anime.

Stink Bomb is just an epic black comedy with well executed animation and rather humorous sequences. Seeing so many soldiers and people run to the hills, because of one oblivious and uninformed idiot who took a pill that just happened to make him the symbol of death, is hilarious. It’s like the epic comedic scale you saw in the first Blues Brothers movie. The poor guy took an experimental pill that turned him into a walking cloud of death, and he is unaware of it all. Like I said, what makes this short film work is that it’s a huge epic black comedy. It is definitely a very humorous tale with some top-notch animation.

Unfortunately, the weakest, but most visually impressive short of the three is the one directed by the Otomo himself, Cannon Fodder. It’s an anti-war message, since the people in this city have been fighting for so long that they honestly don’t know what they are attacking. Granted, they do a lot to build up this short’s universe, and how everything works, and the many positions and jobs these people have. What it lacks in length and story, it makes up with personality. Some parts can be dramatic, like how the only person on the deck to fire the cannons is the one who pulls the trigger, and if your loading team messes up, they have to stand right by the cannon that could potentially blow up on them. It’s an interesting world, but there isn’t enough time spent in it to match the first two animated shorts.

Let’s get back on track with the positives! Like I said, the animation in all of these shorts is grade A quality. Even after 10 years, it holds up incredibly well. Even if Cannon Fodder is the weakest of the three shorts, it’s the most visually striking, with animation that looks like something out of the most talented artist’s sketchbook with its grungy, but at the same time, bright colors. The music in all three shorts is fitting, with ambient epic scores for Magnetic Rose, quirky off-beat music for Stink Bomb, and mechanical/military sounding music for Cannon Fodder.

Memories is a work of art, and one of the highest caliber pieces of animation to ever come out of Japan. Sure, you could argue that Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder are more like visual experiences, since their plots are not as in-depth as Magnetic Rose, but I feel like that is being unfair to the other two shorts. All three offer varying and uniquely different experiences, and they all work in their own right. My only real complaint is that we never got an English dub of the three, but in the long run, it probably doesn’t matter. I would love to see what company would grab this, and what English-speaking actors they would choose, but they would have to make sure they put in perfect performances to match what is happening on the screen. If you haven’t picked this film up yet, you should. It’s easily one of the best anthology films around, and easily worth your time. Well, how about we move onto another ambitious piece of animation for the time of its release, with Fritz the Cat? Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

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