Memories is an anime anthology film that originally came out in 1995 that presents three stories that lean into science fiction to various degrees and in different ways. “Magnetic Rose” looks at two engineers who investigate an abandoned space station and find themselves stuck in a much larger mystery surrounding the life of a missing opera singer who may or may not still be among them. “Stink Bomb” approaches the idea of biological warfare in an extremely unusual manner when an unsuspecting chemist begins to exude a stench that’s so severe that it literally kills off most of the population. Finally, “Cannon Fodder” tells a strangely sentimental coming of age story between a father and son who live in a world where gigantic cannons and constant warfare are the norm. Altogether, Memories explores the pain and obliviousness that fuels life, but in three very unique ways.
Anthology storytelling has seen a serious resurgence over the past decade and there’s definitely an advantage to this style of content. Anime films have played around with the anthology format for a while and there’s a real elegance to movies like Robot Carnival, Neo Tokyo, Genius Party, or even The Animatrix. There’s a magic to these kinds of projects, especially when they’re tied together with a strong theme or idea. Anthology films are largely a mixed bag with there usually being an outlier or two that don’t have the same level of quality as their accompanying content, but when these movies work they can be unlike anything else.
Memories presents three independent stories–”Magnetic Rose,” “Stink Bomb,” and “Cannon Fodder”–but they all work together like the complimentary movements of a symphony. Each of these segments is a different musical number that reflects and recontextualizes the major themes of identity and perception that run through the entire movie. They all work on their own, but as a whole, they reinforce each other and culminate into a truly impressive package that’s considered an underground classic. Anime can now be so action-driven and character development often gets traded in for lengthy battle sequences or explosions, which makes the patience in Memories and the existential questions that it raises stand out even more now than when the film was first released in 1995. Memories should be mandatory viewing for anyone who’s not just a fan of animation, but the science fiction genre in general, especially now that it’s available in the best quality that it’s ever been and with an English dub for the first time.
“Magnetic Rose” is by far Memories most impressive showpiece and if for whatever reason a two-hour movie seems like an impossible premise, then at the least “Magnetic Rose” deserves to be seen. It’s 45 minutes of absolute perfection that’s directed by Koji Morimoto of Studio 4°C from a script by the legendary Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent, Paprika). “Magnetic Rose” is as big of a surreal mind bender as any of Kon’s works and it genuinely feels like one of his movies despite how he’s not the director. It oddly feels like a synthesis of Kon’s Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue, and Paprika, even though “Magnetic Rose” pre-dates them all.
Part of the fun in “Magnetic Rose” is that it functions like a slasher ghost story in outer space. It’s haunting how the AI-based Eva’s manipulation of Heinz and Miguel breaks the rules of reality and seamlessly blends memories, reality, and desires. A true sense of dread builds as these two get deeper into the space station and Eva’s hold on them grows more invasive. Eva’s desire to be wanted and remembered becomes even deeper upon the realization that this is all still filtered through the space station’s AI. It’s a machine that’s hurt over a human’s failures, which is so much more complex than if it were actually Eva who carried out these actions. It’s this debate over artificiality that governs each of Memories’ stories, but it’s pushed its furthest here, even if it dresses itself up as a horror movie.
“Magnetic Rose” is also full of gorgeous images that reflect both the cold nature of space and the pain that consumes Eva. The segment concludes on a visual highpoint when corpses float out into space as Eva’s opera singing poetically christens this ejection of her past. On this note, the score in “Magnetic Rose” is another stunning accomplishment. Yoko Kanno contributes an operatic score that grows increasingly aggressive and intense as the story progresses and it’s the perfect companion to the movie’s moody visuals. There are also direct samples from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly opera that are expertly incorporated with Eva’s opera background. It all really adds to the grandiose and eternal nature of the story. It’s a score that can just be fully appreciated on its own. NYAV Post is responsible for the “Magnetic Rose” dub (Sound Cadence Studios produces the other two segments) and Marc Swint and Robbie Daymond both do fantastic work here as the two engineers who inspect Eva’s space station. Laura Post’s work as Eva is particularly effective and she makes the character legitimately terrifying, but also empathetic and sorrowful. It’s a strong performance.
“Stink Bomb” provides quite the tonal whiplash after following “Magnetic Rose.” It’s perhaps not the best idea to follow up such a powerful story with what amounts to Memories’ comic relief, but any content would face struggles in this position. There’s an interesting idea at the center of “Stink Bomb” where Nobuo Tanaka becomes a biological weapon, yet carries on his life relatively unaware of the serious change that’s taken place. There’s a karmic Rube Goldberg machine that plays out as everyone that Nobuo encounters perishes and he eventually takes out hundreds of thousands of individuals. The audience needs to suspend their disbelief to some degree here, since Nobuo’s disconnected nature really stretches things too far. It’s also a segment that perhaps doesn’t need to be 40 minutes long since it largely repeats the same ideas. So while there is a level of frustration that surrounds “Stink Bomb” and the actions of its protagonist (although Stephen Fu is a delight in the role), it’s still able to at least look and sound incredible.
The suburban and terrestrial visuals are a strong contrast from the other stories and Jun Miyake’s funky score at least fits “Stink Bomb’s” frenetic impulses. Tensai Okamura (Darker Than Black) directs a script from Katsuhiro Otomo that takes a very light-hearted approach to what’s actually quite a dark story. It’s also hard to not view “Stink Bomb’s” viral infection and Nobuo’s carelessness under a different lens in a world that’s still largely dictated by a pandemic. “Stink Bomb” doesn’t exactly feel disrespectful, but it lacks the poignancy of Memories’ other stories. “Stink Bomb” may technically be the weakest of Memories’ three stories and the segment that has the least to say, but it still succeeds and is an effective palette cleanser between “Memories” and “Cannon Fodder.”
“Cannon Fodder” is both written and directed by Memories’ mastermind, Katsuhiro Otomo, and it actually feels like a dark Studio Ghibli film and the material that Hayao Miyazaki explored in the later stages of his career. “Cannon Fodder” is deceptively simple and it focuses on the rigorous acts of a father and son as they load the cannons that supposedly keep their city safe from invasion. The boy and father, as well as the audience for that matter, never see the enemy. It’s an assumption that these characters’ entire lives are built around and it’s an incredible examination of the roles that people play under a dictatorship and the false sense of achievement and productivity that can be achieved. There may not actually be a purpose to what this boy and father do every day, but the symbol that it represents has become its own mark of achievement between these two. Their subservience is oddly metonymic of their courage.
It’s bizarre to see this boy aspire towards a life where he has more control over these giant cannons, but it’s still just another level of the deception that’s been cast over everyone. It’s a heavy idea that reduces people into tools, but it also shows how the right attitude can be a fundamental catalyst. There’s a real love and connection that’s felt between the boy and his father and Jack Britton and Mike Pollock bring a modest extravagance to these characters that doesn’t oversell their purpose.
Memories’ “Cannon Fodder” is an entry where the animation is truly exceptional and the 20-minute segment creates the impression that the entire sequence is one continuous, uninterrupted shot. The artistry and precision of these visuals, much like the story itself, may not be recognized or appreciated by audiences. “Cannon Fodder” is the most polarizing entry in Memories, but it will really stick for those that respond to it. It functions as a brilliant allegory and it’s impressive that this story is able to convey so much in 20 minutes without diluting its point. It’s the sort of contemplative finale that an anthology film should end on.
At times Memories may feel like it’s more just the sum of its parts, but when those parts are all so eclectic and enjoyable that’s not necessarily a problem. The three stories in Memories are bound to resonate differently between audiences, but the movie’s strength lies in the versatility of its storytelling. If all three segments were similar or took less risks than it might be a more appealing film to one sect of people, but alienate everyone else. Memories is able to dip into sci-fi, horror, comedy, and even war as it highlights the many ways in which humanity can be united and dissolved. Memories is over 25 years old, but this excellently remastered and freshly dubbed version of this masterpiece is one of the best animated films that you’ll see in 2021.
Discotek Media will release ‘Memories’ on Blu-Ray later this year
Magnetic Rose: 9.5/10
Stink Bomb: 7/10
Cannon Fodder: 8.5/10