Memories (1995)
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, & Tensai Okamura

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Memories is divided into three parts, each of which tells a separate story. The first of these, "Magnetic Rose," is set near the end of the Twenty-First Century and revolves around the members of a salvage team working in outer space who pick up a distress call that leads them to an abandoned vessel floating in a magnetic storm. Two of the men enter this vessel and discover therein a lavish palace filled with holograms of the memories of an opera diva with a tragic past. The second story, "Stink Bomb," focuses on an employee of a pharmaceutical corporation who accidentally ingests a pill being developed for the military and is transformed into a lethal biological weapon. The final tale, "Cannon Fodder," relates the events occurring over the course of a day to the members of a family living in a dystopian city which is completely dedicated to firing enormous cannons at a distant, unseen enemy.

The three stories told in Katsuhiro Otomo's animated Memories are all intriguing, but are not of equal quality.


The first of the film's episodes, directed by Kouji Morimoto, is, perhaps, the most satisfying and enjoyable of the three, although there is little about it that is truly impressive. The involvement of the two men sent to investigate the derelict spacecraft with the potentially dangerous holographic manifestations of the former opera diva's memories are nicely realized so that the viewer is both intrigued by the narrative and concerned about the characters. The animation used complements the story and is both extremely detailed and technically impressive. While it is rarely particularly aesthetically sensitive, it is sufficiently well realized to keep the viewer's interest.

"Stink Bomb," directed by Tensai Okamura, is the least accomplished of the movie's stories and is filled with a variety of poorly thought out incidents. Early in the episode, for example, a bottle containing pills that cause the person taking one to emit a deadly aroma is left unattended on a desk in an unlocked office. The story's end, however, includes its weakest detail. The director's attempt to surprise the viewer and make him laugh is completely unsuccessful. Any person capable of operating a television will be able to foresee the surprise Okamura has in store well before he unveils it. If the viewer is able to forgive the story's improbabilities, it can, nonetheless, be occasionally funny. The ridiculously inept efforts of the military to stop the protagonist are amusing, although they are never really hilarious, and that man's staggering stupidity, though exasperating, is likely to make to viewer laugh when he watches how the moron, having taken one of the deadly pills being developed at the lab where he works, which transforms into a fragrant, living weapon, journeys through Japan, killing millions of people, including everyone who happens to come near him, but never realizes that he is the cause of these innumerable deaths. Sadly, the episode's only virtue is its ability to elicit the odd chuckle. Even the animation used in "Stink Bomb" is not particularly impressive. Although it is always competently done, it is the least distinctive of that used in any of the three stories.

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"Cannon Fodder," the last of the tales told in Memories, could easily have been the best, but, unfortunately, it is, because of its potential and its failure to realize that potential, the most disappointing. Otomo, who directed this episode, presents the viewer with a grim, ugly dystopia of vast, fabulous, ornate structures dominated by countless artillery turrets and fills this world with haggard, cadaverous citizens who are, it would seem, absolutely accepting of their sad lot. Even though the sorrowful inhabitants of this regimented city look to be completely broken and defeated, they also seem wholly unaware that there is anything wrong with the way they live. Their lives may be miserable, but that is, apparently, how it should be. They endorse the standards of their society, are completely dedicated to destroying an enemy none of them has seen, and valorize their leaders, hoping to emulate them. While such themes are less than subtle, they are not presented in a heavy-handed way. The viewer is, as a consequence, entranced by the episode throughout its duration.

His fascination is further enhanced by the absolutely stunning animation used in "Cannon Fodder." The cyclopean towers of the city are truly awe inspiring, as are the cavernous interiors of the domed turrets in which the impossibly large cannons are kept. All these elements are rendered in such exquisite and rich detail that the viewer is likely to be enthralled by the strange majesty of the story's town. The city's inhabitants are drawn in an equally accomplished but much rougher style and are just as able to arouse the viewer's feelings. Their deeply lined faces are more like those of the dead than the countenances of living beings. Even their costumes arouse an awareness of the grim realities of their splendid but morose land. The men operating the city's largest cannon wear bulging protective suits and grey gas masks with dangling proboscides, and their leaders wear uniforms like those of Nineteenth Century Prussian officers. The story includes some of the most imaginative and evocative images I have seen in any film.


Sadly, the story told in "Cannon Fodder" is never developed. Instead of reaching a conclusion, it simply stops. What could have been an enthralling tale leaves the viewer disappointed. It is very frustrating.

Although Memories is not ultimately satisfying, it is enjoyable. "Stink Bomb" is occasionally funny. "Magnetic Rose" is an exciting adventure, and "Cannon Fodder" is visually stunning. Unfortunately, none are brilliant.

Review by Keith Allen

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