While I have been ashamedly voiceless on this blog about my love of Akira, both as a perfected piece of anime, as well as being transcendent of its style into an exceptional piece of cinema, I have not shied away from defending Japan's long standing animation tradition as deserved of receiving discussion in the same voice as the auteurs and the larger cinematic history. I cite Miyazaki and Kon as particular examples of this, although I must give all credit to Katsuhiro Otomo for my love of anime as a genre of film, in fact, Akira is easily one of my favorite films of all-time and were it not for the unfortunately high price of the available bluray copies I would own this masterpiece in the highest definition possible. Memories, like Robot Carnival, which I have yet to see, stood as one of the works that sat on my shame list for not seeing, fortunately, I finally got around to watching it and it was more than a revelation, three unique yet undeniably bonded stories about the idea of reflection, one cannot help but bow to the unique cinematic magnitude offered only within animation. The first story Magnetic Rose is sci-fi perfection made all the more gripping by the writing of the late Satoshi Kon, whose desire to challenge and undermine viewers assumptions burst through perfectly. Second, is Stink Bomb, which is easily the weakest of the three stories, although this should not cause concern, because its deceptively light-hearted narrative allows viewers to consider the tradition of various filmic genres in Japan as well as a controversial relationship with the Western world. Finally, to say that Otomo's own offering to the compilation, Cannon Fodder, is unique is a blatant understatement. Watching the disheveled, dystopic clearly steampunk influenced world Otomo depicts, one cannot help but have everything they have understood about animation completely reconsidered, because the poetics and artistic level exuding from a half-hour anime short manage to provide for a deeply moving and heartbreakingly tragic piece of cinema on innocence and its unknowing loss. Memories is everything one could want from a compilation piece, unique stories, powerhouse names providing these stories and a revelation on human existence worth many revisitations.
Memories exists, as noted, of three different stories, the first being Magnetic Rose, which borrows heavily and respectfully from the world of Alien, however, where Scott's film contest the nature of consciousness and a desire to live, Magnetic Rose, under the writing of Kon asks viewers to reflect on how memories influence our desire to support or destroy the world we live in. It centers on a crew answering a distress call from a large ship at the center of a space ship graveyard. The emergence onto this large vessel reveals a grandly realized simulacrum so deceptive that it proves to trap even the most rational of minds into the cold abyss of space. The second story, Stink Bomb, centers on the accidental consumption of government funded medicine by a lab assistant who thinks it to be heavy power cold medicine. The pill, however, causes the hapless scientist to become a walking weapon of nuclear warfare, in that he emits such a foul odor that it causes anyone in its path to lose all control of their nervous system and pass out for lengthy amounts of time. In the process, the young chemist comes to understand the backdoor dealings involved in the world of pharmaceuticals, as well as the levels of transnational corruption involved in such engagements. Finally, Cannon Fodder, centers on a city whose sole job appears to be firing off cannons at an nondescript location in the faraway distance, looking specifically at one boys struggle to transcend his working class identity via aspirations to become a high ranking officer in the system of cannon firing. The narrative, as should be obvious, considers the issues of class mobility and consciousness, as they relate to the problems of an overtly regimented, clearly fascist form of bureaucracy. The three coalesce beautifully and manage to reflect on levels of the personal, the national, the global and to some degree the universal, showing both the beauty and tragedy in each.
It seems as though the particular approach to memories within these three distinct stories manages to piggyback of these varying notions of interactions, firstly considering the idea of personal memory, which clearly affects the actions and eventual submission of the astronaut Heinz who clearly suffers from his accidental involvement in the untimely death of his daughter, something that is eventually exploited by the corrupt computer to cause him to stay onboard assuring his death. This personal notion of memory is also challenged by a universal one in so much as the junk and rocks floating freely throughout space represent a physical memory that can either be seconds or billions of years old, all of which move towards a magnetic center overtime, a hugely realized commentary on existential woes. Furthermore, Stink Bomb suggests the lingering effects of a historical memory, particularly one that is formed between The United States and Japan in regards to nuclear warfare, in focusing on the accidental emergence of a nuclear weapon at the hands of a clumsy scientist, viewers are asked to consider the very human element involved in even the thought of testing nuclear warfare. The unconscious bodies littering the streets of tokyo take on a very real call back to the tragic loss of persons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It also considers the way in which dueling memories of the act of nuclear warfare affect how groups engage with one another, which is excellently depicted in the splintering relations between the Japanese and American generals throughout the work. Finally, the film considers the issue of fabricated memories, explored in Cannon Fodder via a fictional fascist state in which the entire town fires cannons day by day with little or no question to its purpose. In fact, the only point of contention emerges via a brief scene in which a few works demand that the chemical used to launch the cannons be cleaner thus equating to safer working conditions, ideas of armistice are irrelevant. In a rather Foucaldian ending one cannot help but consider why the boy is ashamed of his father, particularly since it appears as though the ever-present search lights and indoctrinations of this town demand that he aspire for greatness, although the promise of his future is of course a guise, any one familiar with the history of fascism will easily pick up on this idea.
Key Scene: There is a moment of childlike animation in Cannon Fodder that is completely unexpected and would be foolish or irrelevant in most animated films, yet its commentary and evolution into another image is so tragic that it cannot, and should not, be overlooked.
This, unfortunately, is currently only available on DVD, but that does not mean it should not be purchased, it is well worth owning and revisiting regularly, it has certainly inspired me to look back on Akira in the weeks to come.