Review for Memories
It may be hard to believe, but sometimes there can be a thin line between restoration and desecration, especially when it comes to cinema. Now that HD and UHD formats are becoming ubiquitous, those films made in the DVD and VHS era and before aren’t always up to snuff when it comes to modern expectations, not helped by the passage of time since their original releases. Old prints need to be cleaned, need to be repaired, and optimised for best presentation. The ideal goal would be to recreate the filmmaker’s original vision, using the original source material. Sometimes that just isn’t possible, sometimes the original material was incomplete, and sometimes creators just like to tinker. The less said about Star Wars the better.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories had a problem that limits what the Blu-ray format can achieve. When it was made, the prevalent anime format was cel and paint images photographed onto film, the way traditional animation the world over was made. But there were some early digitally created sequences in the first, Magnetic Rose film, which at the time could only be rendered in SD, 480 line format, and composited into the final film. While the cel images could naturally be rendered in HD format, the digital inserts had to be scaled up, and digital artefacting would become apparent. The solution in this case is to alter the original image, process those digital effects moments to render them more pleasing in the HD format, smoothing out the artefacts. This in effect alters the director’s original vision, albeit a vision that was limited by the technology of the time. It’s the kind of thing that purists will hate. Thankfully, this disc allows you to see both versions, the original, and the ‘corrected’.
Memories is an anthology of works based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s own manga. Three different directors invest the stories with three very different styles to create something, if you forgive the pun, quite memorable. The anthology was originally released back in 1995, but it took a long time for it to be licensed in the West, and even longer after the Japanese Blu-ray for the UK to get a Blu-ray release as well. The three films are as follows, and you can watch them all in one go, or you can select them individually from the menu.
1. Magnetic Rose
Directed by Koji Morimoto, and with a screenplay from Satoshi Kon, Magnetic Rose tells the story of four men working in the harshest of environments, in hardly the most glamorous job possible. Ivanov, Aoshima, Heintz, and Miguel are garbage collectors, in space. They are the crew of the Corona, salvaging that which still has worth, and junking the rest. It’s a tiresome job, which is why when their shift is up, they don’t leap at the chance for overtime. A distress call is another matter entirely, and when they receive an SOS, they are obliged to respond. But it’s a strange SOS, the tones of Madam Butterfly piped over the distress frequency, and originating from a space bound Sargasso Sea, a spaceship graveyard where magnetic anomalies and bizarre occurrences abound. They find that the distress call originates from a gargantuan conglomeration of junk, a cobbled together space station the size of a planetoid. Heintz and Miguel go aboard to track down the mayday, and walk straight into a renaissance opera house.
2. Stink Bomb
Directed by Tensai Okamura, Stink Bomb tells of the misadventure of Nobuo Tanaka, a scientist working for a pharmaceutical company. Nobuo’s problem is that he has a cold, an ailment hardly alleviated by a visit to a local doctor. You’d think that working for a pharmaceutical company would allow for some early access to new medicines, and you’d be right. It’s also a dumb idea to take an untested drug. But when one of his co-workers mentions to Nobuo that there are bottle of tablets on the boss’s desk that work wonders on fevers, Nobuo can’t resist temptation. He takes one tablet and then catches forty winks. Of course it wasn’t a fever medicine. His company had been secretly working on a military application. When he wakes up, everyone else in the lab is unconscious. He calls Tokyo for help, only to be told to bring the experimental drug and the data with him to Tokyo, and to leave before the police and the ambulances get there. But the police aren’t coming. Suddenly, in the middle of winter, all plant life around Nobuo is blooming, while all animal life in his vicinity is falling unconscious. And as he makes his way to Tokyo, the effect only gets stronger.
3. Cannon Fodder
This is the segment that is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo himself, and it’s as far away from traditional anime as you can imagine. Drawn in pencil sketch style, with a very European feel to the fluidity and feel of the animation, this is a satirical look at a world centred on war. It’s a day in the life of a family in a city where life revolves around firing its cannons at its enemies. Father goes to work on Cannon 17, mother works in the factory manufacturing shells, and the son goes to school to learn ballistics, dreaming of one day being the one who gets to fire the cannon.
Memories gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, and I have to say the film has come up a treat in HD. The image is clear and sharp, colours are rich and consistent, and the detail in the hand drawn animation is excellent. Film grain is apparent, but unobtrusive as it should be, and with no sign of compression, aliasing, banding or the like, this all makes the animation look even better. You can still notice the softer, digital nature of the tweaked segments in Magnetic Rose, but for my money, the change is a positive one. Thankfully the original version is also on the disc if you prefer.
Memories had a Blu-ray release in Australia from Siren Visual some years ago, but when Discotek released it in the US in 2021, they commissioned an English dub for the film at last. As All the Anime’s release is based on Discotek’s disc, we get the dub as well. You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with English subtitles and a signs only track. The first thing you’ll note is just how immersive the surround track is, putting you in the depths of deep space as Magnetic Rose begins. The audio is presented clearly, and without issue, and the subtitles (a newly commissioned translation) are accurately timed and free of typos.
All the Anime have given Memories the Collector’s Edition treatment, which coupled with the on disc extras courtesy of Discotek, finally give this anthology film the treatment it deserves.
The whole thing is presented in a rigid artcase, with the blurb and ratings logos on a loose sheet. Also in the case, you’ll find a foldout poster and a 32-page booklet with writings on the film, interviews with creators, and plenty of production art and stills.
The disc presents its content with an animated menu, and if you go to the chapter select screen, each of the segments, as well as the opening sequence get pages of liner notes and an art gallery to click through on screen. The following extras are also on the disc, including the preview video that was the sole bonus on the original DVD release.
Memories Special Preview Video (29:09)
Making Memories in English (31:02)
About the Restoration (3:37)
Interview with Marc Swint, voice of Heinz in “Magnetic Rose” (10:22)
“Magnetic Rose” English Dub Outtakes (3:19)
Original Theatrical Trailer
English Blu-ray Teaser
English Blu-ray Trailer
“Cannon Fodder” Complete Storyboard Animatic (22:21)
Japanese Blu-ray Interview Booklet (this is also accessible as a pdf on the disc)
As with any anthology, Memories is something of a mixed bag, and I found something ephemeral, something entertaining, and something stunning within. Just as I hoped and indeed expected, it was Magnetic Rose, with its screenplay from Satoshi Kon that totally blew me away, easily the best story of the trio, and well worth the purchase by itself. It’s an early example of his penchant for distorted and fluid realities, where perception isn’t everything, and in this case where memory is far more powerful and potent a force than anything else.
Koji Morimoto directs a short that owes much to Alien in mood and style, with the crew of the Corona as browbeaten and weary a bunch of blue-collar workers as those aboard the Nostromo. Forty odd minutes isn’t a lot of time to establish character and tell a story, but we do get a vision of these four disparate individuals, and the community they have aboard their space-borne garbage truck. The insidious menace isn’t a xenomorph though; it’s a siren song distress call from the darker reaches of space, a call that draws them directly into a trap. One woman’s memories reach beyond time to exact her thoughts of vengeance, long after any meaning behind that revenge has lapsed. Two of the crew sent to investigate the distress call respond in different ways, one is happy to lose himself in someone else’s memories, while the other’s own tragic memories give him the strength to fight back. Magnetic Rose is a traditional ghost story given a sci-fi cyberpunk twist, one that works on every level.
Stink Bomb goes more for the humour jugular, while its tale of an out of control medical experiment, very much in the Katsuhiro Otomo tradition of mankind plagued by his own tendency to reach beyond his grasp. Akira has psychokinetic research spiralling out of control; Steamboy gives the out of control technology a Steampunk spin, while Roujin Z is a more satirical spin on cyberpunk and geriatrics. Stink Bomb has bio-weapons research wreak havoc when a poorly pharmaceuticals researcher decides that it’s worth taking a risk on an experimental drug. Only he picks up the wrong tablet and unleashes havoc. To the researchers’ credit, they were trying to create an antidote to a weapon and not a weapon itself, but the results are just as devastating, a smell that leaves all animal life comatose. Of course the researcher doesn’t realise this, all he knows was that he was ordered to head to Tokyo with the research and the drug before the authorities could get their hands on it and blow open a scandal. So the hapless scientist becomes the target of a mass military mobilisation, as they fight to protect Tokyo. It’s 40 odd minutes of utter silliness, but directed with energy and verve, it proves to be a very entertaining 40 minutes.
Not so for Cannon Fodder, which is the one film in the anthology that Otomo directs himself. It’s short and ephemeral at 20 minutes, and indeed perhaps too short at that, as it becomes a slightly unsatisfying slice of life episode, one day in the life of a family at war, living in a city that revolves around war. It’s another satire, but one that lacks bite. It’s a society geared to war and nothing else, no one is even certain of who they are fighting, let alone why. All they know is that they have to fire shells from giant cannons against this mobile and distant enemy. Being a cog in the machine, and the idea of a meaningless perpetual war, are both tropes that are well worn in fiction, but without a specific target to aim at, the satire just becomes vaporous and generic. Making up for that is the short’s distinctive and appealing animation style, as far removed from what we would class as traditional anime as possible, and with the camera always in motion, it certainly is a technically accomplished and quality piece of work.
Memories is a very rewarding film, with three rather different stories, but all appealing in their own way. I wanted to see it for Magnetic Rose alone, which certainly didn’t disappoint. But Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder were also entertaining and thought provoking, if not to the same degree. It’s a joy to see Memories on Blu-ray, and it has certainly come up a treat in high definition. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s definitely been worth the wait, especially with the presentation that All the Anime have given the release. It’s well worth picking up.