I love short form experimental media. People simply working with a basic premise or prompt, given a deadline and a budget, and told to make something short and simple. Short stories, one-shot comics, all appeal to me on a profound level. So it should then come as no surprise that I would like short movie collections, like Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories. Memories is a collection of 3 sci-fi shorts from 3 directors, crossing genre lines and merging themes into a medley of unique works.
The first film, Magnetic Rose, is a more serious and slower-paced sci-fi story set in space. A deep-space salvage vessel known as the Corona responds to a distress signal aboard an abandoned space station. Two engineers, Miguel and Heintz, board the station only to find it well-furnished with antique and classic architecture and furniture. As they dig deeper and deeper, they discover that the ghost of its former owner still walks its halls- and she’s developed a taste for the two of them.
Magnetic Rose acts as a futuristic ghost story, and to that extent feels little need to develop its characters and setting more than is absolutely necessary. Instead, it focuses more on using its fantastic visuals and haunting score to draw viewers into the world these characters inhabit. While it wonderfully renders well-furnished hallways and rooms, the most impressive and memorable sequences are those of the station’s deterioration and destruction.
A stage for a play that never finished. Wonderful gardens that have decayed, leaving only broken statues and bannisters floating in pools of oil and refuse. The wrecks of dozens of ships, fused together into a monument of junk. All are beautifully realized and wonderfully animated, giving audiences a true sense of how beautiful, and rotten, this station is.
Nobuo Tanaka, a lab tech at a pharmaceutical company, comes into work battling a severe flu. After mistaking an experimental biological weapon for cold medicine, Nobuo begins emitting a highly toxic gas that kills anyone and anything near him. When a group of scientists mistakenly direct him towards Tokyo, it quickly becomes a race against the clock as the SDF, the US Army, and NASA all join together to stop this living chemical disaster from wiping out all life in Japan.
Unlike the more serious and slow-paced Magnetic Rose, Stink Bomb is a hilarious and grim black comedy that balances fast-paced action with some more slower-paced scenes. The visuals are again fantastic, as scenic landscapes are contrasted with crazed destruction and mayhem.
Reality takes the day off as Nobuo somehow evades bullets, tank shells, mortars, and even missiles while riding a cheap motorcycle. A small attempt is made to justify his luck by saying that the gas is electromagnetically charged, destroying guidance systems, but at the end of the day it all comes down to improbably dumb luck. But in the crazy world of Stink Bomb, what else is needed?
Undeniably the oddest and most experimental of all the shorts on this list, Cannon Fodder tells the story of a city covered in cannons, and its people who exist purely to operate these cannons and rain shells down on an unseen enemy. The short uses gimmicks to make the thing look as if it’s nothing more than one single running shot. Unlike Magnetic Rose and Stink Bomb’s more traditionally anime art styles, Cannon Fodder’s animation style is far more reminiscent of Soviet animation and propaganda.
While striking visuals set the short apart, it suffers from an overall lack of plot and character development. While the story tells a tale of propaganda and deception, viewers are not given enough information about the setting or characters to actually make any observations or have anything to think about. Instead, viewers are left with a feeling of dissatisfaction as they have a tiresome and oft-repeated theme thrust into their face. Of the three, Cannon Fodder is definitely my least favorite.
Overall, Memories is a fantastic collection and well worth a watch if you like good experimental sci-fi stories.