Retro Review: ‘Memories’

To say Katsuhiro Otomo is is one of the towering figures of anime and manga is an understatement. His creation Akira brought the style to an international audience. Since then his work in both film and manga has cemented him as a true visionary artist and writer. Given Otomo’s legendary status it is hard to believe any of his work would have floated under the radar, but in 1995 that is the case as he assembled a team of some of the genre’s greatest luminaries to create a three-story science fiction anthology that is compelling, haunting, funny, terrifying, and stunning, Memories.

The first story, “Magnetic Rose” follows a salvage crew in space as they follow an SOS to a palatial space station where nothing is what it seems, and the ghost of an opera star refuses to accept her fate. The second tale “Stink Bomb” takes a more humorous as lab technician Nobuo takes an experimental cold medicine that turns him into a walking stink bomb, so powerful that he leaves a body count in his wake. With the third story “Cannon Fodder” we are taken to a city where a young boy lives in a society dominated by war and a massive cannon.

The beauty of Memories is that each director and their team have the complete freedom to bring their own vision life drawing from Katsuhiro Otomo’s initial stories. With “Magnetic Rose” Koji Morimoto working off a script from anime legend Satoshi Kon, creates a grand sci-fi/horror epic with a just a few minutes of runtime. Many point to this one as the best of the three and it is easy to see why, as stunning visuals are combined with a haunting story for an absolutely compelling short that could easily be a full-fledged feature. This is not to denigrate the others shorts that make up Memories. “Stink Bomb” finds this strange balance of quirky and thrilling thanks to director Tensai Okamura a veteran animator of such favorites as My Neighbor Totoro, Cowboy Bebop, and Ghost in the Shell. With “Cannon Fodder” Otomo steps into the director’s chair himself in a short that uses gritty steam punk visuals as a means for the famed artist to give his thoughts on the generational toll war takes on a society. Each of the three stories is unique and captivating, bringing their own flavor to the overall film. Each director benefits greatly from the composers who provide the score throughout. From Cowboy Bebop‘s Yoko Kanno to the award winning Jun Miyake, the music talent assembled for Memories is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Despite the stunning collection of talent assembled by Katsuhiro Otomo each delivering at the top of their creative game, Memories somehow slipped under the radar. This masterpiece of science fiction proves why there are some stories that are a perfect fit for animation as an artistic medium. One can only hope that this film at some point finds the second life it so richly deserves.