CINEMA, AND BIG
Memories is an assembly of three medium-length films and a collaboration of several names and key talents of Japanese animation: Katsuhiro Otomo (the creator ofAkira), regret Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Paprika), Tensai Okamura (the host of My Neighbor Totoro and Ghost in the Shell) as well as Koji Morimoto (the host of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Roujin Z). Inevitably, given the sum of geniuses who composed it, this 1995 film supervised by Katsuhiro Otomo is a masterpiece to rank among the other Japanese references.
As the adaptation ofAkira which marked the beginning of a new era for japanimation at the end of the 80s, Memories had the ambition to blur the boundary between cartoons, still undervalued, and traditional live-action cinema by appropriating its genres and techniques.
The first story, Magnetic Pink, is a dizzying space opera that draws its power from its lyricism (emphasized by its opera arias) and its deep melancholy. The second, Stink Bomb, is an absurd comedy about a man who unwillingly turns himself into a biological weapon, although the story shines more for its underlying sadness and cynicism than its humorous undertones. The third, Cannon Fodderis a fake, but no less impressive, sequence shot on the daily life of a father and his son in a city where cannon shots punctuate the lives of its inhabitants.
In all three cases, these are nuggets of animation (and the presence of 4°C studios and Madhouse has a lot to do with it), staging, production and artistic direction. Medium-length films offer the public great cinema spectacle and all the excess that can be expected from a blockbuster (spacewalks, giant machinery and grandiose settings). With their chain explosions, all also revive Otomo’s insatiable appetite for sequences of riots and destruction that were already found in his manga. fire ballhis adaptation ofAkira Where Roujin Za film too little quoted for which he wrote the screenplay and provided a large part of the artistic direction.
However, Katsuhiro Otomo did not deny the possibilities specific to animation or its narrative potential. In Cannon Fodder, the only part he made, the thick, hatched lines of the more stylized drawings refer to European comic strips. Finally, for go back to the essence of animation and use it in the most literal sense of the wordthe last minutes of the film, which probe the mind and imagination of the young protagonist, take the form of a drawing that comes to life for a final hybridization of the genre.
Memories, which can be seen as another experimental laboratory, therefore participated a little more in giving the medium its letters of nobility and in bringing it to a new audience. Going even further than Hayao Miyazaki and other Studio Ghibli productions, the film’s challenge was both to consolidate the SF and dystopian imagination of the artistbut also to push the animation towards darker, complex and overtly political themes.
Subtle reference to Akira?
Dividing into a falsely romantic tragedy, a grating farce and a dying slice of life, the three parts keep as common thread the author’s extremely pessimistic view of the future. He associates it with the decline of civilization and the perversion of technology, in particular weapons and artificial intelligence which replaces man; themes that have irrigated the work of Katsuhiro Otomo since his beginnings and that we will find again later, for example in his screenplay of Metropolis.
As usual, the artist also used the codes of science fiction to dissect the societal failings of Japan with a thinly veiled anti-militarist and anti-elitist discourse. His stories are about anti-heroic characters and societies that are doomed by ignoring the obvious. In Magnetic Pink, Miguel lets himself be blinded by his fantasies and is no longer aware of being manipulated. In Stink BombNobuo Tanaka is too stupid to understand that he is endangering the whole city and the army is too incompetent to understand that it is they who are making the situation worse.
Finally, Cannon Fodder makes the point explicit through his city which no longer knows how to live peacefully and maintains the illusion of an armed conflict out of convenience, to keep the population under control. The enemies are invisible and the cannons are firing towards a hazy horizon, without certainty that the cannonballs will reach any destination, while the few protests and demands of the working class are at best ignored, at worst suppressed.
More revealing still, the indoctrinated little boy asks at one point who are these famous “enemies” around which his whole existence will revolve. His father’s evasive answer is fraught with meaning and sophistry: “you will understand when you grow up“. He then ends up proclaiming that he wants to be a gunner later on, thus letting the lure and the submission that are handed down from generation to generation.
Resign oneself to the incomprehensible
THE BEGINNINGS OF SATOSHI KON
Memories also marked Satoshi Kon’s debut as a filmmaker, when he was still only Katsuhiro Otomo’s assistant. He entrusted him with the script for Magnetic Pink, written from one of his short stories. If he had already refined his style alongside his mentor, this first segment allowed him to spread out all the themes that served as a red thread for his too short filmography.
Starting from a sparse, even deficient story, the future master of illusions and cinematographic conjurer sketched the contours of his chimerical and sometimes nightmarish universe. Probably influenced by Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky, he takes pleasure in twisting perceptions and to superimpose metaphysical notions as opposed as complementary – dream and reality, true and false, past and present, life and death – to better make his characters wander and instill doubt in his audience.
Satoshi Kon and the female characters, quite a story
As the two astronauts move deeper into the mansion, the future prodigy multiplies paranormal and supernatural diversions only to reveal its true thematic stakes in a last particularly tragic and metaphorical act (the idea of the museum which becomes a tomb, in particular). Until the very last moments, by simply letting a few rose petals appear, he maintains the ambiguity concerning the fate of Heintz, although the scene most representative of the mirage is that of the family dinner with this bouquet of flowers which fade and restore themselves in a cyclical and anxiety-provoking way.
If it didn’t have the same impact asAkira in popular culture, however, Memories is another technical and narrative tour de force that has established itself as one of the most visionary and important films of its generation.
Memories hits theaters this August 24, 2022
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Memories: review that will be remembered
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