(kr) wrote: [i]Memories[/i], a compilation of three short animated films based on the work of Katsuhiro Otomo ([i]Akira[/i], [i]Steamboy[/i]) is typical of anthology films, uneven in quality or lacking originality. The three shorts are based on material drawn from manga comic books written by Otomo. Otomo wrote the second and third episodes, and directed the last. The stories have little in common, differing in subject matter, themes, and visual design. All three, however, boast [i]Akira[/i]-level animation ([i]Akira[/i], however, was completely hand drawn, whereas the three shorts in [i]Memories[/i] combine traditional 2D and 3D animation). Satoshi Kon ([i]Perfect Blue[/i], [i]Millennium Actress[/i]) wrote the first episode, ?Magnetic Rose,? the strongest of the three shorts. Directed by Kori Morimoto, ?Magnetic Rose? is the closest the three shorts come to traditional science fiction (by way of ?The Twilight Zone?). A salvage ship, the ?Corona? overhears a distress signal (actually snippets of ?Madame Butterfly?) from an intergalactic graveyard, Obligated by law to investigate, the Corona sends two men, Miguel and Heintz, into the derelict ship. There, the men discover a realistic recreation of a 19th-century opera house. But the derelict ship appears to be alive, or more likely, haunted by its previous occupant, a world-famous diva who had the ship built in order to escape the tragic death of her lover. Since we?re in haunted house territory here, the men quickly become separated. Whether supernatural or technological, the ghosts are capable of reading the men?s minds, and recreating their hopes and dreams, in an attempt to draw them into its fatal embrace. While ?Magnetic Rose? has the most cohesive, well-developed plot of the three segments, it falters in one significant way: its predictability. From the moment the men step inside the airlock, each plot turn, each reversal or complication is utterly predictable, at least to anyone familiar with multiple ?Twilight Zone? episodes that mined similar territory. One character?s fate is left underdeveloped. Another character?s story arc, reaching back into a personal history of loss and grief, strains for poignancy and pathos while falling short. Still, the animation is always eye-catching, proving Otomo and Morimoto are keen visual sensualists (if nothing else). Otomo is responsible for writing the weakest film in the collection, ?Stink Bomb,? an adolescent joke stretched well past the breaking point. In ?Stink Bomb,? a young biochemist, Nobuo Tanaka, suffering from a head cold, accidentally swallows the latest bio-engineered product, an innocuous looking red pill, created by his corporation for the Japanese government. The red pill, however, is no ordinary cold medicine. Instead, the red pill is a bio-weapon, or at least it becomes one when it interacts with Nobuo?s metabolism. As Nobuo?s co-workers and civilians fall into unconsciousness (and death), Nobuo single-mindedly heads for the center of Tokyo. In panic mode, the government sends out the latest weapons at their disposal, including tanks, helicopters, and bombers. Nobuo obliviously continues his journey into the center of Tokyo, seemingly impregnable to high-tech weapons. Sound familiar? Nobuo?s journey lifts a major plot point from countless Godzilla films. ?Stink Bomb?s? forty-minute running time is far too long to support a weak premise, made weaker by Otomo?s slipshod writing. At multiple points in the short, Otomo depends on the audience inattention or ignorance to propel the story to its inevitable denouement (a failed attempt at black comedy), including Nobuo?s early escape from a locked down research facility, Nobuo?s inability to see himself as the cause of the unfolding disaster, and his almost godlike ability to avoid massive amounts of high-tech weaponry (note to Otomo: the military would fire ahead of, not behind, the fleeing Nobuo). ?Stink Bomb? is made (almost) bearable Tensai Okamura?s visual flair, character designs (the characters are recognizable Japanese, and drawn with distinctive facial features) and a jazz-funk music score more engaging than Nobuo?s story. The last short, ?Cannon Fodder,? written and directed by Otomo, is set in an imaginary Europe, circa World War I (by way of George Orwell's [i]1984[/i]), and served as the inspiration for [i]Steamboy[/i]. In Otomo?s imaginary city, steam provides the main energy source and the population of an unnamed city is caught in perpetual war against an unnamed, unseen enemy. City life is completely militarized, centered on war production, in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Every building in this imaginary city has been outfitted with a gun turret, but an enormous red cannon provides the means to strike back at the distant enemy (a broadcast suggests the enemy?s city has the ability to move; how the enemy city moves is left unanswered). ?Cannon Fodder? is written as a ?day-in-the-life? of an average family caught in the perpetual war. The thin, wan, and obviously frazzled father works as a cannon loader for Cannon No. 17. His portly wife works in a munitions factory. His son, a schoolboy taught the complex mathematics of firing the enormous cannons that ?protect? the city, and dreams of becoming a prestigious ?cannon firer? as an adult (the cannon firer?s wear Prussian uniforms and pith helmets). That?s essentially the ?story? in ?Cannon Fodder.? There?s only a hint of conflict (i.e., the father?s impending meltdown), but before that conflict can be fully developed, or pushed to a satisfactory conclusion, ?Cannon Fodder? ends. On the positive side, Otomo pushes character design toward exaggeration and caricature, with the edges of the characters and objects blurred by charcoal. Otomo also employs a series of breathtaking 360-degree pans or sequence-shots that help to capture the regimented rhythms and bureaucratic routines that direct (and undermine) his character?s parched, undernourished lives.