Memories (1995)
Memories is a 1995 Japanese animated science fiction anthology film based on short stories written by Katsuhiro Otomo [1]. Otomo, who is also the executive producer of the film, is best known as the creator of the media franchise Akira, a landmark in Japanese animation and the cyberpunk genre. Memories is composed of three shorts: Magnetic Rose, Stink Bomb, and Cannon Fodder. The first story, Magnetic Rose (彼女の想いで, Kanojo no Omoide), which gives name to the anthology, will be analyzed in this thought piece. More specifically, the last five minutes of the short, which leads to the climax of destruction and the collapse of reality, will be analyzes thoroughly in this discussion.
In Magnetic Rose, sets in 2092, a space salvage freighter receives a distress signal, which leads it to a giant space station orbited by the debris of disintegrated spacecrafts. The crew’s two engineers, Heintz and Miguel, enter the space station in an attempt to locate the signal. Inside the space station, they discover grandiose and spacious halls decorated in a European style. Through photographs decorating the interior and holographic projections, they discover that the station belongs to an opera diva named Eva Friedel, who was active in the early 21st century and disappeared from the public after the murder of her fiancé. The two engineers experience paranormal encounters created by holographs and shape-shifting materials. Miguel hallucinates and is seduced by Eva into thinking he is her lover. Heintz relives his daughter’s death with Eva taking his wife’s form, who also reveals that she murdered her fiancé.
​​​​​​​Towards the end of the film, after realizing that the space station uses nostalgic and feigned memories to seduce and trap the rescuers drawn to the distress signal, Heintz shots Eva with his pistol, which reveals a robotic skeleton covered by holographs. Then, the magnetic field emitted by the space station becomes unstable and starts to disintegrate the spacecraft. Meanwhile, Heintz discovers that the entire station is controlled by an enormous computer and tries to destroy the illusion by shooting at it. The malfunctioned robot rises towards the computer in a sphere that resembles a scenic rose garden. In the fear of the spacecraft being devoured, the crews fire a powerful gravity cannon that reaches the control room and starts to dismantle the surroundings. Heintz is ejected into space, along with corpses of Eva’s past victims, as Eva sings to an imagined audience. Then, the sphere expands to illuminate the entire splendid opera house with a well-dressed audience applauding. The episode ends with the deceased Eva shown lying in her bed, and Miguel courting Eva in a rose garden that exists only in Eva’s eternalized memories.
While the intricate visual details in the background and creative camera movements that closely follow the characters immerse the audience in a surreal experience set one hundred years in the future, Magnetic Rose relates to a long-gone past through the process of remediation [2]. The opera performed by Eva in the episode features music from Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca, which premiered in 1904 and 1900, respectively. Madama Butterfly is about the tale of a Japanese girl’s ill-fated love for an American naval officer, who is never sincere about their relations and leaves her after their marriage [3]. The girl, named Butterfly, commits suicide after her husband remarries and returns with his new American wife. Despite the fact that not every audience would be aware of the tragic plot behind Madama Butterfly, there are marked similarities and differences between it and the story behind Eva in Magnetic Rose. In both cases, the heroines have an undying love for their husbands which is not responded to. They become disillusioned after realizing that no promise is eternal. However, the similarities end as the heroines react to their unrequited love differently. While in Madama Butterfly the heroine “dies honorably” by committing suicide, in Magnetic Rose, Eva murders her fiancé and creates the space station as a carrier for her idealized and eternalized love. In the film, the opera that Eva sings as Heintz is ejected into space is the finale in Madama Butterfly, “Con Onor Muore... Tu, tu? Piccolo iddio”, just before Butterfly commits suicide. “Con Onor Muore” translates to “Honorably die”, which ultimately symbolizes the collapse of reality around the protagonist. Therefore, Otomo not only remediates Madama Butterfly by recomposing and rearranging the original opera. but also reuses its storyline in a futuristic and cyberpunk setting.
Another instance of remediation could be found in the similarities between the singer Eva and Sirens in Greek mythology. The Sirens are half-bird, half-human creatures who lure nearby sailors with their enchanting music and songs to shipwreck near their island. In Magnetic Rose, Eva, or her memories, represents the Sirens; the distress signal, in the form of the opera sung by Eva, represents the enchanting music; the giant space station and the debris of spacecrafts surrounding it represents the island and shipwreck. In both cases, the encounter leads to destruction and death.
Magnetic Rose is also relatable to Joshua Meyrowitz’s “Medium-as-Language” metaphor, which shows the unique expressive potentials of an animated film [4]. Otomo’s mastery of animation techniques is evident in the exquisite details in the hand-painted frames, including the special effects of explosion and collision as well as the motions in a zero-gravity environment. These elements were more suitable for animation than recorded film at the time of the work’s creation, as realistic computer graphics was still in its early stage. Despite the short length of the episode, the film narrates the stories from the perspectives of multiple characters. The numerous perspectives, combined with the elements of holographic projections and shape-shifting nanomaterials, confuse the audience by blurring the boundaries between physical reality, intangible phantom, and the hallucinations experienced by the characters.
The use of juxtaposition in multiple dimensions makes the ending scene particularly stands out, where Eva sings the finale of Madama Butterfly as Heintz is ejected into the emptiness. The serenity of the rose garden in the sphere that surrounds Eva contrasts with the chaos of the crumbling space station and disintegrating spacecraft. Its saturated color contrasts with the dull and metallic texture of the surroundings. The melodious voice of Eva contrasts with the harsh sound of colliding debris. Finally, Eva’s performance that is uninterrupted by the collapsing world contrasts with the corpses of other spacefarers, which sends the message that while the reality is very often evanescent, memories are eternal.
[1] Otomo, K. (Producer). (1995). Memories [Motion picture]. Japan: Shochiku.
[2] Chakravorty, S. (n.d.). Mediation. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from
[3] Schwarm, B. (2013). Madama Butterfly. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from
[4] Meyrowitz, J. (1999). UNDERSTANDINGS OF MEDIA. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 56(1), 44-52. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from
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