“Magnetic Rose” by Koji Morimoto

The 4-man crew of salvage space ship Corona receive an SOS call from an uninhabited region and set out to investigate. On finding a large, seemingly desolate vessel broken into pieces, two of the crew, Heinz and Miguel board it to investigate, leaving their crewmates Ivanov and Aoshima behind. While searching through the wreckage of the abandoned ship they come across holographic representations of opulent halls and find evidence of a singer named Eva Friedl. The ghost of Eva seems to haunt the ship, pining for her lost love Carlos, and she attempts to trap Miguel with her for eternity. Heinz is also confronted by a past tragedy of his own concerning his daughter Emily.

Directed by Koji Morimoto, with a script by Satoshi Kon (based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s original story), “Magnetic Rose” is a fantasic blend of science-fiction, horror and psychological thriller. With a relatively simple story, with a crew investigating an SOS call and finding more than they bargained for, the film really excels in world-building. The design of the spaceships, suits, and various technologies such as the holograms all ground the film with a sense of believability. The scale of the vast corrupted internals of the abandoned ship, the terrifying and wondrous infinity of space, and the dense tangles of wires in the Corona, are meticulously depicted. The operatic classical score underlines this sense of scale, connecting the vast reaches of outer space with the unknown depths of the human psyche. The script does a good job of defining these four characters and setting up what happens to them in relation to their particular traits or anxieties.

“Magnetic Rose” is an existential drama about memory and regret. The four crew members coccooned in their vessel, adrift in space, set the scene perfectly for contemplations about humanity’s purpose. The story of Eva is made more tragic knowing that she is long deceased; an idea that is mirrored with Heinz’s own reminiscences. Memories can draw us in and fixate us on the past which can be both comforting and dangerous.

“Stink Bomb” by Tensui Okamura

Nobuo Tanaka works at the Nishibashi Pharma laboratories Yamanashi. When he takes a new experimental drug hoping to cure his flu symptoms, he accidentally sets in train something that may threaten the future of the country. After taking the drug, Tanaka falls asleep and awakens to find his entire company unconscious. The drug he has taken turns out to be a new bio-weapon that, when processed through him, turns Tanaka into a potent threat. Those who come within sight of him succumb to a pungent chemical, released through his sweat, that causes them to collapse. The oblivious Tanaka, commanded by a higher-up from Tokyo, sets out for the capital, devastation in his wake.

Directed by Tensui Okamura, with a script by Katsuhiro Otomo, “Stink Bomb” has a more comedic tone than “Magnetic Rose”, with the unwitting protagonist soon the centre of media attention and military intervention as he heads for Tokyo. A far-fetched tale that nevertheless touches on interesting ideas about the danger of chemical weapons. The film also includes some political intrigue with American military involvement in the development of the weapon and attempts to secure rather than destroy this threat. This light-hearted affair ends with a fittingly amusing punchline to the increasingly unbelievable tale.

“Cannon Fodder” by Katsuhiro Otomo

The shortest of the three stories, “Cannon Fodder” takes place in a steam-punk, hyper militarised city reminiscent of European conflicts of the past (jackboots, pith-helmets and gas-masks being commonplace). Written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, the film shows a young child who is enamoured of the idea of war, saluting a poster of a general each morning, while his father works at the nearby large cannon, which is loaded and fired regularly. The entire industry of the city appears to be centred on the war, with munitions factories and cannons being the only evident employers. Despite it’s brevity this short film manages to slip in several themes about the dangers of militarism: hints that the factories are using poisonous chemicals (all the characters appear sickly with black rings around their eyes and missing teeth) and a pertinent question from the son regarding who they are fighting. This question the father does not answers, stating that he will know when he is old enough, suggesting that nobody is quite sure. The war is being continued for economic and social reasons rather than any meaningful resolution being sought.

“Cannon Fodder” is visually distinct from the previous two films, with a pop-up story book look, traditional hand-drawn animation with plates stacked to give an impression of depth, and the use of CGI allowing for interesting scene transitions. The film has no real plot to speak of and ends abruptly, being more of a window onto this odd, yet frighteningly relatable, world in which the citizenry are no more than cogs in the machinery of war.

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