Japanese Film Review: Memories – Magnetic Rose 彼女の想いで (1995)

Magnetic Rose (a rather loose translation of 彼女の想いで, “her memories”) is the first of three episodes based on the manga short stories of Otomo Katsuhiro (the genius behind Akira). Directed by Morimoto Koji, Magnetic Rose does not offer any insight into Kon Satoshi’s work as a director. However, he wrote the adaption of Otomo’s original manga story and the episode contains many of the key themes that Kon explores in his later work. Specifically, Magnetic Rose explores the boundary between reality and illusion, the role of perception and memory, and femininity.

Drawing inspiration from the story and music of Madame Butterfly and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Magnetic Rose follows the members of the deep space salvage vessel Corona. While performing a salvage mission, the crew encounters an odd distress signal emanating from the Sargasso region, ominously nicknamed ‘the graveyard of space.’ Each man has their own reasons for working in deep space, namely to ‘build houses in California.’ Specifically, Miguel is looking forward to being united with one of his beautiful girlfriends and Heinz longs to return to his family.

The crew discovers a destroyed space station and Heinz and Miguel are sent in to investigate. Once onboard, Heinz and Miguel are lured deeper into the baroque interior of the space station, following various holographic images of the beautiful Eva Friedel. A famous opera singer, Eva fell from grace after she lost her voice and disappeared completely after the murder of her fiancée, Carlo. As the two men venture deeper into the ship, the holograms begin to reflect their own dreams and memories and the difference between illusion and reality become increasingly difficult to distinguish.

Though the narrative is about the two men, the story actually revolves around the feminine presence. It is the figures of Eva Friedel and Heintz’s daughter Emily who stand, in the words of Susan Napier, “at the nexus point between real and unreal, ultimately beckoning the men towards death” [1]. The recurring images of roses and the haunting strains of Madame Butterfly are very powerful feminine symbols. Simultaneously alluring and sinister, Eva seduces Miguel into believing he is her fiancée. However, it turns out that it was actually Eva who murdered Carlo because he broke off their engagement. According to Eva, “Carlo lives forever. With me, in my memories…In my memories he will never change his mind.” This is, in fact, Eva’s own attempt to manipulate her own memory into reality.

Meanwhile, Eva similarly attempts to seduce Heinz with the image of his daughter Emily. At the beginning of the episode, the viewer is led to believe that Heinz is waiting to return home to his family. However, we ultimately discover that his daughter is dead and the photograph in his wallet only a memory. Though Heinz refuses to accept the hologram as reality, proclaiming “Memories aren’t an escape!”, this realization comes too late. The Corona and its crew are destroyed in the blast generated to break away from Eva’s ship and Heinz is sucked out into space. In the final frame of the film, Heinz is drifting away from the rose-shaped wreckage, holographic rose petals floating in his helmet.

Throughout Magnetic Rose, both men are motivated by their desires – for Miguel, the desire for the mysterious Eva, and for Heinz the desire to be reunited with his daughter. Because both desires only lead to destruction, the viewer is left with ‘a sense of the emptiness of desire’ [2]. Furthermore, the fact that both of these desires are impossible to attain – both Eva and Heinz’s daughter are dead – speak to the inherent danger of memory and nostalgia.

Magnetic Rose contains several themes that Kon Satoshi moves on to explore in his later work; reality and illusion, as represented by the holograms, and memory and nostalgia, as represented by Heinz’s daughter. However, the character of Eva Friedel contains the clearest link between Magnetic Rose and Kon’s later work. More than an embittered woman, Eva herself was a victim. An opera singer, Eva lost everything – the admiration of her fans and the love of her fiancée – when she lost her voice. His murder and Eva’s subsequent retreat into the space station represent both an act of vengeance and an attempt to preserve the memory of her former glory. In particular, the numerous images of Eva that cover the interior of the ship, old news clippings, and the holographic representations of her fans have a strong connection to Kon’s next project Perfect Blue.

Ah, this dinner is zehr gut, could you pass the ketchup?

For me, Magnetic Rose does fall prey to one of the more amusing characteristics of anime. The names and characterization of the characters are quite ridiculous. The name of the ship, Corona, makes me think of the beer and the characters sport names like Ivanov and Miguel (you know, to represent how international the crew is). Heinz is the best example of this. His blonde hair, blue eyes, and hulky build identify him as foreign. When we are transported into his memory of home, German music plays in the background. Clearly, with a name like Heinz, he must be German (or a member of the ketchup dynasty).

Joking aside, Magnetic Rose alone represents a strong addition to the anime genre. The animation and mecha designs are top notch and the story is absolutely fantastic. It is also a short and easy introduction to Kon Satoshi. Highly recommended.

Coming up next is Perfect Blue.

Works Cited

Napier, Susan J. “‘Excuse Me, Who Are You?’: Performance, the Gaze, and the Female in the Works of Kon Satoshi,” Cinema Anime: Critical Engagements With Japanese Animation. Ed. Steven T. Brown. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2006.

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Comments (3)

  1. nessa

    Hey Constantine,

    Things hectic with the new year! – I am looking forward to really starting to teach – TOMORROW!

    I was wondering if you had any suggestions on good samurai/bushido movies done after 2000?? Critical of Bushi and more “conservative” interpretations are welcome.

    I am also looking for manga, especially if it is translated into English.

    It is for my thesis, and those two “forms” are my weakest research point I think. Ahhh, I am the academic which means boring 😉

    Hope all is well. Thanks mills.

    PS: I get a scooter this Sunday. yeah for driving in Japan.

    September 2, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      Hey nessa,

      I popped over to your blog and read a bit, glad to see that you’re having a good time in Japan. Good luck with teaching!

      As for the bushi question, that’s a bit difficult. The interpretation of samurai and bushido in Japanese film is highly dependent on the time it’s made. Samurai are always kind of considered ‘heroes’ to the Japanese, but the qualities that define a hero change over time. Recently, this has meant that Japan is making a lot of what I like to call ‘pansy-ass samurai movies.’ They might get the names and dates right, but their depiction of the characters is totally ridiculous. The taiga dramas are particularly good examples of this – Yoshitsune (or the ‘Yoshitsune’ described in Heike monogatari) would have never talked about ‘fighting to make Japan free, into a world where people can follow their desires.’ He would have stabbed you. So, this proliferation of quasi-democratic, pacifist values (combined with nostalgia) make for some pretty absurd samurai movies. Japan is also pretty sensitive about bringing up issues that in any way connect back to WWII. So, the recent characterization of bushido is pretty circumspect as well. I’m not sure if you’re an obsessive history purist like I am though, so that might not matter much in your thesis.

      That said, there are a few decent samurai movies out there that I enjoy. GOHATTO (1999, which I have previously reviewed) is an interesting examination of masculinity and sexual identity within the Shinsengumi during the Meiji Restoration.

      By far the best samurai movies you will find are the ones by Yamada Yoji. His Samurai Trilogy is awesome – TWILIGHT SAMURAI (2002), THE HIDDEN BLADE (2004), and LOVE AND HONOR (2006). Like GOHATTO, these films are set in the late Edo period right before the Meiji Restoration.

      An exception to the WWII thing I mentioned earlier is YAMATO (2005), about the Japanese war ship Yamato and it’s demise towards the end of WWII. I haven’t watched it yet, but my boyfriend (who is Japanese) loved it. I think it’s safe to say that this film will have some sort of interpretation of bushido – or at least it’s WWII variant.

      It’s harder to find films set in the Heian/Sengoku/etc periods, mostly you’ll just find a lot of serialized TV series. I enjoy the older taiga dramas, but the recent ones have become ikemen-infested cesspools.

      Manga is also difficult because they usually take a serious departure from reality and start giving all the samurai magical powers. A friend of mine says that SENGOKU BASARA is pretty good and historically accurate, but that you shouldn’t take it too seriously. I enjoyed LONE WOLF AND CUB, which is sort of a manga adaptation of Yoshikawa Eiji’s book Musashi. It’s about Miyamoto Musashi (duh). My favorite manga is BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, but considering it’s about an immortal ronin and feuding sword schools, I’m not sure it’s the best place to look for an examination of the samurai or bushido.

      Anyways, that was a long response, but I hope it helped a bit. I am, of course, curious about what you’re writing your thesis on, so send me an email some time if you feel like chatting about it.


      September 2, 2010

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