Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Aug 17th 2003
A Wind Named Amnesia
The age-hardened image of survivors straggling through post-apocalyptic cityscapes is certainly no stranger to anime. From well known titles like Akira to Fist of the North Star, this premise is used time and time again to provide the backdrop for countless stories of human decadence and Social Darwinist ritual. Enter A Wind Named Amnesia, a film of staggered and incredibly varied visual excellence and story-telling brilliance. Easily one of the most unique films ever created within the post-apocalyptic realm, it is an oftentimes overlooked gem that deserves more attention than it gets.
First making its appearance a decade ago, the film swept through the niche culture of fandom, leaving the viewers that it managed to reach with a touch of quality—even if the production itself was largely forgettable. Luckily, the folks at Central Park Media have saved this title from disappearing into the rubble heap of obscurity by re-releasing it a full ten years later on DVD. Presented on a bilingual disc, the movie has been preserved for another generation to enjoy.
Despite it being touted as a 10th Anniversary release, there is actually nothing on the disc or box to indicate it as such. The DVD cover is devoid of any extra promotion for the event, and the DVD itself houses only “meet the cast” and “meet the mecha” sections. Both of these feature brief clips cropped from the movie that show a glimmer of each member's screen time. While this may be useful if you can't remember who a character is but don't want to go back through the movie to find out, it doesn't serve much of a purpose outside of that. Of course, just the chance to own the movie on DVD should be more important than any extra that CPM could conceivably put on the disc.
Without a doubt, A Wind Named Amnesia is one of the most unique and creative post-apocalyptic tales ever woven. The plot twists are clever and unexpected—providing you can abandon your logic and manage to take everything at face value with a huge chunk of sea salt. Once you stop and wonder about the why and how of the plot points, everything is thrown into the gutter and gobbled up by cynicism, but until then, just sit back and enjoy.
The story starts off in a dingy alley where the quiet buzz of uncivilization is interrupted by a big robot piloted by a dead man. Eventually, the day is saved by a man who is told by a mysterious woman how to kill the Guardian, as it's called. What follows is a confusing mess that attempts to explain why dead people are running around in laser-shooting robots. Soon, though, the story spills into a flashback, giving an explanation as to why the rotting world is like it is. Apparently, for some yet unexplained reason, a wind blew across the planet, wiping away everyone's memories. With all the denizens of the world descended to brutes, the world quickly turned to hell, with nothing but plunder and savage fighting.
Right from the onset, it's clear the original creator intended to use the film as a medium for social criticism and meditations on humanity. With director Kazuo Yamazaki serving as the guiding force behind Hideyuki Kikuchi's work, this is accomplished through interludes of character self-reflection and dialogue. Ideas are hinted at, such as man's inherent need to create religion, the primitive need for sacrificial worship, greed and the ever-present primal urges of rape and pillage. Other revelations are also tossed about, like the meaning of self-truth, what drives man and the other ideals that are dragged out through the course of the movie.
Unfortunately, all of these thoughts are lost through poor script writing and awkward pacing. Instead of being worked into the story through imagery and subtle lines, readers are beat over the head with pretentious speeches and pompous babble that are far too easy to tune out. Action scenes are oftentimes cut by a pseudo-intellectual speech about the meaning of life. What the movie ends up being is the chataqua of some random man as he drives across the countryside with the wind in his hair, a babe on his shoulder and Aerosmith blaring in the background as he gathers enough societal insight and epiphanies to start his own religion. Now, it may not have been Aerosmith on the stereo, but it's certainly the same kind of cheesy Bruckheimer feeling that's oozed through all the scenes. Note that for every drivin' ‘n’ Aerosmithin' scene, there's also an example of bad pacing as robots suddenly burst through the scene and ruin the mood by shooting lasers at everybody.
Pacing faux pas like that are what drag the movie down. Had they focused on either the fighting, or just the blowhard speeches, or blended them in a more natural manner, Kikuchi's messages would have had a much better chance of being portrayed. As it is, the heart-felt ideals are stilted by the jerky and awkward pacing.
This is only made worse by the logistical flaws. Far too many things are thrown into the story simply to prove a point. A computerized city allows humans to live a false and dictated (but comfortable) life, but there's no explanation of why it's there. The main girl may communicate with savages just by touching their chests, sparkling once or twice, and garnering their life stories by listening to their spirit, but there isn't the slightest attempt to justify her powers. It's a perplexing--and ineffective--way for Kikuchi to convey his themes.
As much as the story is a mixed bag of high creativity and sometimes poor execution, the visuals also vacillate wildly on the quality scale. Powered by Studio Madhouse, much energy is devoted to making sure the character lips match the voices, and that free-flowing objects properly match the wind. However, the character animation is crap, resulting in chunky movements, awkward Hanna-Barbera-esque walking, scantily-framed action shots, and some of the worst multi-layer pan shots in history. What Madhouse must be highly commended for, though, are the absolutely gorgeous nature-themed backgrounds. Drawn in gentle watercolors, viewers are greeted with the breathtaking imagery of quiet wheat fields, lush Rocky Mountain glacial fields, quiet streams, and all of the best landscapes that could only be found in a Best Of National Geographic calendar. Just watching the scenery flow by makes the entire viewing experience worthwhile.
It's only fair that now some attention must be delivered to the audio aspects of the film. With the low number of characters that possess the knowledge of speech, the cast size is kept small. Even so, the actors shine through, giving body to the lines. Even the grunting of the non-speaking characters is well-done, proving it possible that emotion can actually be shown through guttural noises. The English cast also performs magnificently. With Wataru's light-hearted voice and Sophia's reassuring charm, the dub is as enjoyable to listen to as the original version. While the voices may have delivered their lines properly, there are some slight mistakes in the subtitling. There is actually a place where a few lines of subtitles are missing—a mistake that's rather glaring, but luckily doesn't repeat. There are also some typos, but these are just glitches that reflect more on the editors than Neil Nadelman's dedicated translating. Overall, the English script is also written with adherence to the Japanese script. There are certain changes that somehow manage to the make the script even more pretentious than the original, but the original meanings stay the same.
There's yet another aspect of the audio that has to be mentioned: the music. Like the visuals and the story pacing, the music in the series is a mixed box of chocolate that ranges between delicious to awful. The highlights of the soundtrack are obvious, featuring quiet piano solos and light quartets, both encapturing the wind-through-hair-chataqua feeling well. Such pieces complement the beautiful scenery perfectly. Then there's the fight music, which wrecks the mood more than the rampaging robots do. Sounding like the tracks were ripped from the worst of Chrono Trigger battle music, they feature tinny ensembles of raucous music that couldn't be further from the romantic watercolor images of mountains and prairies. The ending theme “True Love” also epitomizes the rainbow of quality, ascending into a well-harmonized duet, and then quickly getting shot into pieces by a tinny soprano sax solo that just plain-out doesn't fit.
While almost every aspect of the movie dips erratically between high quality and trash, A Wind Named Amnesia is still a film that is definitely worth seeing. The unique flavor of the movie is guaranteed to make even the more jaded fans realize that they truly didn't see any of the plot twists coming. Of course, if they're willing to pay attention to the pretension, they might even learn something. Regardless, flawed as the production may be, it's still something that everyone needs to give at least one chance in their lives.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Gorgeous landscapes, unique story
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