DVD Look: A Wind Named Amnesia
This is a movie I’ve wanted to review for a very long time now. But I wanted to take my time with it and get everything down right, because I wanted to do it some justice. Anyway this movie is called A Wind Named Amnesia and it’s easily one of my all time favorites. I first saw this movie on Comcast’s Anime Selects on Demand Channel. CPM used to put tons of titles from their catalog up on Anime Selects, but I still think I was lucky to find this movie and watch it. I just randomly watched this movie, because the title seemed interesting, that’s all. I didn’t really read the little plot synopsis or anything. I was bored, and there was an anime movie, seemed like a good idea. And I’m lucky that I choice to watch this, because I am still impressed by this movie all these years later. I later bought it on DVD (the version in the “Kawajiri Brick Pack” collection).
The movie was created by Madhouse studios in 1990, and directed by Kazuo Yamazaki (not the wrestler), who is known for directing Urusei Yatsura, Please Save My Earth and Maison Ikkoku. Titles which seem nothing like this anime. But what’s really interesting about this movie is it was based off of a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi. Kikuchi is famous for writing the original Vampire Hunter D novels, along with several other novels turned anime like Demon City Shinjuku, and Wicked City. Kikuchi’s novels are pretty dark, bloody and violent, as are the anime series adapted from them, but Amnesia is the odd one out here. It is a mature movie, but it is not as violent, bloody, or graphic as any of the other titles I’ve mentioned. And it’s a very smart film, not at all an action type movie. And what’s even more surprising still is the screenplay was written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who used to have quite a fan base back in the day (in the US at least). He is well known for directing or writing titles like Ninja Scroll, Biohunter, Running Man, Cyber City Oedo 808, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (the anime movie), and most of the Kikuchi anime adoptions (Vampire Hunter D, Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku). Although he has directed titles that aren’t dark, graphic, and violent (i.e. the original Birdy the Mighty OVA’s, a future review no doubt), we all know what he is best at. And he’s damn good at directing the violent stuff too. But again Amnesia is nothing like these series, which are all horror or action type shows. The tone the film takes is just so different from all these other titles it just stands out. I’ve called this film “…philosophy ridden and feels like a traditional sci-fi story. Directed and written by people who you’d never dream of being involved in those things.” And I stand by that.
Well after all my rambling, I should at least explain the basic plot. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, a wind blows all around the earth, and this wind (you guessed it) caused everyone to forget everything. And the people did not just forget who they are, and what they did last night, but they also forget that they were people. They forget how to drive cars, talk, use technology, etc. Basically this wind set mankind back to the Stone Age. The film follows two people, Wataru and Sophia, who for their own reasons (which I won’t spoil) are normal, as they travel all around the United States looking at was has become of it. They can talk, they can think, they can use the tools of mankind. In essence they are regular people. And as they travel through the wasteland that was once the US, many different themes keep popping up. The film constantly asks us what is mankind without all this technology? Other themes the film deals with heavily are religion, society, the use of power, and the government (watch out for slight nods to Plato’s Republic). All in all the things this film has to say about these topics are, while opened ended, are still very clever. In fact this is more of a “thinker’s anime” then anything else. If you want endless robot fights, don’t bother with this movie. As it’s a very slow movie, where fight scenes are sparse, the dialogue is heavy, and there are moments where seemingly nothing important happens on screen. There are however some action scenes thrown in at the perfect time, but best not to think of it as a fast paced anime. Think Oshii’s newest film The Sky Crawlers, for pacing and timing of fight scenes if you need an example. And just like The Sky Crawlers, this movie is much, much more then throw away entertainment. It is a very deep, well thought out film. With great direction and brilliant writing. The only problem with this film is a completely ludicrous and unneeded sex scene at the very end of the movie. On my first viewing of this movie (on Anime Selects VOD) this was cut out, and I am firm in my belief that it is a better film without this. But the ending is still very good, when you look past this terrible, terrible scene. I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen, as I think it was thrown in there to get some more money from the producers or something. It’s so out of place this has to have some sort of rational explanation for it’s odd placement at the end.
Anyway…the general concept is brilliant in and of it’s self. It’s so simple one would think it was already a staple in western science fiction, but I can’t find anything similar in books, movies, or TV shows (although if you know of something similar please make a comment and tell me about it). Although some titles in the sci-fi genre may touch on these ideas very lightly, nothing else really seems to be out quite like this. In fact this movie plays out like a very traditional sci-fi live action movie. And the philosophy in the film is really something else. None of it feels tacked on, or out of place. It’s well worked into the plot, although ultimately it’s so powerful and profound the plot doesn’t really matter anymore. Like Justin Sevakis points out about The Sky Crawlers, “what’s happening on the surface has little to do with what the film is actually about.” And that works for this film as well. What I mean here is that what happens in the movie in regards to the characters and progression of the plot, has very little to do with the main point of it all. Although the plot isn’t terrible or anything, and one could easily enjoy the film without picking up on any of the philosophy in it, it should not be the main focus of the viewers. We must look deeper then the surface plot to really get everything out of this film. And the brilliance of the movie is that every time you watch it, you may pick up some more things you missed last time, and change your mind on what certain things mean. All in all the movie is very original, very smart, and very enjoyable to watch. And it’s not at all hard to follow or grasp. Which is a sign of great writing.
As far as animation and artwork goes, this film was some high budget stuff back in the day. Backgrounds are highly detailed, and look like beautiful watercolor paintings or oil paintings (depending on the scene). Feel free to pause the DVD to take a look at the works of art Madhouse used for the backgrounds. From the Rocky Mountains, to some valleys, and lakes, deserts, feilds, and streams all of it looks amazing. The inner city backgrounds are also great, and give it a real gritty, decaying urban feel to it all, and these backgrounds here are much more detailed, although they look less like paintings and more like regular backgrounds. Character designs are also not disappointing. They are very detailed for their time, and flow very well. The characters’ hair seems to be drawn with less detail then the rest of their bodies, but it still looks great when everything is all together. This movie is a treat for the eyes. Even almost 20 years later, everything looks great. And one little tidbit that I can’t help but throw out there. I really think this anime looks a lot like the music video for Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution”. Some scenes in that video even seem to be drawn to reflect certain scenes in the movie (Cavemen around the fire, skeleton in a cockpit, city in the middle of a field, girl running in field as wind blows, etc). It’s even drawn in the same style, with the same color palette. It helps that that song and music video also deals with many similar themes as the film. It’s very possible that the animators or the band were inspired by this anime, since that song came out years after this was originally released on VHS (song in 1998, VHS in 1995/1996). But it’s just such a random title I think the odds are really against that being what happened. Still it’s a great coincidence, well worth looking into.
The dub for this was produced at Manga UK, with a cast of British and Canadian born actors. Dubs from this era range in quality greatly, but this is possibly the best dub from that studio. Michael Bakewell directed the dub, and he does a wonderful job. I liked what he and Manga UK did for the dub on Dominion Tank Police as well. He seemed to have some skill and it’s a shame they weren’t used more back in the day. Since this is a film with very few people in it who can talk (most just grunt like caveman), it would need actors who could sound believable with little else to compare them to. It’s a bit different and a little difficult (in my opinion) for a film to have a very small cast of talking roles, and many other grunting roles to contrast them. And the actors are up to that challenge. This was very well cast, and overall the acting is of great quality. Adam Henderson plays Wataru, and he gives everyline a very innocent and naïve feeling to it. And do to certain events that occurred in the past and are revealed early on in the film, this is very appropriate. But I always felt he made Wataru sound a little too naïve, and a bit too spaced out. But he has a great voice quality, and he is very capable of acting. Sophia is played by Denica Fairman, who gives the character a warm, yet still very mysterious vibe, which is very necessary to make that character work. The way she says things like “Well to start with I’m called Sophia…but I don’t want to say anymore about myself. Tell me your story” (while dodging the question to why she is still normal) really help display this. Lee Tyler plays Johnny, a character from Wataru’s past whose shown in flashbacks. While I feel his overall acting quality is decent, some lines from him seem a little off. But he’s usually quite good. The other speaking characters are played by Peter Marinker and Susie Baker, who do a very good job of establishing their characters for the short amount of time they are on screen. You really feel for both of their characters, and that is, in part, an accomplishment of the actors. The other people in the film are basically caveman, who do nothing more then grunt, moan, cry, or make other caveman-like noises. And all the actors playing these characters do a good job. No eye rolling grunts in this one guys. And as far as other sound goes, the background music is all very low key, but very well done. Certain themes enhance the action sequences, or quiet moments, but the one theme that stood out to me the most usually plays with Sophia around. It’s a very simple piano piece, but it adds to the mystery of not only who she is, but of what happened to the planet. It’s just a little sad, but not at all depressing. It’s quite amazing how something so simple, can display so much, but it does.
Raphael See of THEM anime reviews called the film “ a sleeper classic”. And it truly is. He also stated “A Wind Named Amnesia is probably one of the best titles I’ve never heard of.” and there really is no better way of describing it. This is easily one of the best movies out there that no one ever heard of. I highly recommend this. There’s very little information about the movie out there, and there seems to be no one who saw the film either. It’s almost never talked about on anime forums too. But it should be more well known, as it’s an all around great anime. This is only for mature viewers however, who want to watch something that’s much deeper then some throwaway entertainment. The movie touches on things like religion, love, society, and many other themes, and the philosophy is great. It’s very much like Kino’s Journey although less preachy. Many different places separated by great distances, traveler observing the land, and studying the human condition. Both are dark, slow, mature, and refined. But both are excellent.
(Sorry the review is so long, but I wanted to do this movie some justice)
5/5 Stars – Masterpeice