Memories – That Magnetic Rose with the Artificial Bloom
There is not much I can add in regards to the death of Satoshi Kon that numerous people have not already written, or will write in the coming days. I was a big fan, myself; I enjoyed all of his movies and recently watched and loved Paranoia Agent. Part of what I respected about Kon is that he knew how to tell an entertaining story (both through smart plotting and character building, and visually) while also keeping his works intelligent and biting. They have something to say, but they don’t lose themselves in the message, which is where anime so often stumbles. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but everything Satoshi Kon touched achieved that balance.
I can say that with full confidence, because I just watched the final major work of Satoshi Kon’s career that I had yet to see — the “Magnetic Rose” segment of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories. Kon wrote the script for the short based off a story by Otomo. It’s not difficult to see Kon’s fingerprints all over the story, either. I can’t say for sure whether the blending of fantasy and reality present in “Magnetic Rose” is something Otomo brought to the table from the beginning, or if it was simply the first of many times Kon would follow that role, but it bears all the Kon trademarks.
One aspect of Kon screwing with reality and fantasy that I always appreciated is that he does not do it for its own sake. Pure mindfuck is never Satoshi Kon’s goal; there is always a point to it. Perfect Blue, for example, shows quite clearly the derangement of people who substitute the artificial constructs of idols for their own. In some ways, actually, “Magnetic Rose” is a precursor to Perfect Blue. The space station the crew of the Corona finds after following the SOS signal is like the end result of someone following the pristine pop idol artificial reality of Perfect Blue to its logical endpoint.
Everything looks perfect when Heintz and Miguel step into the space station, the insides of which are modeled after a luxurious European-style mansion. But the construct slowly becomes apparent as the pair make their way through the home: Miguel sees a kickass spread of food on a table, complete with wine . . . but the “wine” is just disgusting water (or maybe some other fluid running through the pipes), and all the food is fake. Miguel sees the owner of the mansion, famous opera diva Eva Friedal, walking through a spectacular, sunny garden, but her image disappears as Miguel stumbles onto the massive hologram.
The mansion as a whole represents the danger of clinging to rose-colored memories like a safety blanket, and how fragile those constructs of artificial reality actually are. As Heintz and Miguel journey ever deeper into the mansion, it begins to resemble less a wondrous home and more a tomb of decrepit, ill-used memory, like one of those aged Victorian mansions that is home to who knows what in haunted house stories. Eva’s trophy room is a monument to her former glory, but her dresses crumble at the slightest touch. The rooms grow ever more grungy, filthy and broken down, showing their age like ancient pyramids.
In fact, isn’t that really what this mansion is? It is built to reflect the very best of Eva Friedal’s life, to keep her memories alive exactly the way she desires them to be seen by the world. Her treasures litter every room like a pharaoh hoarding his treasures into the afterlife. But it’s those untouched, perfect memories that are most important to Eva. Heintz and Miguel’s crewmates soon uncover her story — she was born into nobility, a genius-level soprano from her youth. She found the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life, but she lost her voice, confining Eva to expression via dance, and her beloved, Carlo, was murdered. A tragic tale worthy of opera, or so Eva would have the world believe.
As Heintz and Miguel get to the deep, dark underbelly of the mansion, however, the true nature of Eva’s life and memories reveal themselves. In that dank, broken room with the shattered piano, Eva’s dreams go to work. Miguel, who is a rather shallow, flighty dude, is snookered in by the visions of Eva that he sees, and he slowly comes to believe he is Eva’s beloved Carlo, destined to spend the rest of his life with Eva. Heintz is shown an idealized moment with his family; he gives his daughter a spacesuit as a present, so that she can accompany him into space, and then he has breakfast with her and his wife. But something strikes Heintz as wrong with the whole scene; he sees once dead roses bloom back to life, and with the realization of this world’s fakeness, the construct crumbles around him.
Heintz goes to save Miguel but sees him headlong into his fantasy, with Eva waiting for him at the end of the room. It’s there that he realizes the sordid truth behind Eva’s memories — she murdered Carlo because he was going to leave her, and she has been wrapping herself in these memories ever since. Appropriately enough, the real Eva is long dead; what Heintz and Miguel see is a holographic projection of Eva grafted onto an android run by the space station’s supercomputer. Just as it peers into Eva’s mind and creates her perfect reality, it views Heintz’s own sordid truth, of sorts; his memories are no more perfect than Eva’s, because we see that his daughter actually died after accidentally falling off the roof of their home. He is tempted with a new reality with Eva has his wife and a clone of his daughter to love as long as he lives.
But Heintz rejects this. However closely the construct can replicate his memories on the outside, they are ultimately hollow on the inside, ready to crumble at a moment’s notice, just as they have the entire time he has been on the ship. He can’t live in that fantasy, escaping from the past and refusing to come to terms with it. And the Eva-droid, surrounded by its bubble of perfect memory, ultimately shows its destructive power by using all it has in an attempt to crush Heintz.
And this final image at the end — along with the titular magnetic rose created from the blown-apart refuse of the space station — is fantastic. A very “A Rose for Emily” type of ending. I wonder if naming Heintz’s daughter “Emily”, along with showing this corpse, is a deliberate reference to that short story? They have some similar themes, especially in regards to Emily literally clinging to the pristine memory of her beloved by the end of the story, and her willingness to kill to keep her fantasy a reality.