A Wind Named Amnesia Review
A Wind Named Amnesia (Kaze no Namae wa Amunejia) is an oft-overlooked animé classic of the post-apocalyptic persuasion. Curiously enough for something produced only a decade ago, this film is one that has managed to fly under most fans' radar, tending to surface only now and then when people compile lists of 'best philosophical animé'.
The premise at first seems better suited to fantasy than science fiction: towards the end of the Twentieth Century, a mysterious 'amnesia wind' blows across the Earth, erasing the entire store of human knowledge. In a heartbeat, everyone forgets the essential basic skills that civilisation depends upon... even language itself.
In the first few minutes after the disaster, mass devastation results as every moving vehicle operated by a human careers out of control and crashes. In the first few hours of the new age, automated systems society took for granted accidentally trap and kill members of a populace that no longer have any understanding of their purpose. The first few days see the permanent failures of the last remaining power facilities, creating new environmental disasters and plunging the planet into a pre-technological Dark Age.
The show begins two years later, by which time the last vestiges of society have been utterly swept away, and mankind exists solely in a state of anarchic, posthistoric barbarism. We discover that the setting for A Wind Named Amnesia is the ruined husk of what once was the United States of America... and it is at this point that we are introduced to the film's three pivotal characters, upon whose actions the future of the human race hinges.
The first is a young man named Wataru, the ostensible hero of the story (although, as you'll find, this is a film without heroes in the traditional sense). He would have shared the fate of the rest of the planet had he not stumbled upon an old military facility out in the American Southwest, where experiments in intelligence- and memory-augmentation had been ongoing.
There he meets Johnny, a wheelchair-bound teenage boy. One of the laboratory's advanced test subjects, his memory alone survived the effects of the amnesia wind... and by applying those same equipment and drugs to Wataru he manages to raise the latter's intellectual development to that of a child. Further, he teaches Wataru how to speak, read a map, drive a car, fire a weapon, and generally survive in the world without resorting to Stone Age methods.
Johnny elicits a promise from Wataru that he will explore what's left of the world and try to understand what's become of humanity. And so after Johnny dies, Wataru embarks upon his journey, heading first to California. It is there that he encounters the enigmatic Sophia, who strangely appears to have been unaffected by the amnesia wind... and who agrees to accompany him on his travels, although it's clear from the outset that she has a secret agenda of her own.
There are in fact very few speaking roles in the film, which pivots on a single central question: 'What exactly does it mean to be human?'. However, this subject is approached from a number of different angles over the course of A Wind Named Amnesia's 80-minute running time, including 'Is there really any difference between man and beast?', 'Is it only our technology that makes us human?', and the ever-popular 'Does mankind deserve its pride of place above all the other creatures of Earth?'
These are all intriguing philosophical questions, and the fact that they have been asked elsewhere many times before does not detract from the way they are presented here. Nor does it hurt that the film does not endeavour to force its own answers upon the viewer, but instead leaves the matter open-ended. Further, although it's only natural to draw comparisons between A Wind Named Amnesia and various other post-apocalyptic shows - an obvious example is Stephen King's The Stand - the fact is, I'm unaware of any other story that pushes the concept to this particular extreme.
Namely, in no other film do we see humanity completely forget itself. A Wind Named Amnesia successfully evokes this wasted world through the use of extremely detailed mechanical design, the stark juxtaposition of famous reference architecture with the ruins of society, and 'capsule stories' along the course of Wataru and Sophia's road trip where they have a chance to interact with other people.
The production also benefits from several well-known names, getting its original concept from Hideyuki Kikuchi (Demon City Shinjuku, Vampire Hunter D, Darkside Blues), while Kazuo Yamazaki (Please Save My Earth, Maison Ikkoku) directed and the whole team was supervised by Taro Rin [Rintaro] (Harmagedon, X) and Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Wicked City).
It's a solid piece, very atmospheric, moody, and contemplative. However, I recognise that not everyone will see these as strengths. For instance, those viewers who value action above all else aren't going to find a lot of it here. (Although A Wind named Amnesia does start off with an extended action sequence and is peppered here and there with a few combat scenes, it simply isn't an action film.) No doubt there are also those who will be turned off by the show's brooding dialogues and slow pace.
Unfortunately, it seems that the production team came to a similar conclusion early on and decided to 'spice things up' a little using two extremely unlikely plot devices. The first, which seriously detracts from the narrative flow, is the 'Guardian' (a heavily-armed city robot designed for riot control) which Wataru and Sophia first encounter in San Francisco and which then proceeds to hunt them cross-country all the way to New York City.
Never mind the fact that the bot should have run out of power ages ago, and that it can be seen consulting planetary computer networks which are certainly down, and that it tracks our heroes using spy satellites which no riot-control robot would have access to, and that it has a never-ending supply of ammunition and a frankly-astounding facility for self-repair, and that it has an irrational bloodlust that would make even the Terminator blush... well, let's just say it was a laughably bad idea to include it in the script.
However, apparently even this wasn't enough for the lads, and so near the end of the film there's a very abrupt, completely out-of-place lovemaking scene (albeit non-graphic) between two characters who have shown little, if any, emotional development or mutual attraction prior to that very moment. So that's officially Bad Idea No. 2.
Despite these two relatively-brief (and forgivable) distractions, A Wind Named Amnesia remains a strong film overall. It's just important to recognise that this isn't an action flick, or a comedy, or a suspense thriller. There's a preponderance of dialogue and flashbacks, and a lot of just letting things happen at a leisurely pace. If that doesn't sound like your kind of show, you may want to give this one a miss.
The film is presented in your standard 4:3 TV aspect ratio, and the picture quality comes across as quite good for a 1993 production. At no point did I notice any pixelation going on, nor any macroblocking in the backgrounds. (Which is a good sign, as quite a few of Amnesia's scenes occur at nighttime.)
As for the actual animation quality, it looks good but does seem to use a lot of static pans across still images, particularly for something that no doubt had a film-size budget. (Generally you only expect to see heavy cost-saving measures like this used on TV shows... but perhaps this was a stylistic choice rather than a financial one.) Likewise, the character designs throughout are acceptable without being especially innovative.
One definite plus is that Central Park Media was good enough to leave the original Japanese ending credits intact - no overlays - and simply appended the English version of the credits as a separate scroll after the first one concludes.
The audio quality on A Wind Named Amnesia is no slouch. Not only is there a great deal of breadth to the types of music used as Wataru and Sophia journey across post-apocalyptic America, but the orchestral score successfully reflects and intensifies each particular 'capsule story' that is told through their travels. As we're only dealing with the usual Dolby 2.0 presentation in either language, don't expect much in the way of left/right directionality or stereo separation. (For that matter, nor is there a lot of bass used in the film.)
This is another animé that I'd advise you to watch in the original Japanese... not because the voice acting on the English dub is horrid - on the contrary, it's quite passable - but primiarly due to the oversimplification of the dialogue present in the English script. None of the alterations made strike me as particularly necessary, and they all seem to take away from the original story rather than add to it. Fortunately, both audio tracks are provided on this disc, so the choice is yours.
(As an aside, the Japanese VA who plays Johnny is Kappei Yamaguchi, better known as the voice of Ranma Saotome in Ranma ½. By a curious coincidence, the minor character of Lisa is played by Noriko Hidaka... the voice actress of Ranma's fiancée, Akane Tendo.)
Like Demon City Shinjuku, A Wind Named Amnesia was one of Central Park Media's early (1999) DVD releases, and both share a similarly-utilitarian menu design. This consists of a still background image with a series of buttons overlaid, where the name of each appears in a 'speech bubble' as you select it. (Trust me, it sounds more interesting than it looks.) Unfortunately, something about this design template causes all menu operation to be extremely sluggish in general... and problematic from a DVD-ROM drive. (For instance, trying to access the menu options on my computer was an exercise in frustration.)
Thankfully, most of us don't buy DVDs just for the menus. There are essentially two special features on this disc, 'Meet the Cast' and 'Meet the Mecha'. Each of these offers a sub-menu featuring several 'characters', and selecting any of these plays a short clip from the film showing that person/thing in action. Perhaps not terribly exciting, but at least they took a stab at some extras. Oh, and there's also the usual collection of previews for other CPM (U.S. Manga) releases bundled in as well.
Whether you'll like A Wind Named Amnesia will depend strongly upon your attitude towards quiet, thoughtful films. If action is your main concern, you may be sorely disappointed. Then again, that's not what this show is all about... it's a very reflective piece of cinema about the nature of mankind and those qualities that make us human.