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Kon Retrospective: Magnetic Rose – Thematic Rollercoaster

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“The you in you isn’t the you you think is in you.” –Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon was known for many things, subjective reality, mentally broken characters, and fluid visuals. He loved using skewed perspectives and messing with the continuity, Kon loved making his audience just as confused as his characters. Kon was also known for making a darn good movie, Magnetic Rose, is one such film.

Satoshi Kon’s involvement in Magnetic Rose might seem pretty small at first. It’s based on a story that isn’t his own, neither did he direct it, his only involvement was writing the script of the adaptation. Many might then dismiss the movie, thinking his influence was no more than in Roujin-Z. But unlike Roujin-Z, or the other projects Kon had little involvement with, Magnetic Rose is a Kon film through and through.

For those of you that haven’t watch the film (which you really ought to do), the synopsis is as follows: “Two space travelers following a distress signal are drawn into a magnificent world created by one woman’s memories.” (Source) The rest of this article is rife with spoilers, so I really encourage you to familiarize yourself with this story (hopefully by watching it).

Story

In order to truly diagnose a story with Kon-syndrome it needs to meet three criteria.

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The first is that it must feature Subjective Reality in someway. This is something Magnetic Rose features prominently. Both Heintz and Miguel fall prey to holograms that imitate another reality, be it a party, romance, or family.

Second, it must have a subtext about society, usually condemning it’s very own audience. This also, Magnetic Rose has no trouble with. The hologram realities we see are clearly the representations of a fantasy. Heintz fantasizes about his family, Miguel a true romance, and Eva her past. The movie scolds those who allow themselves to fall into their fantasies. Those who give up their actual life for their fantasy.

Miguel jumps headfirst into his fantasy, blissfully ignoring his true reality. Ignorantly seeing Eva, his love, dance with him in the field, while in reality all he does is slosh in the water.

Eva takes this a step farther, surrounding herself with luxurious decorations, memorials to her accomplishments, even killing her fiance when threatened with change, and ultimately, shutting herself out from society, to live out the rest of her days reliving her past.

The actions of Heintz gives us hope, as he is able to overcome a large majority of his fantasy and warns the crew of the chaos surrounding him. But even Heintz couldn’t fully escape. He was unable to shoot the statue of his daughter, he leapt off the house after her falling hologram, he cried and embraced the deceased ‘body’ of little Emily. Heintz couldn’t make it back to the ship, Emily’s ‘death’ held him back, and brought him to his demise.

Magnetic Rose Body 1

Thirdly, it must have dramatic and thematic heft. Which I’d argue Magnetic Rose also has, as explored in the character descriptions above. The movie fully addresses those who try to escape their life. All major forms of daydreaming are represented, Heintz’s fantasy lies in a real world group, his family, who are held back due to his responsibilities. Eva longs for who she used to be, the ‘good ol days,’ to such an extent that she denies who she is now. Miguel longed for what he could not have, he wanted a true and pure love, but had issues staying loyal in actual relationships.

An interesting, and seemingly inconsistent, aspect of Magnetic Rose lies in the holograms. Sometimes they are physical, other times just a hologram. Why do they work one way sometimes, and another later?

There are two particular scenes with really give light into the otherwise confusing question. The first is Miguel kissing Eva, her, and his surroundings, are nothing but holograms. But we see them kiss and dance, and Miguel picks a rose for her.

The second is when Heintz is mourning over his daughter. At first we see his hands go right through her shoulders, forbidding him from truly touching his daughter. But later on we see Heintz pick Emily up and cradle her in his arms. What’s going on here?

The moment Heintz and Miguel physically interact with a hologram is the moment they truly believe. When they forget reality, and instead focus on fantasy. Miguel is particularly susceptible, accepting his new reality almost immediately. Heintz lasted longer, it took the ‘death’ of Emily to break him. When he saw the blood ooze out of her ear, he was faced with the thought of living without her, Heintz was then fully immersed in his sorrow.

Magnetic Rose Body 2

Another interesting touch, which took me a while to realize, was that twice in the film, the entire environment is ‘painted’ over by holograms. This happens after a touch of the piano. Considering the holograms are of Eva’s fantasy, perhaps it represents the role music had in her fantasy. The person she wanted to stay as, was the famous singer, known for her music. The moment Eva lost her voice might mark the moment she felt dissatisfied with her life. Eva didn’t want to be an Eva without music, it made up a huge portion of her identity.

Art

The opening shot really surprised me, it was far more beautiful than I had remembered. The art style as a whole really aged well. It may not have aged long (released in 1995), I seem to remember even Perfect Blue and other anime from that time being somewhat grainy and under-detailed. However, Magnetic Rose still looks stunning, it doesn’t seem to have aged a bit, for the most part.

The movie did show its age a couple of times, when it did it was very jarring. Some of the larger structures were built in poorly done CG, with a very choppy frame rate as well. Thankfully this didn’t happen often, and wasn’t onscreen for too long.

Sound

The music in Magnetic Rose is simple stunning, which isn’t a surprise considering Yoko Kanno is responsible for it. One track in particular, titled “Cosmos” was a standout. It’s used towards the beginning of the movie when the S.O.S. is first heard. But I encourage you to listen to it on its own. It has a hauntingly broken vocal track, along with daunting and repetitive bass line until a synth takes stage about halfway through.

Music aside, the acting seems to be fine (it’s hard to tell when it’s in another language), but some sound effects sounded decidedly old and cheap.

Magnetic Rose Body 3

Conclusion

Magnetic Rose is simply a fantastic movie, a great start for Kon’s career. This movie sets the bar for Kon’s upcoming films in themes, animation, and music. When you consider the fact that this is a lower tier film of his, you know it’s only going to get better.

Kon loved challenging his viewers to make sense of what’s happening, and consider their own perspectives, his movies may seem cynical and pessimistic, but underneath there lies a layer of vain hope. “With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen. Now excuse me, I have to go.” –Satoshi Kon

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GJ Corban
Hi there, I'm GJ Corban, that stands for Gregory Jr., but I've been accidentally called CJ, DJ, JJ, and even Jesus... thrice. Other than that I'm just a guy obsessed with storytelling and the culture and news that surround it.
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