Revisiting Old Video Store Rental Cartoons: A Wind Named Amnesia

If you remember watching Saturday Anime on the Sci-Fi Channel, or if you ever rented anime in the late 90s or early 00s, you’re probably quite familiar with the work of Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Responsible in part for a good chunk of the early releases from Manga Entertainment and the now-defunct Central Park Media, Kawajiri’s work on titles like Ninja Scroll, Wicked City and Demon City Shinjuku helped to define anime for an entire generation in the US.

A Wind Named Amnesia, for which Kawajiri wrote the screenplay, is one of the more obscure titles of that era. It’s one of those titles you probably saw sitting on the video store shelf a hundred times while browsing the Japanimation section, but may not have bothered to ever pick up and watch. Originally released in 1990, Wind eventually made it to American shores around 1996 (this is according to eBay product information actually, as ANN’s database doesn’t cover anything prior to the 1999 DVD release) and eventually into my VCR a few years later. With CPM having taken its last breath, I felt it was a good time to revisit this title which may never see a US release again.

The story begins in San Francisco, 1999, two years after a cataclysmic event that caused everyone on the planet to completely lose their memories. Forgetting their previous lives, language and culture reduced mankind to savages. Enter our hero, Wataru, who runs into a berserk police robot known as a “Guardian” (with the dead pilot still inside, that means it’s extra berserk) gunning down some unkempt fellows who only grunt in response. Wataru catches the attention of the Guardian, who decides he’s a threat after seeing the gun he’s carrying. Making a run for it, he runs into a mysterious woman named Sophia, who helps him defeat the Guardian and then asks him to drive her to New York City. Having nothing better to do, he agrees, hoping to unravel the mysteries of what happened while seeing the sites along the way.

Wind unfortunately falls into the heavily populated category of “interesting premise, lackluster execution.” It seems to be trying to make some kind of statement about whether humanity deserves to keep going on, but spirals into such silliness that you really can’t take it seriously at all, even though it wants you to. The silliness, however, is exactly what makes it worth watching.

Wataru’s back story is a perfect example of this: during his meeting with Sophia he recalls his memories from immediately after the titular wind blew through his town. After trying to eat flowers (and failing) and fighting children for sausage, he encounters a kid in an “invalid chair” (thanks, CPM dubbing!) named Johnny, locked in a standoff with some kind of esper. Turns out Johnny is part of a government experiment and has a computer for a brain, so the wind didn’t affect him. After the matter with the esper is settled, Johnny takes Wataru in and uses a supercomputer with a ridiculous helmet to rapidly re-educate him before passing away, leaving Wataru free to go on road trips with strange women.

Our unlikely pair makes their first stop in LA, where they encounter a “tribe” of people who have taken to worshiping construction equipment like a god. Like all the best gods, this one demands sacrifices of young girls, one of whom is trying to make an escape when Wataru arrives. After helping the girl and a lumbering ox aiding her escape, Sophia, who can apparently speak fluent “gruntese,” tells Wataru that their names are Sue and Little John. Thinking he has two new buddies for his road trip, Wataru heads to the beach for gratuitous out-of-place nude scenes, where Sue strips down to nothing but panties to run through ankle deep water. After enjoying themselves for the day, Sue and Little John leave abruptly, leaving Wataru confused as to why Sue would willingly become a sacrifice. Wataru decides to intervene and takes out the construction rig. Unfortunately he is unable to save Sue. Leaving Little John behind in charge of the now-godless tribe, the pair takes off towards New York again.

The second stop is a place called “Eternal Town,” a city managed by a system called “Big Computer” which brainwashed the two remaining residents, Lisa and “Mr. Simpson,” into acting out the roles of various people that once inhabited the town. Sophia and Wataru are extended an invitation by Lisa/Big Computer to join their micromanaged lives and become residents of Eternal Town as well. Wataru declines and Big Computer attempts to coerce them into staying, however both Wataru and Sophia are adamant about moving on. Demanding to speak with the “real” Lisa and not the puppet they had been speaking with, Wataru extends an invitation of his own: for both residents to join them on his trip. Lisa accepts at first, but is unable to let go of the life she has lead for the last two years and ultimately decides to stay.

Both of these “stops” feel like they would have been better used as part of a larger story the creators didn’t have the time to tell. Having no access to the original novel, it makes me wonder if there was more to it, and if they chose to focus only on bits and pieces. It definitely feels like a large part of the story is skipped, or perhaps it’s just that the Midwest is incredibly boring, even after the apocalypse. After Sophia reveals her identity as one of the people responsible for the wind in Las Vegas, the rest of the trip is covered in a montage until they finally reach New York City.

The montage consists of romance and chase sequences where the aforementioned Guardian robot, who is able to drag itself to robot service stations and repair itself, tracks Wataru via satellite, speaks his name in that menacing one-syllable-at-a-time robot way, and interrupts conversations and quiet moments at popular landmarks. This all culminates in a showdown atop a New York highrise (the robot takes the elevator) where Wataru manages to put it down for good.

After reaching their destination and dispatching their robotic pursuer, Sophia thanks Wataru for the ride in the “Earth way” which is, apparently, in keeping the unwritten book of the road. After showing her “appreciation,” Sophia returns home to what looks like a giant mirrored sphere in the sky; telling Wataru that mankind’s fate should be decided in about an hour or so. Cut to credits.

A Wind Named Amnesia is a hard title to feel strongly about. If anything, I’m strongly indifferent. It is as far from a “must see” as mid-90s OVAs get. If you left it on the shelf while browsing through Hollywood Video’s anime selection back in the day, you didn’t really miss that much. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time hunting it down unless you are a fan of more recent things like Kino’s Journey or any of Kawajiri’s other works, but there are definitely worse ways to spend an hour and a half if you’re looking for something to watch.

8 Comments

  1. You hit the nail on the head with the comment about it being one of the video tapes you ALWAYS saw but never rented. Part of the problem may have been that it didn’t have robots on the cover, as I suspect that’s why I never bothered renting it.

  2. It does HAVE a robot though. A robot which makes an entrance on 3 separate occasions by smashing through a wall in a right to left slide across the screen. Curiously consistent.

  3. I’m actually a huge fan of this movie. I saw this years ago on Anime Selects on Demand, and had to pick up the DVD. It’s a great movie, with a great premise. Very original. Also it’s very philosophical, which I love in an anime. It explores the darker side of humanity, in a way anime tends to ignore. I like what it had to say abaout religion, specifically. My only problem with with this movie is the out of place nudity, and really awkward and uneeded sex scene at the end. They could have done without both of them. I love how CPM put the nude girl on the beach on the back cover of my DVD though, lol! Like that’s what the movie is about lol!! Then again I’m a sucker for these kinds of things, I love Madhouse, and I’m a huge fan of “Kino’s Journey”, so maybe that’s why I liked this so much.

    Good review btw. I got the DVD in CPM’s “Kawajiri Brick Pack” , it came with “Demon City Shinjuku” and “Birdy the Mighty”, well worth the price I paid, just tos ee this again, but I got two other animes with it! Nice.

  4. I remember watching this on VHS back in the day and being similarly disappointed by the execution of what was an interesting premise. I see what you’re getting at with the Kino’s Journey reference, but I think the comparison is overly generous to Wind of Amnesia.

    Also, call it a sign of the times, but I can’t be doing with that cheesy mullet Wataru insists on sporting.

  5. The Kino comparison was more a comparison to the formula they use for the stops than a qualitative one. Although if I remember correctly Kino tries specifically NOT to get too involved with the locals, where as Wataru does the exact opposite in addition to trying to get them to come with him.

  6. Well to Amnesia’s defense it beat out Kino’s Journey by a full 13 years. Still Kino’s Journey is much better. But for an old movie, Amnesia is much better then I had ever expected. A+ in my book.

  7. Yeah, that’s the whole thing with the 80s and 90s OVA scene: you had a whole bunch of awesome ideas with what now seems like endearingly half-assed execution. I dig.

    Kino no Tabi, however, I seem to remember, is influenced largely by Antoine de Saint Exupery, Miyazawa Kenji and Galaxy Express 999, all of which pre-date Wind of Amnesia by many years and rain quality down on it like rain.

    Totally agree about the difference as far as the Prime Directive is concerned, although the most interesting drama from Kino comes from the places where that rule is tested. In any case, I think we can agree that the issue is consistently quality scriptwriting, which Kino seems to have, and which Wind of Amnesia apparently abandoned.

  8. Let’s not forget that AWNA was based on the novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, the author of the Vampire Hunter D novels. Of course, Kawajiri has also worked on a number of adaptations of Kikuchi’s works, such as WICKED CITY, DEMON CITY SHINJUKU, and VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST.

    I did like this movie. I actually chuckled at the end with it’s resemblance to the end of STARMAN, but I enjoyed the film, warts and all. The premise was also unlike anything I had ever seen before (although I wonder if it has been touched on in other works of SF or fantasy).

    True, the robot pursuing Wataru and Sophia seems unnecessary, and there are plotholes, but I do not watch movies or TV shows with the sole intention of catching flaws. That’s for others; I’m not a bloody critic.

    It is too bad about CPM going out of business; they brought a lot of titles over here that were popular (for both the right and wrong reasons) and on the occasions I was able to speak to John O’Donnell he was a genuinely nice guy.

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