People who have been exposed to a good number of anime series or films would know to give the Japanese credit where credit is due. You would have to admit that the large number of Japanese anime have dealt with a vision of a dystopian future. Originally titled “Gin-iro no kami no Agito” which translates to “Silver Haired Agito” , director Keiichi Sugiyama and writer Umanosuke Iida’s “Origin: Spirits of the Past” may appear to be something inspired by other such anime features containing such fantasy and sci-fi themes, which makes it a little unoriginal. However, its clever execution makes the film a worthwhile watch.
The film is set 300 years in the future, after a cataclysmic event had destroyed the moon and caused plants and trees to run wild that they have destroyed major metropolises and took back the world. Agito, a young man who lives in a “Neutral zone” stumbles into a cavern where a young girl called Toola had awakened from a long slumber. For some reason, the spirits of the forest appear agitated upon her awakening, as she may be the key to the revival of civilization or the further destruction of the planet
Visually stunning and filled with several innovative ideas, “Origin” despite the unoriginal concept comes out swinging. The film begins with a narrative as to how the moon had been destroyed many, many years in the past and because of it, the Forest Beast had awakened the spirit of the forest. As a result, humans struggle to live in harmony with his environment and the forest; the remnants of a once magnificent civilization now overrun by nature running amok, the iconic shot of a shattered moon; it would be easy to be captivated with the creative visual splendor that can be seen with “Origin”. I was impressed how the little things such as a broken down movie theater, a shopping mall and even a fallen radio tower could be used as a tool in this barren world at the same time, become almost engulfed by nature.
The world of “Origin” is something where humans may seemingly on a downturn, as the underground world where a water supply had been sustained is guarded by mysterious druid-like plant people. The animated 3D layouts do well in blending with the film’s 2D animated characters, they feel natural and almost feel as if the animation work had been done as one. Most dystopian future always feature something that is magnificent as with the use of technology; here, the film manages to fully to express the idea that nature had indeed run amok, and this world had been divided. On one side is the forest, and the other is the area where humanity tries to cling to its own industrial world called Ragna. In the middle is a place called Neutral City and this is where humans try to co-exist with nature.
It seems to be a common trait for Japanese anime to have themes concerning the environment and how human technology can indeed make life easier, it also becomes the bane for the understanding of ‘natural order’. The screenplay does make a strong point as to how man had forgotten certain things and this was easily symbolized his denial as to how man had created bulwarks of a destroyed metropolis to keep the forest at bay-by force if need be. In some ways, the concept of “Origin” is just how humans did come from nature but his own technological know-how had given him the illusion that he is in control of this world of his. Such reliance to man’s own knowledge can prove disastrous, as the film does later reveal a secret as to how the forest itself had gained absolute sentience and how it gained independent thought.
Such things are further made stronger with the supposed ‘bad guy’ in the character of Shunack (Kenichi Endo). He is a man from the past and was awakened as with Toola (Aoi Miyazaki) in the present events of the film. Shunack is the one being who could not let go of the past, and would do anything he could to regain the illusion of control and power over his world. Agito (Ryo Katsuji) is a scrappy kid that we may see who had adapted to this new world, thanks to his father who had become one of the first enhanced humans by the forest. There is something to be said as to how the direction wanted to express the subtext between the two. It is all about how one chooses what they become, despite different origins and similar abilities, it is all about how one sees and learns from one’s past.
I did find the film move rather smoothly, the film begins with a sort of a playful and yet energetic pace as Agito, Cain (Masaru Hamaguchi), Toola and Minka (Omi Minami) bond and learn from one another. Then the film sets the rules with the exchanges between one of the enhanced elders and the forest, as the rules had been laid out and the stakes are about to be defined. I liked the way the flow of the animation matched the mood of each scene, which was why I was surprised that the direction went a little off focus with the final act.
I thought the use of mecha battles against a mobile volcano kind of a little out of place. I understood, but I feel that it just did not fit well into the build up in its narrative. But I do have to say, that the scene was exquisitely handled. Steam punk, mecha in an explosive battle was something that would surely generate excitement as Shunack and Agito come face to face in the final encounter. Director Sugiyama did what he had to do, albeit it felt a little inconsistent. The script provides a deus ex machina moment, then all of a sudden a happy resolution just seems to come out of nowhere. It feels a little muddled at this point, but it wasn’t enough to affect my enjoyment of the film.
No, “Origin: Spirits of the Past” is not a perfect film, if you see it from an area of storytelling; its inconsistent areas in the last act just felt a little forced. But I do have to say that the creative, innovative touches that tropes on familiar ground and yet adds a new spin, gives it a lot of strength in setting its groundwork. The visuals were definitely impressive, I would be hard-pressed to find a better animation in another animated film. The flow of the screenplay was smooth and the animation work with the characters complemented its premise. I saw this in the English version and so mild synching issues were obvious since this was made for the Japanese language in mind.
I suppose Japan’s experience with the Atom bomb gives them a vision that we cannot fully see from the inside, and I guess this is why Japanese anime have often dealt with a dystopian world where man’s own knowledge of technology or his own hubris had led to his downfall. I suppose “Origin” had this to say, why is it easier to create something that could destroy rather than something that could heal and create? Is it because man by himself is a fallible being, that maybe being overly-reliant on his own intelligence have instead dulled his own connection to his own world? Intelligence that is not tempered by humility and conscience can lead to one’s destruction. Perhaps that is what it is trying to say.
HighlyRecommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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