Let’s follow up yesterday’s Project Itoh film review with another one, shall we?
The word I’ve been hearing regarding Harmony has been very mixed, but the general consensus is that if you enjoyed Empire of Corpses, you’ll most likely hate it. And if you didn’t like the latter, you’d be more open to Harmony’s more dialogue-driven narrative. Of course, the people who hate both are pretty numerous in of itself, but the point is that these movies are splitting people, which makes them interesting to talk about, so I couldn’t help but jump on watching these for review when I got the chance to. Although I am jealous that Bobduh gets to see them even earlier – and incidentally, yes I do know he already reviewed these films before I did and if he can’t get more people to watch them, I sure can’t. But whatever. I want to write about these movies, so let’s get to it.
Harmony is a movie set in a futuristic time period where a healing program called MediCare (although I think it was called something else in the dub, but I can’t verify that right now) is installed in all citizens of the world in order to regulate their health in order to let them live to be over ninety as a solution to all the wars and disease that caused the United States to go under. However, this does not go over well with three girls: Miach, Tuan, and Cian, who think that by regulating their right to eat fast food whenever they want or live like a gangster or whatever goes on in a young girl’s head, they’re destroying their right to be human. The three form a suicide pact, although only Miach goes through with it and Tuan ends up working as an officer for the government she hates for restricting her free will, taking jobs in third-world countries where the government’s monitoring through MediCare isn’t as restrictive and thus she can perform actions however she chooses. However, when Cian and a bunch of other people around the world end up committing suicide thanks to an unknown terrorist manipulating the system, it launches an investigation where Tuan must confront both sides in order to get to the truth of the matter.
One thing that’s very noticeable before going into the movie is how much the summary reminds you of both Ghost in the Shell and Psycho-Pass in regards to its take on high-concept sci-fi combined with our protagonist being a futuristic female investigator who’s against the system, and you’ll notice watching the film that it’s as dialogue-heavy as those franchises as well. Now I know a lot of people prefer the former, but I could care less about sitting through any more of that over-milked brand name. The problem I’ve always had with Ghost in the Shell, even back in the days when I was more positive towards it, was how none of the characters had any personal stakes or flaws that were important to executing its high-concept themes/story, causing everything I see of it to feel like a lecture that I can’t digest because it’s taking place in another classroom and the door is locked. It’s the same problem I have with movies like Good Night and Good Luck, where they pretty much assume you’re already familiar with Edward R. Murrow and thus are supposed to automatically care about his well-crafted attacks on the McCarthy era without establishing a reason for why he’s doing it other than the broad reason that what the government was doing in that time period is wrong. And of course, do I even need to mention the new Ghost in the Shell movie? Seriously, what the fuck was that?
So I was worried that Tuan was just going to be another Motoko-like plot device that would prevent me from getting into the film, but I found Harmony to be an absorbing experience before too long. Amidst all the dialogue regarding how healthcare is destroying freewill, it manages to actually tell me who the fuck these characters are and why these high-level concepts are so important to them to the point that they’d actually get emotional if it hurts them really personally. Sure it probably didn’t need so much background to the point that the plot doesn’t really start until a quarter of the way through the film, but Tuan’s internal battle with working for the man is engaging enough to hold you out until then, and it continues to help amidst all the conversations that drive the plot after it starts as well.
What’s a bit less of a plus is the direction. This is a Michael Arias film, so whilst the direction is visually dynamic like it was in Tekkonkinkreet, it’s also incredibly excessive like that film as well. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie, because the direction is more plain here in its attempts to be lively. There are several scenes where the camera just spins around the characters whilst they’re talking or pans to a random shot of the city in an effort to make the dialogue more visually interesting, when just looking at the characters moving their mouths whilst doing some random character animation would have sufficed. Also, the visuals switch between traditionally 2-D and noticeably CG quite a bit to the point I thought the entire movie was some sort of Sky Crawlers-like 3D film that they masked really well at points. I think the most animated thing is the blood, and whilst there aren’t too many scenes with it, when it shows up, there’s alot of it.
The movie’s real strength comes from the storytelling and the constant battle between safety and free will conveyed through the meetings that Tuan has with the film’s various characters as she hunts for the terrorist and discover how their actions tie to her own past and beliefs. There are only two action scenes in the entire film and Harmony uses them to great effect (moreso the second one than the first one). They don’t just occur in order to have a set piece so that the audience can jolt awake after sitting through another one of Spectre’s exposition-heavy board meetings. I’ve heard some people get down on Tuan and Miach for rejecting a solution that they don’t see the downside of, but I don’t understand why you have to agree with a character to find them interesting. You wouldn’t agree with any of the philosophies in Ichi the Killer, but that’s still a good movie unless you’re infected with a condition that prevents you from enjoying fun.
Even fans disagree with me on that in regards to the ending, which has been getting a bit of flak because without spoiling anything, it’s a bit of a downer. Honestly, I’m not really sure what’s wrong with that, because that was the only natural course to take the story after everything the characters went through. I’m sorry if this sounds like common knowledge, but stories don’t get you invested in a character without putting them through some kind of hell. Even slice-of-life stuff has the characters trying to overcome something mundane in fiction, but not in reality, like gardening. Do I agree with the results? No, I wouldn’t want that to happen in reality. But this is fiction, and fiction has to make sense.
But of course, I don’t mind too much as I like a little controversy in regards to anime. If there’s anything that’s ruining the medium – and the entertainment industry as a whole – at this point, it’s the fact that everyone wants to be safe. Personally, I find safety boring. I want something to challenge me, and Harmony definitely did that. Thus, I can’t call it bad. It’s good. Really good. Probably the best original anime film to come out in years. Not that that’s a high bar or anything, but it’s nice to occasionally get something that can stand amongst the best of what Hollywood usually offers us, and it’s even nicer when the majority of a theater’s audience claps with you as soon as the credits roll and the Egoist song plays.
- Also, just like Empire of Corpses, the dubbing is weird at times. Funimation must be slacking in quality lately.
- Why am I not surprised that Bobduh is on the “Empire rules, Harmony drools” side?
- So has anyone been able to separate Egoist from Guilty Crown in the past few years? Because I sure haven’t.