Thursday, May 19, 2016

Project Itoh: Harmony Movie Review

Day by day the world becomes a healthier, safer, more beautiful and wholesome place.

What They Say:
In a future ruled by an unwavering dedication to good health, three high school girls led by the defiant Miach Mihie attempt suicide as the ultimate act of rebellion. Tuan Kirie survives, but can’t shake the hatred she has for the “perfect world” she lives in.

Years later, a simultaneous mass suicide rocks the globe and sends society into a state of shock. A small group stands up to take credit for the event, claiming they’ve hijacked the consciousness of every person on the planet. Everything about the terrorists’ message sounds too familiar to Tuan. She suspects her old friend Miach might be involved, but how could that be when she’d supposedly killed herself years earlier? Desperate for answers, Tuan launches an investigation that takes her across the globe chasing the ghost of her old friend. But what is Miach’s end game? Will she finally wake the world from its monotonous slumber? Or, end it all for good?

The Review:
Content: (Please note that the content portion of the review may contain spoilers)
I honestly don't know how to even start this. Harmony is the second in a series of [unrelated] films based on the works of Japanese science-fiction writer, Satoshi Itoh (Also known as Project Itoh). This particular piece hones in on the life of Tuan Kirie several years after she attempts suicide alongside two of her friends, Miach and Cian. Harmony is set in a world ruled by technology -- where nanomachines are implanted in children at birth in order to "preserve" their lives under the pretenses of health and safety. Miach is one of the very few who detests this world. So much so that she manages to coerce Tuan and Cian into taking their lives alongside her in an effort to demonstrate true free-will. However, Tuan and Cian ultimately fail the attempt and time continues to tick forward without Miach.

But not for long.

After being dismissed from active duty as a peacekeeper/investigator for the new government, Tuan returns home to Japan -- a nation she has grown to despise since the passing of her best friend. Upon her arrival back at home, she meets up with Cian, who seems to have made a pretty decent life for herself. She has a job, she does volunteer work, and she's staying happy (Though that last part is a given considering the new, augmented world basically forces you into happiness). This is where things take off. Tuan and Cian go out to dinner at a restaurant near Cian's place, where she brutally stabs herself to death in front of Tuan and the rest of the restaurant. It is then revealed that Cian is not the only civilian to abruptly commit suicide, but that the death toll has climbed high into the thousands. Now, keep in mind, this is all set in a world taking every possible precaution to limit death. In fact, death is so seldom in this utopia that most people go their entire live's without witnessing it. After investigating the issue further, Tuan starts to uncover a trail of shadows that all wind up tying back to Miach. So much so that she begins to question whether or not she is actually dead.

I'm going to cut myself off from mentioning any more of the plot here. Harmony is able to pack so much into it that I could probably write a twenty page thesis paper on the damn thing. But, the thing is, that is exactly what makes the film so alluring. Even though so much expository information is constantly being thrown at you, the pacing of the film is somehow able to take that and wind it down, never moving too fast for the audience to comprehend. The exposition (Which is extremely prevalent in a series of flashbacks and monologues that slowly zoom in on Tuan's face) actually goes on to take up the vast majority of the film. There is not one point in Harmony where you stop learning about the characters or the world they live in. It's a sort of snowball effect. Initially, all of the background information is simply just character detailing of Miach and how she was the sole, beautiful mind in a sea of robotized humans. Miach becomes a sort of a philosopher and figurehead for revolution to Tuan and Cian. Each and every flashback illustrates this almost flawlessly.

There is not a single moment of joy in Harmony. Each and every scene is packed to the brim with an encroaching darkness that consumes the tone of the film and directly opposes the idea of the displayed "Utopia". This new world, which is supposed to be the complete vision of perfection, never seems even relatively close to that.

On a thematic level, Harmony surpasses almost everything else I've seen. This is one of the most philosophic movies I have ever seen. Flashback after flashback -- this film literally bombards you with ideals that make you question the progression of society, science, the human subconscious, sexuality, and everything else from every side of every spectrum. In fact, Harmony makes you question so much that even the idea of happiness becomes clouded. Halfway through, I found myself questioning, "What does it actually even mean to be happy?" Almost all of this stems from the mind of Miach, who goes on to be a tragic symbol of diminishing free-will in a world that has forgotten what it means to be alive.

An interesting thing about harmony is that even though the story is one of the most descriptive, developed ones in animated film, it remains entirely composed and organized the whole time. The plot moves in a straight line and never even thinks about deviating from its path. The EVEN MORE interesting part about this is how the art of the film directly contradicts the linearity of the story and moves in an unpredictable, sporadic pattern. Bouncing back and forth between 2D and 3D, Harmony's spontaneity keeps our minds active and focused on how truly twisted the world we're seeing is. It's less of a visual experience and more of an aid to storytelling. Don't get me wrong, the animation is absolutely stunning, but that isn't what's important. We're supposed to be questioning reality in this film. The art just serves as another means of making us do exactly that.

While the visuals remain enchanting, the true allure of Harmony lies in the relationship between Tuan and Miach. Starting off as just friends to the viewer, it quickly becomes apparent that the two are so much more than that. And that isn't me just saying, "Oh, they're totally in love and stuff too" It's me saying that these two only exist because of each other. For Tuan, Miach is the rock that keeps her grounded and questioning the world around her. Miach is a symbol of freedom and beauty that can't be paralleled by anything else. For Miach, Tuan is a sort of "Saving Grace" in a world that has forsaken her. Tuan is the first person to listen to Miach's innermost thoughts and actually understand them. The two work off of each other to the point where, without their connection, there wouldn't be any movie in the first place. The great thing is, this is all enforced through phenomenal acting and chemistry between Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi (Yes, I watched the dub. Bite me.)

I'm going to be frank here -- this is the best performance of Monica Rial's career. And considering she's been in a good six million different shows by now, that's saying a lot. To put it in Hollywood terms, this would be her Oscar role. I've loved Rial as an actress for a long time now, but her performance as Miach literally brought the character to life. Miach felt real. She wasn't just some cute, overly-intellectual girl dancing across the screen anymore -- she was human. Rial wasn't the only one showing off her acting chops, though. Both Marchi and Brittney Karbowski got a chance to shine in this as well. I haven't [yet] heard the Japanese dubbed version of this film, but Jamie Marchi fit the image of Tuan perfectly. I honestly, couldn't imagine the character being voiced by anyone else after having watched the film. Karbowski, on the other hand...well I just have a crush on her so I'm going to rave about her performance no matter what she does. No, but really, Cian's voice was spot-on as well. Her suicide scene had some of the most immersive acting I've heard in quite a while. That being said, all three main actors combined to form a cast that was nothing short of phenomenal. I have to give props to Christopher Bevins as well for his excellent ADR direction of the film. Bevins was really able to bring out the best of each actress.

Harmony isn't like other animated films. It's sporadic, terrifying, and filled with dread. At the same time, though, it's thought-provoking, meticulous, and important. There is just so much that can be taken from this film. It's a textbook example of Shakespeare's image of tragedy. Miach and Tuan's relationship is one of the most endearing ones I have ever encountered. The only thing that could distract viewers from the near perfection of the film is it's tendency to become overly-wordy at parts. But even that can be overlooked when you take into account just how much of an impact the film makes as a whole.

In Summary:
Immensely philosophical and beautifully animated, Harmony dives into a plethora of societal themes that deeply parallel and satirize every day human life. Focusing just as much on setting the stage of its thought-provoking utopia as exploring the story of a young girl's twisted image of the world, Harmony raises many questions on the ideas of free will, morality, and much more. The film's pitch darkness is laced with a silence that goes on to create a truly unsettling, yet overall astonishing experience backed by powerful acting from Monica Rial and Jamie Marchi.

Grade: A

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