Monday, May 16, 2016

Project Itoh Anime Project: Harmony

In the uncomfortably not too distant future, the nanny state has become Big Brother. The World Health Organization (WHO) serves as its Stormtroopers. It is not exactly the UN agency we know today, but probably not so different from how the global bureaucrats would prefer to operate. Almost nobody questions the ideology of “Lifeism” that has sacrificed free will for the sake of health and safety, except one of the elite Helix Inspector charged with maintaining the rigid social order. Tuan Kirie will indeed find herself conflicted when she links a mysterious outbreak of suicides to a childhood friend long presumed dead in Michael Arias & Takashi Nakamura’s adaptation of Japanese science fiction novelist Project Itoh’s Harmony (trailer here), which screens nationwide for two days only this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thanks to the nanotech implants that activate in adulthood, citizens under WHO’s jurisdiction, most definitely including Japan, closely regulate what they eat and scrupulously avoid danger. Miach Mihie was not having any of it. The charismatic goth girl resolved to kill herself, as did fellow classmates Kirie and Cian Reikado. However, only Mihie successfully carried out the plan—although it was not for a lack of trying on Kirie’s part. Ostensibly, Kirie and Reikado recovered, becoming duly healthy and contributing members of society. Kirie even joined the ranks of the Helix Inspectors but she had ulterior motives. Only while serving in war zones on behalf of WHO’s health and safety imperialism can Kirie smoke, drink, and generally enjoy an unhealthy lifestyle.

Kirie is obviously not her commander’s favorite, but she has her talents. Those skills will be needed when thousands of people simultaneously commit suicide, presumably under the influence of some sort of mind control technique. Kirie has plenty of personal motivation, having watched Reikado’s suicide first-hand. She is also alarmed by rhetorical similarities of the terrorists claiming responsibilities and her long lost friend Mihie.

Kirie’s investigation will take her to some fascinating near-future locales, including a Baghdad reborn as an unregulated pharmaceutical research Mecca and a Chechnya that is still brutally repressed by Russia. Evidently, some things do not change in the future, particularly the pernicious desire to sacrifice freedom for safety. Sadly, there is nothing outlandish about Itoh’s social speculation. Does anyone doubt whether the architects of Obama Care would install the nano-medical-minders on the general populace if they had half a chance?

Harmony is sure to discomfit critics because it is actually based on very real and discernable current trends rather than paranoid fantasies in the Handmaid’s Tale tradition. Under WHO, all of Japan is a safe space and it is no fun whatsoever for a free-thinker like Kirie. Yet, ominously, it is still not safe enough for some social engineers.

Kirie is a strong, rebellious character, whose considerable emotional baggage manifests itself in credible ways. Just as importantly, the film’s increasingly sinister internal logic is consistently observed. There are also some striking visuals, including some rather stunning future metropolis backdrops.

If you want to see smart dystopian science fiction on the big screen, skip the sketchy and didactic High-Rise and opt for the whip-smart Harmony instead. It is refreshingly ambitious anime in all respects. Recommended for fans of animation and social science fiction, Harmony screens tomorrow (5/17) and Wednesday (5/18) in New York, at the Village East.