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Mar 03

Movie March – Harmony

Morph in 50 years

It’s been 3 years since the last time we did Movie March, and there’s been a lot of interesting films from both the east and the west in the intervening time, so we’re bringing it back for 2017. So stay tuned to the Anicom blog throughout March for a bunch of animated film reviews!

And we’re starting off with Harmony. Based off a novel by semi-famous author Project Itoh, and worked on by Studio 4°C who’ve done a surprising variety of titles, from the CG Berserk films to Tekkonkinkreet to a Justice League film, there’s a lot of good-but-never-quite-reaching-top-tier talent behind this film, so I was interested to see how it turned out. Especially as the closest point of comparison is the classic Ghost in the Shell.

The first thing to note is the first 10 minutes or so of the film are of no real consequence to the rest of it. We see some military people, including our lead, the red-haired Tuan, waiting at the edge of the desert. Then some Arab’s riding camels arrive, exchange medicine for alcohol and smokes, and then they all pelt it as a drone catches onto them. You get a cool chase scene as the government people run away on a future buggy and blow it out of the sky, but a minute or two afterwards Tuan is sent back to the city by her superior, and that’s the last you’ll ever see of that idea.

It’s also the last you’ll see of colour for most of the film.

I don’t mean that in a bad way, but this is where the film proper starts, and one thing you’ll notice about the city is how clinical it all is. Whites, pinks, reds and, if you’re lucky, you might see the odd person wearing black. Even a lot of the buildings use double helixes and membrane-esque patterns. It looks very clean and sterile, which makes perfect sense as this is a perfect society where everyone has WatchMe installed, uses MediCare, and the place is essentially run by the World Health Organisation, or WHO for short.

In the wake of a global calamity from 50 or so years ago (it’s a post-apocalyptic film, but you’d struggle to realise that without being told), leaps and bounds were made in medicine, curing almost all forms of disease. To help with the administration of this, people have a WatchMe installed in their chest, which can supply medication to the body. There’s also the usual AR future contact lenses bringing up information and monitoring your physical and mental health constantly, and people are encouraged to seek therapy for the slightest malcontent.

Except for some reason never explained, this system, or at least the healthcare part, can only be activated when somebody comes of age. I guess it’s a consent thing, as you can choose to live without one, though you’ll be living outside the city limits in a world where people can get colds and headaches and cancer. Given that choice, and how perfect society is, why wouldn’t you pick the blissful existence?

Well, as the film’s rising child suicide rates show… they don’t accept that as readily as adults do, and that is showcased perfectly in the pseduo-lead character, Miach. One of a childhood trio comprised of herself, actual lead girl Tuan and other girl Cian (back to her later), Miach’s experiences had given her a more unique outlook on life, and to see the world that was, as she put, “killing people with kindness”.

Miach sweeps up the other two with her beliefs and ideologies, in part because of how different they are, and in part her magnetic personality that makes you want to be around her. So Tuan and Cian do so, to the extent that the three essentially form a suicide pact. And when the times comes, she follows through, but Cian’s will falters, and her tattling saves herself and Tuan from death. Hence why I call her a pseduo-lead, as you never really see her outside of flashbacks, though she’s a guiding force throughout the entire film and defines so much of Tuan’s actions.

So, the actual plot of the film. Shortly after Tuan returns to the city, a mass suicide occurs, with thousands, including Cian (who has very much reverted to androgyny now that Miach and Tuan aren’t there to influence her) offing themselves. Seeing all of the hallmarks of Miach’s handiwork, Tuan begins her hunt for her childhood friend, as the world is threatened to kill or be killed, slowly spreading panic globally.

She travels across several countries and reunited with her estranged father, but it’s always made clear the film is about Tuan and Miach, and how much the latter has influenced and defined the former, and little to nothing else. The unfolding implosion of society is a background affair, with a montage before the final act hammering home that it’s just not all that relevant to the story the film wants to tell. A point emphatically made by the ending.

The Ghost in the Shell comparisons come from the other main plot thread in the film, about controlling people’s wills, desires and souls. WHO has access to a system called Harmony, which can override a person’s consciousness, essentially putting them on auto-pilot. They’ll make the most logical choice in any scenario while it’s active, and it dangles over the story as the last resort solution if the world is deemed too unstable.

Except the film never really explores that idea. You’ll never meet anyone acting under the will of the system, or really delve into the consequences. People will exposit about their research and the various urges of the brain, and how they couldn’t tell the difference in personality during research, but it never stops to ask deeper questions like Ghost in the Shell did.

Heck, that smaller plotline I mentioned about her catching up with her father is never about “why did you leave me and mum”, but more “what happened to Miach”. It’s another missed opportunity from the film’s unrelenting focus.

That’s both the films biggest flaw and greatest strength. It is, totally and utterly, the tale of Tuan and Miach. Other elements and ideas exist, but everything is orientated towards the final confrontation, coming at the expense of other characters and concepts.

I still enjoyed my time with Harmony, though. The mystery of Miach was compelling enough to keep driving the story and your interest, and the visuals did a great job of not only creating a world run by medicine, but also merging CG and traditional animation. The only real flaw in this department was how some people almost exploded with claret when they stabbed themselves, producing a veritable fountain of blood that looked completely out of place. Though this film was less afraid of showing death than most, with some unnerving shots, including a first-person view of somebody hanging themselves.

So basically, it’s good… but it’s no Ghost in the Shell.

First one down! Stay tuned throughout the month of March for plenty more movie reviews, and if you’ve got any requests, hit us up on Twitter and maybe that’ll be the next film we review…