Starring Miyuki Sawashiro, Reina Ueda, Aya Suzaki, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Shin-ichiro Miki, Junpei Morita
Directed by Takashi Nakamura, Michael Arias
I didn’t have any expectations when I took a chance on Harmony, and that’s probably a good thing, because whatever expectations I had probably would have been way off base. I was surprised to see Michael Arias as co-director here, and like Tekkonkinkreet, his other anime film, Harmony is a weird philosophical journey, though nowhere near as intensely psychedelic. The other director, Takashi Nakamura, has been around the industry for quite a while, but hasn’t done much directing work. His most prominent film is A Tree of Palme, but he also directed the fantastic “Chicken Man and Red Neck” (AKA: Nightmare) segment of Robot Carnival, another trippy and moody story.
Coming from these two directors, I would have expected Harmony to be weirder than it is, but the film does have an ethereal quality that makes it feel like a light and airy dream. Set in a utopian future, it revolves around Tuan Kirie, a woman who survived a group suicide attempt in high school. The ringleader of the group was a mysterious girl named Miach Mihie, whose personality is a charismatic mixture of cheerful cynicism and rebellious hatred. Miach’s body was donated to science after the incident, but Tuan was seduced by Miach and grew up despising her homeland. Then some criminal mastermind causes a mass suicide to occur across the country that strongly reminds Tuan of Miach’s goals and agendas, and she sets off to uncover the truth of what is happening.
Harmony reminds me a tad bit of Fight Club with its philosophy of violence as the only solution to a world without freedom, as well as Apocalypse Now‘s solitary quest to find a psychotic madman. Add in a dash of Ghost in the Shell‘s questioning of what freedom and human consciousness mean in a high-tech world, and then you’ve got something in the neighborhood of Harmony. The film specifically references Brave New World so I’m sure there are some parallels there, but I’m afraid I’ve never read that book, so I can only work with what I’ve got for comparisons here.
But as much as I found the film to be fascinating and entertaining, it’s certainly not without its flaws. The most obvious of them is the heavy use of CG, which really pulled me out of the experience at times. Even beyond the CG, the film’s animation is not all that impressive. There are a few moments that look pretty cool, but for the most part the visuals left me a bit underwhelmed. In a more action-oriented film this would have been a bigger problem, but Harmony isn’t all that reliant on its looks. It’s the thoughts behind the story that make it interesting, so I can look past the animation.
But what really bugs me about the film is the lack of evidence for Miach’s point of view. She claims the Watch Me system is horribly flawed, spreading misery and death rather than safety and happiness. The problem is, nothing in the film shows us this dark side of society, and that more than anything undercuts Miach’s whole philosophy. It mentions that in the early days of the system there were a large amount of youth suicides, one of which was the one Miach orchestrated, but it implies that those suicides have since stopped.
So my opinion on the film is a bit mixed. It has a lot of lofty ideas and a strong narrative arc as Tuan searches for closure to the most important event of her life. But the film could have used some better animation and those lofty ideas don’t quite pan out. Still, I’m glad they tried. It put new thoughts into my head and was pretty entertaining along the way. For me, it was well worth the two-hour investment of my time.