Stephen reviews: Harmony (2015)

Harmony [ハーモニー] (2015)

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.

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Stephen reviews: Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

tekkonkinkreet_1Tekkonkinkreet [鉄コン筋クリート] (2006)

Starring Kazunari Ninomiya, Yu Aoi, Yusuke Iseya, Kankuro Kudo, Min Tanaka, Rokuro Naya, Tomomichi Nishimura, Mugihito, Masahiro Motoki

Directed by Michael Arias & Hiroaki Ando

There’s so much going on in this film that I scarcely know where to start. I guess I can start with the director. Michael Arias is obviously not Japanese, and his most notable credits are for producing The Animatrix, and helping design the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios. As you might expect from having such a seemingly out-of-place director, Tekkonkinkreet is odd. It’s difficult to even classify. At times it feels like an over-the-top action film. At times like a drama. And it always feels like a mindfuck.

Its style is very floaty, and it haphazardly ignores the laws of physics. Half the time the characters are leaping up or down buildings, often nearly flying. The character designs are kooky and not at all what you would expect of an anime. They look flat-out insane. Their contrast with the background art furthers the confusion. The characters are simple and cartoonish, while the backgrounds are detailed, vivid, and absolutely gorgeous. In retrospect, it should have been no surprise to find out that Studio Ghibli had a hand in the background design.

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