ANIME REVIEW: “Project Itoh: Harmony” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Project Itoh: Harmony”

Harmony is the second of three films based on the fiction of Satoshi Ito (who wrote under the nom de plume Project Itoh). But the novel “Harmony” feels like an improbable candidate for animation. The book is an internal monologue by Tuan Kirie (Jamie Marchi, who carries the film as its de facto narrator), the dissatisfied inhabitant of a future Japan that is simultaneously squeaky clean and hideously repressive.

Under the doctrine of “Lifeism,” the WatchMe system of nanomachines implanted in most of the world’s humans monitors every action each person takes, every emotion he experiences, every calorie she consumes. Alcohol and tobacco are banned; caffeine is severely restricted. People are constantly exhorted to love one another, to maintain an optimum weight, to make health-conscious choices, to share. Everything comes with caveats attached. Ito was depressingly prescient about contemporary hypersensitivities: Tuan encounters a label that reads, “This work of art contains potentially emotionally damaging material.” His aggressively wholesome vision of the future makes George Orwell look like an optimist. (Significantly, Ito revised the story while being treated for the cancer that would kill him at 34.)

In addition to standard teen-age rebelliousness, the system’s unbreakable controls over her body’s most intimate functions infuriates the adolescent Miachi “Miach” Mihie (Monica Rial). The top student in her class, Miach is intelligent, anti-social and a compelling debater. She persuades her classmates Tuan and Cian Reikado (Brittany Karbowski) that killing themselves would deliver a blow to the system they despise. By tinkering with her family’s home pharmaceutical machine, Miach creates pills that prevent the human body from absorbing nutrients to produce death by starvation. Tuan’s parent catch her and get medical help; Cian loses her nerve. But Miach apparently succeeds, leaving the other two wracked with guilt and a sense they both failed to save their friend and to fulfill their vow. “I’m sorry, Miach,” becomes their mantra throughout the film.

Thirteen years later, Tuan has become an investigator for Helix, a scientific organization affiliated with WHO and the misty, oligarchic government that controls most of the First World. Her work takes her to places beyond the realm of WatchMe, where wine, cigars, unmonitored food and other pleasures still exist. Then a mysterious wave of suicides strikes the First World. Cian kills herself during lunch with Tuan. Through their nanomachines, humans receive a grisly ultimatum: they must kill another person, commit suicide or be killed.

As Tuan pursues the source of these threats, she reconnects with her scientist father Nuada Kirie (Jeremy Schwartz), who deserted his family after her suicide attempt. Nuada has been conducting research into the structures within the brain that house consciousness. His work suggests a way to eliminate consciousness —and perhaps the soul—ensuring a peaceful, harmonious existence for humans. People would go about their daily tasks happily, but completely unaware of their individual existence.

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The trail leads Tuan from Niger to Japan to a vast, state-of-the-art medical research facility built on the ruins of Baghdad to a crumbling bunker in the Chechnyan mountains. Miach did not die, as Tuan believed, but has been involved in her father’s research and is one of the authors of the “Harmony” plot to reduce unsuspecting humans to nonsentient nonentities.

reflects the distrust many Japanese feel toward what Motoshima Hitoshi, the outspoken mayor of Nagasaki, called “the industrial-academic-bureaucratic complex.” They have good reasons to be distrustful: government bureaucracies have a long history of cover ups of medical, scientific and technical disasters, from the industrial mercury poisoning that caused “Minamata disease” to the meltdown at Fukushima. It’s a recurring theme in anime, from Tetsujin 28 and Akira to Terror in the Resonance and Fullmetal Alchemist.

Working from a screenplay by Koji Yamamoto, co-directors Michael Arias and Takashi Nakamura find ways to visualize Ito’s icily cuddly dystopia. In many scenes, the viewer sees the world through Tuan’s eyes, with nano machines providing data on everything and everyone she sees. Art directors Marefumi Niibayashi and Osamu Hasada do an especially effective job of creating the look of the future: graceful biomorphic architecture in shades of non-threatening pink wraps the inhabitants in a warm but suffocating embrace.

The result is a profoundly unsettling but intriguing film that’s has more in common with big-budget Hollywood sci-fi films than with American animated features.

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Project Itoh: Harmony Funimation: $34.99 (2 discs, Blu-ray and DVD)

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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