ORIGIN: SPIRITS OF THE PAST [2006] [HCF REWIND ANIME DOUBLE BILL]

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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.  This week, Dr Lenera presents, as a double bill, two particularly crazy examples of Japanese animation!

HCF REWIND NO.24:ORIGIN:SPIRITS OF THE PAST

AVAILABLE ON DVD and Blu Ray

DIRECTED BY:Keiichi Sugiyama

WRITTEN BY:Namo Shiine, Naoko Kakimoto

VOICES:Ryo Kotsuji, Yoi Miyazaki, Yuko Kotegawa, Masaru Hamaguchi

RUNNING TIME:92 mins

REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

300 years into the future, and mankind unwittingly ruin Earth.  Genetic engineering on trees, conducted on a research facility on the Moon, is carried out in order to produce trees capable of growing in any environment.  This results in the trees growing conscious, fragmenting the Moon and heading for Earth where they wipe out most of our civilisation.  Several years later, and humans live in an uneasy truce with the forests, who now control all water supply.  The people of Ragan aim to destroy the forests, but the inhabitants of Neutral City are happy living alongside them.  Then one day a boy called Agito, who lives in Neutral City, finds a girl calling herself Toola, who claims she is from the past…………..

Very derivative of not one but three Hayo Miyazaki animes;  Castle In The Sky, Princess Mononoke and Nausica Of The Valley Of The Wind, this particular slice of Japanese animation does have a few original and sometimes bonkers touches to almost compensate, and it must be said that the list of anime features that take place in a post-apocalyptic world is endless!  Overall Origin is something of a mess and I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to animation from Japan, but at times it really does offer some good examples of the incredible imagination and sheer insanity that this genre can offer when at its best.  Its original Japanese title translates as Agito The Silver Haired, and it was the first full-length animated feature from Gonzo, a studio which had produced many popular series, some quite well known even in the UK, such as Afro Samurai and Witchblade.   The budget allotted was considerable and the film got fairly wide distribution and even a nomination for Best Picture at the 30th Annual Annecy International Animation Film Festival.

The first few minutes are very confusing, as a variety of quick and often strange images show us the set up to the story, such as the trees coming to Earth from the Moon and destroying much of it.  There is a good chance you won’t have a clue what is going on, but thankfully we are told of the events shown later on.  Anyway, we switch to the somewhat familiar future world, and I could have done with a longer introduction to this, rather than hurling us into the plot straight away. despite this the first half is extremely slow moving, with far too much chat and not enough emphasis on the interesting elements, such as the tree-like Zruids, who are the guardians of the forests.  Still, the second half does pick up a bit with plentiful action scenes, from displays of superpowers to all out war, and such crazy concepts such as a gun-firing volcano which has a tree growing inside it.  The story does develop a bit of emotional resonance but ties itself in knots.  Sure, it’s admirable that many of the characters have both good and bad characteristics, which often change – I was especially impressed with the ‘villain’, Shunack, who clearly wants to do the right thing, just might be going the wrong about it – but by the end everyone seems to have both changed and not changed at all [you’ll see what I mean].

With such sights such as a town built on the ruins of a huge skyscraper-filled city and some very interesting use of colour that is pretty bizarre but somehow works [check out the inside of the volcano, which is pink], Origin is visually interesting and occasionally quite beautiful, and the cell animation showcases the form at something approaching its best.  Sadly though, this is mixed with some 3D animation which, whilst quite impressive on its own, really jars with the 2D stuff.  From a strange kind of golden dragon to loads of robotic weaponry, it just sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when combined with the 2D animation in the same shot, making this technical experimentation a well intentioned failure.   Some may find the environmentalism a bit over the top, but Japan, despite having procduced some great technology,  is well known for having a great respect of and reverence for nature, so it is definately from the heart as opposed to being there because it’s fashionable.  I liked Toola’s multi-purpose electronic ‘Raban’ device, perhaps a litle dig at where we are heading with I Phones and the like.  There are times though which seems to just throw stuff in because it’s worked before and is possibly expected, giving it a certain coldness.  I expected to be moved in a Laputa or even Silent Running fashion, and I wasn’t, except for a rather haunting flashback to Toola’s life in a city.

With a love story that is especially rushed, Origin badly needs room to breath in places and it cannot really sustain many of its more unusual elements.  I do often like it when I am not told everything in a film, but Origin could really do with going into detail about a great many things. With a variety of unexplained elements from a mysterious voice on the ‘Raban’ telling Toola to do something to two elvin wood nymphs who supposedly rule the forests, it looks like it was drastically cut down, at least at the script stage, though I have found no evidence that this was so.  I really wanted to like Origin, and I reckon that as an epic two and a half hour movie, it could really have been something, despite its derivativeness.  However, despite an interesting score from Taku Iwasaki which has some beautiful themes but also some pieces which jar, it just doesn’t quite work as well as it should despite individually worthwhile bits and pieces.  Origin is most memorable for some of its wonderful, symbolic images which will probably stay with you for a long time.  A golden tree shining inside the chaos of a volcano. A man being born in a giant fruit.  The broken Moon still shining in the night sky.  You may also be scratching your head trying to work out how plants can fly through space [where there is no air] from the Moon to the Earth.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

[pt-filmtitle]Origin Spirits of the Past[/pt-filmtitle]

About Dr Lenera 3066 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

2 Comments

  1. As a fan of Origin: Spirits Of The Past, I think you’d like Oblivion Island!

    “An animated romp for the young and the young at heart! This internationally acclaimed feature film blends Japanese folklore and storybook charm reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland into an exhilarating tale sure to amaze animation fans of all ages. Sixteen-year-old Haruka is on a mission to find her mirror—a precious childhood gift from her late mother that has disappeared. On her search, she follows a strange fox-like creature to Oblivion Island, a mystical world overflowing with once-cherished items taken from their neglectful owners. Trouble follows Haruka and her new friend Teo at every turn as they contend with the island’s overbearing ruler, who will stop at nothing to use the mirror for his own sinister plan!”

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