I think one of the most rewarding things about being an animation addict is diving beyond the Disney and Dreamworks films and finding the hidden gems that mainstream audiences miss. There have been some really great smaller films in 2016, and today I thought I would tell you about one of them—an anime film called Harmony. If you like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, or even Hunger Games, I think you will really love this unique dystopian story.
Harmony is directed by Michael Arias and Takashi Nakamura and is based on a science fiction novel written by a guy that goes by the name Project Itoh. It was released in Japan in 2015 and received a small US release in May.
The set up is the coolest part about Harmony, and it’s one that I think will grow even richer and more meaningful on the rewatch. It is about a dystopian society where a kind of peace has been achieved through constant monitoring and control. There is a device called WatchMe where an implant is used by the government to see all parts of a person. Everything is then monitored and regulated and given points from their love life to a numerical rating on your social aptitude and charity.
The interesting thing is everyone is aware of others’ scores, which creates competition to be nice to improve their own score. It’s all very clever (and let’s be honest, not that far removed from our current world of social media saturation).
There are, however, some detractors (about 80% use the device). The main focus of the film is a girl named Tuan who’s friends Cian and Miach don’t want to give up their agency and self-control. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but they make a pact that changes all of their lives and leads Tuan to becoming a bitter, sad adult. In a world where every movie has an empowered female character, I thought that Tuan and her friends were well done with clear motivations, besides just looking tough.
I won’t give away any more of the story, but I will say that the ending kind of let me down. It becomes drawn out and lacks the emotional intensity I wanted. There’s a twist with a character I could have done without and becomes very exposition heavy. Instead of showing a dramatic climax, we get lots of characters talking through their choices and why they made them.
That said, there are emotional moments, and it will make you think as any good science fiction film should do. After all, peace has been achieved, and it’s not like in Wall-e where characters feel nothing. These characters do feel kindness, happiness, muted anger, and despair. So are they better off with the WatchMe?
I also find the idea of competitive goodness interesting. We all monitor each other through social media already, and this just gives you points for that monitoring. Would you be more inclined to be kind if you knew you would benefit and if so, is it really kindness? Also, if everyone has the same motivations (getting more points), at what point do we lose all individuality completely?
The film shows this lack of agency by having an ever growing web that surrounds all the buildings and people that only Tuan and other detractors can see.
Harmony can be very bloody and violent, and suicide is depicted somewhat graphically. There is also some mild lesbian sensuality. It’s probably more suited for adults. The film has a purple-pink color palette that might not be everyone’s taste; I really liked its unique look though.
Clearly, Harmony won’t be for everyone, but even though I was let down by the ending, I still really liked it. It’s bold, disturbing, and makes you think. I recommend searching it out and giving it a watch. If you see it, let me know what you think.
Edited by: Kelly Conley