Origin: Spirits Of The Past

Origin: Spirits Of The Past


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"You will believe a man can fly," they used to say about the magic of the movies. These days, however, that's not considered good enough. You will believe a boy can run across an erupting, ambulating volcano impressing girls at the same time, or Origins: Spirits Of The Past will not work for you. At least not in the way it was intended to.

With a strong tree-hugging message in the anime tradition and a string of scenes which throw all common sense to the wind, Origins is a film which, at times, may make you long for Monty Python's colonel to step out and say "Stop this. It's silly." It requires a suspension of disbelief somewhat beyond the call of duty - yet, if you can manage that, you will be very richly rewarded. This is a film of remarkable beauty. Elegantly blending animation styles ranging from Spirited Away-style 2D artwork to the best of modern CGI, it's a visual treat which at times will take your breath away. Furthermore, its stunning imagery is used to intelligent effect, contrasting the flatness of the desert with the richness of the forest and the grim facades of the industrialised city. Perhaps most impressive of all are the war machines, which look like Transformers as filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, and the military imagery is deliciously iconic.

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At the heart of Origins lies a simple story. Agito, a youth who always seems to be looking for trouble, finds a girl from the past in an ancient machine. Bringing her back to Neutral City, where his people live in a truce with the sentient forest which has destroyed human civilisation, he quickly develops a crush on her, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend. But the girl, Toola, is heartbroken at the state of the world, and is soon tempted to join another person from the past in a quest to 'put it all back the way it was ' - a quest which may ultimately be more destructive than she has anticipate. Agito, who loves the world the way it is, must undertake a dangerous journey and undergo a difficult transformation (becoming a sort of botanical Tetsuo) in order to try and change her mind. So it's yet another anime about boy meets girl meets ultimate weapon, and it's not very convincingly told (poor translation and dubbing don't help), but it is so gorgeous to look at that one can, for the most part, set all that aside. What's more, despite the lack of strong characterisation to make us care about what happens to these people, the action pieces are properly exciting and gripping and will thrill fans of the genre.

Origins is very much a Japanese film and some aspects of it may be confusing to the uninitiated Western viewer, particularly those to do with spirits and the afterlife and the importance of the ancestral home, but thankfully understanding them is not essential to following the plot. There is some casual nudity of the sort which has no social import in Japan but may startle parents taking young children to see this - however, children themselves are more likely to be bothered by the violence of some of the battle scenes or by the transformations, and if they're okay with that sort of thing then there's really no reason why they shouldn't enjoy this. It's essentially an all-ages film which will re-awaken a sense of childlike wonder in open-minded adults and will encourage children to think about the world in a different way.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2008
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In a future world where the remnants of humanity are threatened by a sentient forest, a youth must reinvent himself in order to prevent people from the past destroying all that he holds dear.
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Director: Keiichi Sugiyama

Writer: Naoko Kakimoto, Nana Shiina

Starring: Ryo Katsuji, Aoi Miyazaki, Kenichi Endo, Toshikazu Fukawa, Masaru Hamaguchi, Yûko Kotegawa, Ren Osugi (voices).

Year: 2006

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Japan


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If you like this, try:

Princess Mononoke
Spirited Away