A Project Itoh Retrospective, Part II – A Review of Harmony

Part I – The Empire of Corpses

Rarely in discussions of book-to-film adaptations am I in a position where I’ve read the book. Most times I come at those discussions from a neutral standpoint, weighing the deviations vs the quality of the work. Additionally, the difference between the two mediums has to be accounted for. Some things work better in a book and some things work better in a movie.

The only work by Satoshi Itoh that I’ve read is Genocidal Organ, his first and most famous novel. I read it in anticipation of the delayed animated film. Part of me felt like I should indulge in the original material after the second film in the Project Itoh trilogy left me disappointed. From Studio 4°C, this is Harmony.

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In the distant future, Japan has become the model of mental and physical health thanks to groundbreaking nanotechnology. Additionally, the world’s ethics on social welfare have created a culture of safety and peace, where everyone’s happiness is prioritized.

Feeling suffocated by this perfect world, Tuan Kirie and her friend Cian fall under the spell of Miach, a charismatic girl who convinces the girls to join a suicide pact. However, only Miach dies while Tuan and Cian survive the attempt.

Years later, Tuan becomes a member of the World Health Organization and is ordered to return to her home country of Japan, where she witnesses an attack on the system maintaining peoples’ health. She becomes haunted by Miach and wonders if her old friend is really dead, suspecting them to be behind a plot to dismantle the world.

Harmony‘s story becomes more interesting when you consider the environment in which it was written. Satoshi Itoh struggled with cancer for much of his life and career. During the time he wrote Harmony, he was going in and out of the hospital, receiving treatments. This tale of medical dystopia feels like the cry of an exhausted man, disillusioned to the suffocating practice that was his battle with cancer.

I find this notion sad but also inspiring. He channeled that pain into a work of literature that clearly resonated with readers if its awards are anything to go by. I just don’t think that the story he was trying to tell is one that can easily translate to a film while remaining exciting.

Tuan’s adventure after the inciting incident involves her traveling the world, looking for clues about Miach while philosophizing with every new character she meets. This, admittedly, is a rather reductive way of looking at the plot of the film, but I say it this way because it hasn’t left much of an impression on me since.

The parts that stand out to me as positives are the incident that sets off the world-treading investigation, the commentary about human nature, and the ending. Everything else could be rather slow and boring. This is coming from the guy who recently completed ACCA 13 with nothing but glowing praise.

Two examples come to mind when comparing Harmony to more competent works. ACCA, as well as Metal Gear Solid. The former I praised for its intrigue despite the rather slow narrative. The latter is one of the most intriguing espionage epics out there, with messages of language, brotherhood, and legacy that will forever stand as some of my favorite stories.

The reason these work where Harmony doesn’t is that both excel in music, presentation, and dramatic pacing. ACCA wasn’t a very tense show, but it was a highly atmospheric one. Metal Gear, on the other hand, has the benefit of being a video game, and a rather exciting one at that, offering plenty of sneaking missions and shootouts in-between its lengthy cutscenes.

Tuan Kirie, voiced by Miyuki

Harmony might have left a better impression on me if it used the medium to show as well as tell. It could have benefited from taking more liberties. Plus, the animation tested my patience. While the artwork at times could be downright astounding, the use of CGI was unnecessary at times. Even at moments where the action had ground to a halt, characters would be completely CG.

Studio 4°C has a reputation for simultaneously gorgeous visuals and dodgy CGI. It’s one of the drawbacks of their Berserk film series, a positively gorgeous adaptation in its own right.

I will give Harmony credit that it attempts some bold camera tricks with its CG to blend hand-drawn and computer styles. However, for a film with sparse action, I would have appreciated if what little was there was given better attention.

I saw Harmony the last night it was available in theaters, at 10 on a Thursday night. I went with my friend and his girlfriend, the latter of which fell asleep and only woke up when someone stabbed themselves. Needless to say, they weren’t a huge fan.

Harmony is a dark film, though the kind of darkness dolled up with as much fluorescent light as possible as per the theme. It features very heavy themes of suicide, self-harm, and nihilism. It’s not a film for everyone, but when it comes to its themes, that might just be the most alluring thing about the film. You may remember it more for its shock value, but the message won’t be lost in translation… assuming it holds your attention.

The movie, like The Empire of Corpses, had a good dub. Monica Rial gave the most mature and chilling performance I’ve seen from her yet as Miach. A lot of my takeaway comes from the script, which minces no words in describing the sexual relationship between Tuan and Miach. That’s another plus for this film, I suppose; some depressing-ass gay representation.

Harmony was a forgettable movie, but every time it creeps back into my memory, I find myself happy to have seen its message nonetheless. It didn’t feel as though they compromised the vision of the books to achieve the story they wanted. Merely, they forgot to give the adaptation its own identity, nor the animation quality needed.

If you are at all interested in this story, read the book and hopefully, it will sate your interest. Otherwise, the film might be worth a look.

Part III – Genocidal Organ

Harmony is available on Blu-ray and Digital through Funimation.

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What are your thoughts on Harmony? Was it a bit too slow or were you intrigued by the story? Leave a comment below and tell me what other depressing sci-fi films I should check out.

Yo, remember when I said it was just a cold last week? Ha! It was COVID. At the time of writing, I’m doing fine though, and whatever comes my way I’m gonna push through with the help of my friends (and probably a lot of Vitamin C). Anyway, look forward to my review of Genocidal Organ in my next post.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and be kind to one another. Thank you for reading and I’ll see you next time.

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