Origin: Spirits of the Past

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 July 2008

Venue: ICA (London)

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Director: Keiichi Sugiyama

Writers: Naoko Kakimoto & Nana Shiina

Original title: Gin-iro no kami no Agito

Cast: Ryo Katsuji, Aoi Miyazaki, Kenichi Endo

Japan 2006

95 mins

Recent animé seems to have become hyper-aware of the last couple of decades of genre filmmaking. Perhaps this is inevitable as animé creators struggle to find new cinema audiences in the West and seek to tap into tried and tested themes. Origin: Spirits of the Past shares with other recent releases Vexille and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time a jackdaw approach to the sci-fi and fantasy genres that the three films belong to. But while Vexille seems over-familiar to anyone who’s seen 1980s live action sci-fi such as Dune and Blade Runner, the recycling of ideas is not only forgivable but indeed works tremendously well in both Origin and The girl, perhaps because both contain aspects of time travel.

Origin is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the moon still orbits the Earth but has been blown up by an accident, the pieces drifting away into a ring of rocky fragments similar to Saturn’s. On Earth, humanity has managed to keep hold of some technology but has split into three factions, the druidic plant-worshippers who ‘protect’ a carnivorous forest, the low-tech inhabitants of the ruined city nearby who rely on the druids for their water supply, and the industrial warmongers who live in a settlement out in the arid zone. Into this strange new world, a girl from the past awakens (from cryogenic suspension), triggering a war between the three parties.

The style of the film combines slightly generic looking-characters (albeit with terrifically designed clothes), remindful of early Hayao Miyazaki, with beautifully rendered landscapes that look like moving oil paintings. This combination of stunning backgrounds with more traditionally ‘cartoony’ characters is a winning and aesthetically pleasing idea and Origin joins the likes of Metropolis / Metoroporisu (2001) and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time as a great example of the technique.

However, the brilliant animation work and intriguing narrative are somewhat let down by the clunky translation – if it is to follow in the footsteps of Princess Mononoke it could have done with a rewrite by Neil Gaiman or a writer of his calibre – and an inferior generic score. This film has so much going for it that it would be a shame if it doesn’t get the final polish that might ensure it reaches a wider fan base in the West. Considering the film has taken two years to cross nine time zones and comes from one of the artists of the most revered animé series of all time (Neon Genesis Evangelion), it would be unfortunate if it still doesn’t get the audience it deserves. An English dub or new translation and a reworked soundtrack would be enough to turn a film that is something of a curate’s egg into a classic of the genre.

Alex Fitch