Here's an anime feature I'd been wanting to check out for a long time, the good-looking visuals the trailers boasted being the primary source of interest.
Origin: Spirits Of The Past is, indeed, a visually stunning film. Its well crafted mix of 3D textures, detailed backgrounds and fluid animation, when put together with a grand, epic score like Taku Iwasaki's, creates an altogether gorgeous film which really aspires for something meaningful. The film is set in post-apocalyptic Earth which, following a failed experiment on the Moon, is separated between the forest (and its spirits) and battle-friendly humans who want to get rid of the forest altogether since it controls the world's water supply. In the middle of it all is Neutral City, a peaceful place acting as a bridge between both sides. One day, a couple of kids wander off into the forest and find a young woman, Toola, who was sleeping in a glass box, they wake her up and, turns out, she was cryogenically frozen there before the Moon's destruction, before everything went to hell, basically. Believe it or not, things get increasingly complicated from then on: a high-tech device she happens to have pisses off the Zruids (the forest's tree-like protectors), Toola joins forces with an enhanced human who wants to wipe out the forest because she believes it's the only way to get back to the Earth she once knew, one of the kids gets enhanced himself ("enhanced" meaning having forest superpowers, I guess) and it all ends in and around some kind of weaponised volcano. Say what you will about Avatar and its weak storyline, at least it was straight-forward and easy to follow! Origin is way too dense plot-wise for its own good and this makes it a bit difficult to truly get sucked into its world and identify with all those characters. It's a simple enough premise and yet, by the end, you'll find yourself oddly alienated by this Ferngully on acid.
The film explores mostly environmental themes and Origin does that part of it well, although it gets a tad preachy towards the end and is somewhat derivative as a whole. Some interesting questions are, however, raised through those familiar themes: should we keep the past close by and learn from it that way? Should we strive for a clean slate always and accept the present no matter how unfair it may seem? Or should we stay neutral and live for the moment no matter what, ignoring everything else? The film looks at mankind's past/present/future struggle and shows the dangers of settling on a single, unbalanced way of thinking. This is the film's core interest and yet it ends up being bogged down by too much filler and too many mini plot threads which make Origin feel like it's making up its storyline as it goes along when it really isn't. It's a shame because I was genuinely interested, for the first half hour at least. All this, however, doesn't take away from how stunning the film looks and how atmospheric it is. I, for one, would like to see a more fleshed-out anime series based on this film, something like The Vision Of Escaflowne minus the big robots with a little Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind and Princess Mononoke thrown in. Then we'd finally be able to get to know all these potentially interesting characters properly and connect with them, plus discover much more about how this divided post-apocalyptic world works. Origin is a solid concept, the film just tries to cram too much in at the expense of a heart and a soul.
If you happen to come across the film, I do recommend you checking it out, if only for the beautiful visuals, the concept and the terrific soundtrack. It lacks emotion and never really takes hold of you the way it should but it's still a very solid effort.