The Maelstrom was a global cataclysm in which a series of pandemics and nuclear conflicts killed tens of millions of people around the world. From the savagery and chaos of this disaster arose the philosophy of “Lifeism”, an ethic of social consideration and mutual support that sought to overcome the self-interest that had led humanity to warfare and genocide. Fifty years after the conclusion of the Maelstrom, human civilisation has reorganised itself into a series of “admedistrations”, each of which operates under the ultimate jurisdiction of the World Health Organisation. Within the “admedistrations”, the philosophy of “Lifeism” develops into an unwavering dedication to health and well-being, upheld by the use of advanced medical nanotechnology that virtually eliminates disease, and an AI program called WatchMe that constantly counsels people on the how they can safeguard their health and prolong their lives. But not everyone subscribes to this utopian vision. Within the “admedistrations”, a growing number of individuals resent the restrictions on their freedom imposed by the authorities, some even going so far as to take their own lives as a form of protest. Tuan Kirie was one such person; along with her friends Miach Mihie and Cian Reikado, she attempted to commit suicide to protest the stifling environment of the “admedestrations” – but only Miach succeeded in dying. Now, thirteen years later, Tuan is an Inspector in the WHO’s elite Helix Inspectorate when news arrives that an outbreak of mass suicide has occurred around the world. But the even more shocking revelation is that the available evidence points to the supposedly dead Miach Mihie as the person responsible for the deaths…

Based on the novel by acclaimed Japanese sci-fi writer Project Itōh (Satoshi Itō), and produced by Studio4℃, “Harmony” was released in Japanese cinemas in 2015. A visually stunning mix of 2D, 3D, and CGI animation techniques, “Harmony” features a complex narrative arc that starts off as a straight-forward political/action thriller and gradually morphs into a philosophical discussion about freedom, individual will, the nature of consciousness, the use (and abuse) of scientific knowledge, the limits of power, and the relationship between the state and the individual. The result is a study of human reality that eschews simplistic dichotomies in favour of a multivalent perspective in which individuals are capable of being many things at the same time without necessarily involving either hypocrisy or dishonesty. In doing so, “Harmony” critiques both modernity’s fear of death and its attempts to defeat it through the cults of youth, fashion, fitness, and scientific triumphalism, as well as the overbearing do-goodism that seeks to determine for others what constitutes right and wrong, freedom and captivity, justice and criminality. And even in the ambivalent denouement, we witness an awakening realisation that, while life may be strange and cruel and alienating, that does not mean that others necessarily ought to be deprived of the reality which they experience so very differently from ourselves. Beautiful to look at and engagingly scripted, “Harmony” will leave you feeling thoughtful and meditative in a way very few feature films of any genre can replicate.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.