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Origin: Spirits of the Past(2006)
The rebirth of the past from the ashes of the future....
A young boy named Agito enters a forbidden sanctuary where a glowing machine resides. This machine preserves a young girl named Toola, who has a mission entrusted by her from the past. Three-hundred years into the future, the Earth's environment has been ruined by the interference of mankind, and in between the 300 years, the forest has come to life and is at constant war with man. It is an unsteady peace in an unnatural time. Only by searching their souls and examining the past will Toola & Agito realize the origin of all things and unite mankind with the forest.
For more about Origin: Spirits of the Past and the Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray release, see Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on June 28, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ryo Katsuji, Aoi Miyazaki, Yűko Kotegawa, Masaru Hamaguchi
» See full cast & crew
Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray Review
An interesting premise and fantastic production values aren't enough to offset the muddled plot.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, June 28, 2009
One aspect of anime that's always fascinated me (and drawn me in as a fan over the years), is the incorporation of moral undertones in the plot of serious-themed productions. If you're familiar with Grave of the Fireflies, or the films of Hayao Miyazaki, you'll easily understand what I'm talking about. In recent years, we've seen an increased use of moral themes in animated productions from Pixar and other Hollywood studios, but you still have to give credit to anime for paving the way and demonstrating it's possible to entertain and educate at the same time.
Origin: Spirits of the Past draws a great deal of influence from environmental issues plaguing our current society and attempts to incorporate those themes in a thought-provoking way. Making his directing debut, Keiichi Sugiyama shows an incredible spark of potential, but the screenplay by newcomers Naoko Kakimoto and Nana Shiina doesn't formulate a cohesive story, resulting in a collection of major plot blunders along the way. I'd assume this is partially a result of editing the original story by Umanosuke Lida into a bit-sized film, but as we all know, even the largest novel can result in a fantastic film if the screenplay is well-done (Lord of the Rings is a perfect example).
Set 300 years in the future, Earth's been overrun by genetically enhanced plants and trees that have demolished the majority of civilization. Some humans have chosen to coexist with the forest, living within the crumbled remains of a skyscraper they call Neutral City, while others use military might to hold the forest at bay. Agito is a young boy living within the confines of Neutral City, who discovers a capsule at the base of an enormous water reservoir. Within the capsule is a girl named Toola, who's body has been preserved since the plant apocalypse 300 years earlier. Agito and Toola soon develop a strong bond that's put to the test with the emergence of a man named Shunack, who seeks Toola's help in unleashing an experiment known as E.S.T.O.C. Against Agito's wishes, Toola follows Shunack, believing he can set things right in the world and restore humanity's dominance over the plantlife. Fearing for Toola's safety, and heeding warnings from the forest that Toola will bring about the destruction of Earth, Agito seeks out "enhancement" from the forest spirit and becomes impervious to mortal weaponry. Now it's up to Agito to stop Shunack and help humanity understand how to co-exist with the creatures of the forest.
My feelings toward the film peaked in the first 10 minutes, and then took a steady nosedive as the plot played out. I've always been a huge fan of director Hayao Miyazaki and although he did not direct this film, the tone of Origin: Spirits of the Past felt right at home next to the best of his films. Drawing that comparison could have helped the film gain further acceptance with viewers, but in this case, the letdowns in the story department are so severe that your left feeling like you've seen this before (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), but executed much better. There are simply too many aspects of the plot that are left unexplained or inadequately touched on, and by the time the end credits roll, you'll be left shaking your head at what could have been. I'd be curious to read the original story as it was meant to be told, since I don't believe the screenplay captured all of the necessary elements to make this a memorable experience. In the end, the film manages to offer an entertaining yet frustrating experience and deserves a mediocre ranking when compared to other theatrical anime releases of the past 20 years.
Regardless of your feelings on the film itself, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. Gonzo anime studio pulled out all the stops in creating the world of Origin: Spirits of the Past, and it shows in every frame of the film. Character movement is fluid, detail is immaculate, and the backgrounds breathe life into the alternate world the characters populate. One of my pet-peeves in recent years has been the incorporation of CGI along with hand-drawn models in both theatrical and television anime. Every now and again the combination works, but for the most part, I've been let down by the lack of smooth transitions between the two art elements. Thankfully, this film falls into the category of theatrical releases that blend the CGI in a non-obtrusive fashion. Just check out the scene where Agito fights toe to toe with the mecha tanks of the Ragna military and you'll see what I'm talking about. If I had to pick one area of the film's production that makes this a worthwhile experience it would be the quality of the animation.
Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 27Mbps), Origin: Spirits of the Past is a film tailormade for high-definition viewing. During the initial half hour of the film's runtime, I was entranced with the clarity of the visuals, and the precision in every aspect of the animation. Adding to the visuals, the color spectrum contained bold hues throughout every environment on display, with the highlight being the crystal blue water of the reservoir. Adding to the depth of the picture, black levels are inky deep, and contrast never exhibited a problem with handling differentiation between the dark and light portions of the picture. The only real problems I noticed during the film (which may seem a bit nitpicky), were a noticeable softening of detail during a train sequence around the 43 minute mark, and one instance of banding within a large plume of black smoke at the 44:36 mark. Oddly, detail took a slight hit through the second half of the film, but it's not very noticeable and likely won't bother many viewers.
Overall, this is a wonderful visual treat, and I have no trouble recommending you ditch your prior DVD version for this beautiful 1080p edition.
Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio offerings on the disc, with a primary Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix dubbed in English, and a secondary Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix in the native language of Japanese. Here's where things get a little dicey, since there was clearly more emphasis placed on the quality of the English dub. As I've stated before, I prefer to watch any foreign films in their native language (with subtitles), so I immediately switched to the Japanese track as the film began. The opening song was playing at that point in time, and there was an immediately identifiable difference in the quality of the two tracks. I switched back and forth on multiple occasions trying to pinpoint the problem, before arriving at a conclusion that the dialogue in the Japanese track was similar in volume and quality to the English track, but there is an extreme softening of the musical score and sound effects. After doing some tinkering around with volume levels and still not arriving at an audio experience I felt satisfied with, I noticed that the sampling bitrate of the two tracks showed a wide disparity. The English track averaged 3.5Mbps, while the Japanese track averaged 1Mbps during the same sequence. I did some further testing at other points in the film, and it became clear that although both tracks are TrueHD 5.1 at 48Khz, there is a big difference in quality and bitrate.
The English track is incredible, with a wonderful level of detail and excellent spatial separation within the sound field. There's a great deal of action that takes place throughout the film and everything is handled with the utmost care. The volume balance between the dialogue, music, and sound effects never waivered and each element was afforded appropriate focus given the demands of each sequence. As stated above, the Japanese track is a big letdown. In fact, I eventually switched to the English track for the remainder of the film, since I felt I was missing a large chunk of the overall entertainment experience. Fortunately, the voice-acting on the dub is some of the best I've heard in an anime feature, so it didn't bother me all that much. Bottom line, if you absolutely must watch anime in the native language, you're going to be disappointed with this release. For everyone else, the English track is highly competent, with a level of quality that almost approaches reference levels. I'm scoring the Japanese track a 1 out of 5 and the English track a 4.5 out of 5 (which explains the overall score of 3).
Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Making of Origin (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 51:38 min): This lengthy supplement consists mainly of interviews with the main players in the film's completion. A wide range of topics are covered, from the film's themes, production schedule, scope, and animation process. I may have found the supplement a little more interesting if I'd enjoyed the film to a greater extent, but I can still appreciate the seven year effort that went into its completion. Of note, this supplement is presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
Screening Event Special Preview (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 3:57 min): Containing clips from the film, and brief interviews with the two main Japanese voice actors, this was likely intended to give the audience a taste of what to expect from the film.
Rounding out the extras, we have standard definition trailers and television spots for this film as well as other releases from Funimation and textless versions of the opening and closing songs performed by KOKIA.
Origin: Spirits of the Past Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While I can't recommend Origin: Spirits of the Past as an anime masterpiece, it still has enough entertainment value to warrant one or two viewings. The animation quality is worth the price of admission alone, and aside from the disappointing lack of a proficient Japanese audio track, the overall technical presentation is impressive. If you have a completist outlook on your high-definition anime collection, you probably already know this will be an easy purchase. For anyone else, I'd recommend a rental first, since you'll need to determine if you can get past the marginal elements in the plot.
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