It's easy to get blown away in the first few minutes of "Origin: Spirits of the Past," where we're treated to exquisitely creepy celestial visuals and a gorgeous theme song.
It's also a suitable lead-in for this beautifully animated movie about a not-so-distant future in which human civilization lies in dystopic ruins, and a vast sentient forest has taken control. The animation is stunningly lush and complex, and the lone-hero rescuer story is surprisingly moving... and it almost makes up for the fact that the eco-friendly plot makes absolutely no logical sense.
When a young boy named Agito stumbles on an underground chamber, he finds a girl cryogenically preserved for the past three hundred years. Toola is understandably upset by this -- and since she has an electronic neck device, her presence angers the Forest, who fear that she might be used by the militaristic land of Ragna. Of course, the Ragnan leader Shunack -- another survivor from three hundred years ago -- turns up to persuade her.
It turns out that Shunack wants to use E.S.T.O.C., a mysterious device that will return the world to the way it once was, and Toola rather understandably decides to help him. Agito's only hope for stopping them -- and keeping the forest safe -- is to undergo "enhancement" that genetically bonds him to the Forest's trees. But even that might not stop the might of Ragna's armies... and stuff, especially since Shunack is also "enhanced."
"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous film -- the animation is lushly-drawn and full of ruined buildings, vines, shimmering glades, great writhing vines and vast moving mountains full of weapons. Some of the more chilling images (such as Agito's dad slowly turning into a tree, or the seeming loss of Toola in a burning train) are exquisitely haunting, all the more so because they aren't played for horror. It is, simply put, a gorgeous piece of work.
It also comes up with an intriguing and slightly eerie concept for a sci-fi movie -- that plants engineered to withstand extraterrestrial life would mutate and become the dominant force on Earth, changing themselves even as they become integrated by humanity. The ruinous dystopia that results is both beautiful and disturbing.
The problem is, the plot makes no sense: presumably the whole living-in-harmony-with-Forest thing is symbolic of living in harmony with nature. But since the Forest was mutated by humans, wrecked the world, genetically altered the survivors and keeps civilization in a stagnant stranglehold, it's about as unnatural as you can get. And the alleged bad guys just want to switch the world back to its pre-mutant-plant state when man and nature were in balance... meaning that the Designated Anti-Nature Bad Guy is actually the Pro-Nature Good Guy.
Evidently, logic need not apply. Even director Keiichi Sugiyama belatedly seems to realize this, so he throws a rather random "villains will destroy a town" twist into the mix to the bad guy will really seem, y'know, bad. It doesn't quite work.
Additionally, Toola and Shunack are the most likable characters in the mix -- Toola is understandably miserable and freaked by the loss of the world she once knew, and the people with it. And while Shunack has made his place in this remade world and gotten a position of power, he's wracked by guilt over his part in the Forest's rise. Agito is a pleasant little hero who goes to extreme lengths, but he seems rather bland by comparison.
"Origin: Spirits of the Past" is a gorgeous piece of animation with a hauntingly sober backdrop, but the actual plot about the Forest makes no sense at all. Enjoy for the copious eye candy, but don't expect deep stuff here.