Harmony isn’t very harmonious

I recently watched “Harmony” the second film in the Itoh Project series!

In brief, the story is set in a time where the world health organisation has refined healthcare down to a fine art, allowing people to reach a state of near immortality thanks to perfectly controlled pill-popping health plans. I must admit, having seen The Empire of Corpses and being thoroughly unimpressed with it, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for this movie, but I also held on to the hope that a story with this kind of central conceit could be just what the series needed to recover from that poor initial showing.

Harmony brings up some interesting conversations like the consequences of an ageing population, the harsh reality of “polite society” and complacency, as well as suicide (and how our current approach to tackling it fails to address the root causes), all with parallels to contemporary issues we’re facing today. It’s fascinating stuff to think about, and it’s nice to see a uniquely Japanese work be critical of “the nail that sticks out…” doctrine and the alarming rate of suicide that is particularly relevant to Japan.

However it fails to coalesce these ideas into something meaningful. Rather than focus its narrative down to these few elements, it instead abandons that pursuit to chase a bland investigation of existentialism, using technobabble and inaccessible philosophy in exactly the way that turns people away from academia. It reminded me of all the worst excesses of Psycho-Pass where the line between “does this author actually care about these topics or do they just want to appear intellectual?” is virtually indistinguishable.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the impressive directing, with great camerawork and shot composition, even if it’s a little self-indulgent at times, but by the end of the film my feelings towards it were drowned out by some of the worst storytelling decisions I’ve seen.

Perhaps most damning of which is the extreme gory detail the film goes through with in portraying suicide. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s unrealistic, and these kinds of approaches to portraying suicide – more interested in the visual aesthetic of the act than the reasoning or pain – are honestly irresponsible. It misrepresents not only the lethality of suicide methods, but also the pain involved in them, while simultaneously showcasing methods that shouldn’t even be seen as plausible for those considering it in real life.

It repeats this lack of tact when it tells the story of a young girl who was the victim of human trafficking and sexual slavery. Failing to confront the social and psychological mechanics of rape while using it is a narrative funnel for more existential dribble, Harmony has dialogue that reads like the underdeveloped meandering of an amateur erotica writer and not a person seriously wanting to talk about sexual abuse with the level of respect and thoughtfulness it so deserves.

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It’s a one-two punch that strips the film of its ability to be engaged with critically. Like with the essays of old racist philosophers, it has big ideas that it demands you take seriously, but more informed audiences will find it difficult to detach said ‘big ideas’ from the toxic miasma that surrounds it. Indeed, how am I supposed to trust what Harmony has to say about existentialism if it can’t even comprehend how not to be awful about topics that by nature, should be in the territory of that same subject?

And lastly, if that wasn’t damning enough, one of the main characters also happens be a predatory lesbian who repeatedly gropes and pins down her noticeably uncomfortable love interest without establishing any consent. Thus the film adds to the long list of queer representation in anime that cannot stop itself from being abusive, a personal pet peeve of mine.

Can we just…not? Please?

It’s safe to say that I do not recommend Harmony to anyone. I really wanted to scream from rooftops about how beautiful the film is, because it did have directing worth praising, but for me as a person who prioritizes the personal takeaways anime provide, it’s impossible for me to reconcile how utterly disappointed I am with Harmony’s poor handling of it’s themes.


Thanks for reading.

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