With 5,000 barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico a day, you can bet that in East Jesus, Nowhere, on a long, dry stretch of highway, a weary trucker is listening to Michael Stipe sing about, earthquakes, snakes, aeroplanes, and Lenny Bruce. Environmental activists are storming the capitol with slogans like "Wash Our Waters," the IUCN is calculating some adjustments to their Red List from "endangered" to "extinct," and "Post-Apocalyptic" is coming into its own sub-genre in science fiction. That's where Origin: Spirits of the Past, an anime film by director Keiichi Sugiyama, falls into place.
The time: 300 years in the future. The place: dystopian Japan, riddled by chunks of split rock and mountain villages where people descend in garbage cans attached to a pulley system. All water (so difficult to obtain) is practically holy, and the Moon has been reduced to about ten wedges floating in outer space. The story: Agito, a resident of Neutral City, stumbles across a secret cavern containing a virtual, cryogenic pod where Toola, an 18-year-old young woman, has been suspended for the past 300 years. A concerned Agito becomes her protector and takes her back to Neutral City where she befriends Cain, Agito's best friend and self-proclaimed Casanova, and Minka, who sizes her up as worthy competition for Agito's affections.
Unbeknownst to Agito, however, Toola's awakening incites the wrath of the Druids, a clan of forest spirits who interpret Toola's arrival as a threat to their civlization. Grieved by what she deems as the perdition of a once eminent planet, Toola joins forces with Shunack, a colonel of the Ragna Army who reject the approach of Neutral City to co-exist with the Forest and whose main purpose is to reestablish dominance over the natural world. In an effort to convince Toola that the world, as it is, is not an abomination, Agito embarks on a mission to prove that mankind is but the essence of the Forest and the Earth a haven for them both.
Origin: Spirits of the Past is unique for purging wave after wave of grief and desolation so common amongst films of the post-apocalyptic genre. Instead of weeping over the loss of the iPhone (iPhone? Psshhh. We have Androids now) and the staples of the modern world, Origin adopts the philosophy of rebirth. First doctrine: We screwed up. Now where do we go from here? We decided to use the Moon as a home-base for an experiment on plant growth. Risky? Fuggettaboytit . . . until giant mutant plants leapt through outer space to destroy the Earth. Then, to escape the blame of 6.5 billion people being made into spinach (literally), we rounded up a few to be thrown in animated suspension for the next 300 years. Surprise, surprise. A handful of philosopher's in the branch of spilt-milkism decided to move on. Next stop: Neutral City.
Kudos to philosophy, but the flaw that will irk viewers to the brink of boredom is the saturation of the first hour of the film with the never-ending dogma of ashes to ashes and dust to dust. The film lags, save for the last 30 minutes, which are as action-packed and colorful as can be expected of a mediocre plot. If that's not enough to keep the every-day viewer watching, then anime junkies with an affinity for English-dubs will enjoy the stellar performances by heavy-hitters Chris Patton (Black Cat, Trinity Blood) as Agito, Carrie Savage (Aquarion, Rumbling Hearts) as Toola, and R. Bruce Elliot (Case Closed, Hell Girl) as Agito's father, Agashi.
A year after the release of Origin, the Discovery Channel series "My Shocking Story" aired an episode titled "Half Man, Half Tree." Viewers gawked at the amazing true story of Dede Kosawa, a 34-year-old Indonesian man diagnosed with a genetic disorder causing massive tumors to sprout from his hands and feet like the roots of a tree. Kosawa's story raises some penetrating questions. How deep do the roots of mankind and nature go? Is there a point where they intertwine? Perhaps director Keiichi Sugiyama's vision is not a vision after all. Perhaps fantasy is but a beginning and reality a destination that someone had to dream about in the first place.