November 18, 2006
Origin: Spirits of the Past is Gonzo Digimation's first feature, and it was the opening film at the Waterloo Festival of Animated Cinema on Thursday. The movie takes place on Earth after a disaster has wiped out much of humanity, made water a scarce commodity, and made the remaining forest an intelligent and semi-mystical entity. Agito is a popular boy raised in Neutral City, carved out of the shattered remains of a metropolis on the forest's edge. He discovers Toola, a girl awakened from a hibernation pod that had ben activated when the calamity started.
Slow to adjust to this new world, Toola leaves for the neighbouring Ragna when Shunack, another refugee from the past, offers her the chance to bring the world back to what it was. Agito, bestowed inhuman powers by the forest, races to get her back.
At its core, Origin is an adolescent power fantasy. In fact, there are two power fantasies here. Toola has the technological power to save the world by bringing back civilization more or less as we know it; Agito has the mystical power to save the world by preventing Toola from doing so. This tension is what adds an extra layer to the story. For most of the film you can ask which position you'd rather be in, which is another way of asking which is better: A world with clean air where getting water is a daily struggle, or a world that's comfortable but in many ways unnatural? Agito and Toola come from dramatically different backgrounds, so their answers are different. In some ways, the central questions and resulting clashes make Origins sort of a Princess Mononoke-lite.
Origin may be aimed at a younger audience, but it has a lot of nice little sequences that add some interesting touches. For example, I like how life in and around bombed-out skyscrapers makes Agito agile and totally unafraid of heights, and that what he considers a simple walkway over a chasm gives Toola vertigo. Still, there are a few nuances missing that you would find in a film that skewed older. I liked Origin, but I think I needed to be 13 to truly appreciate it.