Harmonie – Animated Film Review

Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers

“Harmonie” (2014) is a 25-minute animated short directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura best known for his animated movies “Time of Eve” (2010) and “Paterma Inverted” (2013). He also directed the animated short “Pale Cocoon” (2006), which I reviewed before.

Akio Honjou is a typical geeky high school student. He has an unrequited crush on his classmate Juri Makina, one of the popular girls in class. The start of the school day seems to be proceeding normally, until Juri’s girl friends play a prank on her.

The girls secretly change the ringtone  and activate the sound of Juri’s cellphone, which inevitably rings during class. What should have been a harmless prank turns out to be something more when Juri looks visibly distraught by the music coming from her phone.

Akio, meanwhile, is drawn to the music. He memorizes the few seconds he hears of the tune. During break time, he plays what he remembers repeatedly on his cellular phone’s piano app. Juri overhears the music, traces the source of the sound, and confronts Akio. Thus begins this 25-minute animated short.

Twenty-five minutes is a short time to tell a story, but sometimes less is more. Such is the case for “Harmonie.” Here is a film that left me thinking so hard about what it was trying to say that I had to watch it again soon after. The second watching left me with even more to think about because my interpretation of  the film turned 180 degrees.

Here is the whole animated short with English subtitles.

At first, I though Akio took advantage of Juri’s psychological condition.

Sure, it wasn’t his fault that Juri left a recording of her session with her psychologist on the music player she let Akio. It was also an accident when he told her that the three white bottle stickers on her phone were colored red, green, and purple.

In the end, he had the choice of telling Juri the truth. He could have told her that everything was just a misunderstanding, and that he doesn’t experience the recurring dreams that she does each night.

Do you see what I see? The bottles are red, green, and purple.

But was it too late for him to tell Juri the truth. She was already invested in the belief that she had finally found someone who understood her, who was like her after growing up believing she was crazy. She might have gone ballistic if Akio had told her the truth, but was he even thinking about this in the film?

One thing is for sure, he was willing to accept Juri and all her craziness just so he could be with her. And his unconditional acceptance of her is an expression of his love.

My views on the film go back and forth between these two extremes, but I’d rather live with the ambiguity, rather than have Yasuhiro Yoshiura extend the film by another 20 minutes or develop it into a full-length animated film. If he does go that route, I’d love to see him make multiple endings. I think that is a great idea!

I could continue discussing this film to no end, and that’s a fantastic thing for such a short film. Moving, intriguing, and unforgettable, I highly recommend this to all anime fans and anyone wanting a taste of great Japanese animation.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans out of 5
5 Beans out of 5

Pale Cocoon – Animated Film Review

Title: Pale Cocoon
Director: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Writer: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Year Released: 2006
Run Time: 23 minutes

Pale Cocoon is an OVA written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura. This being the first Yoshiura film I ever watched, I had no idea what to expect from it. I was as surprised by the short 23-minute length of the animation, as I was with its dark and artificial underground setting. Admittedly, I didn’t read the synopsis beforehand, and was anticipating lots of nature, butterflies, and such.

Pale Cocoon is set in the distant future, where the environment has been so badly damaged that the earth’s surface has become unlivable for humanity. To survive, humans dig themselves an underground sanctuary deep within the earth’s core.

Ura and Riko, this story’s protagonists, were born inside this underground world. They both work for the The Bureau of Record Excavation, in charge of gathering, restoring, and segregating the last remaining records of humanity’s past.

“It was better not to understand. About the green world… and that humans destroyed that world.” – Riko, Pale Cocoon

More people leave the bureau each year, as fewer of them are interested in learning about their ancestor’s mistakes. Riko is staring to have doubts about her work. She questions Ura about his overzealous dedication to studying all the materials he uncovers at work. Despite this, Ura continues searching for more truths. Until one day he discovers a strange video.

The concept of the archives—of gathering, studying, and cataloging materials from before the world’s surface became unlivable—drew me into this film. I admired Ura for his dedication to his job, his fascination with records of the past. Like him, I was dismayed by the fact that less and less people wanted to learn more about the original green and blue earth because all the information they uncovered was so depressing.

Ura continues to search for the truth behind humanity’s past even though many of his colleagues and friends have lost hope. Source: 1

How could their ancestors have been so stupid? How could they let the environment be destroyed?

And so the present-day humans in this film are essentially trapping themselves in a monochrome world where they are protected from the horrors of their past and the present state of the earth’s surface. Perhaps this apathy towards learning the truth is understandable. It’s not like they can do anything to reverse earth’s degradation anyway.

But what will Ura find in pursuit of the truth? What secrets does the mysterious video he discovers hold? What will be revealed when he rides up to the planet’s surface? When he breaks out of his pale cocoon? Perhaps, he rushes towards his inevitable death? But what if he discovers something else?

Has Riko given up hope? 

I believe that humans are meant to live on earth as it is today, not in enclosed tunnels underneath the earth’s surface, nor other similar accommodations. So it is natural for Ura to search for his real home, while refusing to accept his present reality. That most of humanity seems resigned to living in a box is just sad.

And it is Ura’s struggle for truth and freedom that makes Yoshiura’s animated short so gripping and exciting, if a bit simple and rushed…and that music video was just weird.

Looks-wise, the sepia and monochromatic tones used throughout the film were perfect in conveying a mood of loneliness. It also portrays a detachment from the earth and all its colors. It may not have the hyper realistic pastel imagery we’re used to seeing in modern anime films, but Pale Coon has its own understated beauty nonetheless.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

4 out of 5

4 Beans

Garden of Words – Animated Film Review

Title: Garden of Words
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Year Released: 2013
Run Time: 46 minutes

Garden of Words is directed and written by Makoto Shinkai, arguably best known for his work on 5 Centimeters Per Second—my favorite animated film of all time. I love how right off the bat, there are strong similarities between the two films. The picturesque visuals, for example. Watching a Makoto Shinkai film is like getting lost in a visual painting.

“In the evenings, before I went to sleep, and in the mornings, in the moment I woke up, I realized I was praying for rain.” – Makoto Shinkia, Garden of Words

This is particularly evident in the nature shots. As expected, it is the garden scenes in Garden of Words that are the most visually stunning. I have never seen rain so beautifully rendered as in this film. And there is plenty of rain to enjoy as the 15-year-old Takao Azizuki and 27-year-old Akari Yukino only meet in the garden when it rains.

If there was a park this beautiful where I lived, I’d be skipping work to read books there every time it rains too! Source: 1

Takao, the film’s main protagonist, has dreams of becoming a shoemaker. Not merely a shoe designer, mind you. He wants to design and handcraft his own shoes—cutting the leather, carving the wood, sewing everything together, and all that. Understandably, nobody seems to understand his passion.

He also has a weird habit of cutting class every time it rains. Instead of riding the train to school, he’ll ride it to the park instead. Then, he’ll spend the whole day hanging out at a gazebo instead of going to school.

“You just thought to yourself “this woman’s a freak,” didn’t you?”
“No, I…”
“It’s okay. We’re human, after all. We’ve all got our little quirks” Makoto Shinkai, The Garden of Words

It’s during one of these rainy days that he meets Akari, who he immediately develops a rapport with. Akari also has her own quirks, like drinking beer and eating chocolate at the same time.

Mmmm…chocolate and beer. I wonder how she remains so thin?

I was expecting an age difference problem, that’s for sure. It would have been interesting to see whether or not they would end up together based on that alone. But the reveal that Akari is a teacher in Takao’s school surprised me. The student-adult relationship was complicated enough, and I found myself unsure of whether or not to root for them ending up together.

 “To me, she represents nothing less than the very secrets of the world” – Makoto Shinkai, Garden of Words

Then, Takao confesses his true feelings and it is blow after blow after blow—multiple stab wounds to my heart. The film’s ending would have been the final nail in the coffin for me. I thought Makoto Shinkai over indulged his twist that time around. There is a thin line between nostalgic and depressing. 5 Centimeters Per Second was on the right side of it, while Garden of Words was way deep in the wrong one.

Makoto Shinkai: the breaker of hearts. The destroyer of dreams! I found myself staring blankly at the film credits, while trying to hold my sliced-and-diced heart back together.

But right before I stopped the video, an epilogue began to play. And everything in the world was wonderful again.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 out of 5

5 Beans out of 5

Perfect Blue by Satoshi Kon – Animated Film Review

Title: Perfect Blue
Director: Satoshi Kon
Writer: Sadayuki Murai
Year Released: 1997
Run Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis
by Yoshikazu Takeuch

Perfect Blue may evoke images of clear skies and vast oceans, but this animated film focuses on a much deeper shade of blue. In fact, it is one of the most serious movies—animated or live-action—that I have ever seen.

I am impressed by how the film tackles the dark side of Japan’s entertainment industry, while remaining an unpredictable psycho-crime thriller simultaneously. A storytelling masterclass, Perfect Blue is one of my favorite animé films of all time.

This Satoshi Kon film may feature gorgeous animation, but it also has violence and nudity in spades. It deals with adult psychological themes, and even features a simulated, albeit very realistic, rape scene. IMDB states that Perfect Blue was originally planned as a live-action film, but backers withdrew their support during pre-production. Still, this film is as realistic as gets when it comes to animation. Kon really did a great job with it.

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(I recently learned a live-action film has already been made. I hope to watch and share my thoughts on it soon.)

I like how the film blurs the lines between being awake and asleep, in reality or in a delusion, to the point that both the protagonist and the viewer can no longer distinguish between fantasy and reality. This confusion slowly builds up, exploding into utter paranoia in a dream-wake-dream-wake climax, followed by an ending both totally predictable and completely unexpected.

Perfect Blue had me squirming in my seat through several sequences. I even had to pause the film and take a breather more than once. But the discomfort and the frustration is all worth it at the end, where a lighter shade of blue finally seeps through, if only for a second or two.

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(But what is the perfect shade of blue? Is it light or dark? Is there even one to begin with? Come and share your thoughts on this—and the film—in the comments section below.)

Some viewers say this Satoshi Kon film is a perfect introduction to the world of animé. I say it all depends on the kind of animé you want to watch. Perfect Blue is definitely not your typical Japanese animation. It is not for kids or teenagers, nor for the faint of heart. Here is an R-rated animated film for a mature adult audience.

If you are looking for an intelligent thriller that will leave you in deep thought and reflection, then I invite you to watch Perfect Blue. Even if you end up hating it, I assure that you will have a memorable viewing experience.

Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:

5 Beans
5 Beans out of 5