Reviewby Nick Creamer,
In 2001, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City heralds the dawn of the American surveillance state. In 2015, a nuclear device is set off in Sarajevo by terrorists, and the full clamp-down on American freedoms is made complete. In this new world, all actions are monitored by benevolent overseers—but overseas, fractional conflicts and genocides are sparking across the third world. Special agent Clavis Shepherd is working to discover the root cause of these genocides, and the secrets he uncovers will ultimately shake the foundations of a global society. In choosing security over freedom, the cost of our sins may be far greater than we could ever know.
I was frankly a little worried when I received this bare-bones release of Genocidal Organ. I gave the first Project Itoh film a so-so rating and utterly seared the second. After two lousy-to-bad productions, could Project Itoh finally pull off a satisfying film?
The answer, to my great relief, is absolutely Yes.
Satoshi Ito's preoccupations are clear through each of his stories. He was obsessed with philosophy of consciousness, had deep reservations about our violent geopolitical order, and married both those preoccupations to a fondness for pulpy sci fi and action narratives. In Harmony, Itoh's lukewarm philosophical pretensions drowned out everything else, and his weaker character writing sunk what was intended to be a personal story. In Empire of Corpses, the pulpiness of the base material was wisely turned up, leading to a fun and theatrical but fairly forgettable experience. But here in Genocidal Organ, the various parts of Itoh's preoccupations finally coalesce into a satisfying whole, and Geno Studio's execution is more than impressive enough to carry it home.
Genocidal Organ takes place in an alternate present that at first feels a little behind the times. The film posits a nuclear explosion in Sarajevo that prompts a serious hardening of the United States' surveillance state, eventually leading to a first world order where all your actions are recorded and evaluated. But while the first world tightens its locks, the third world erupts into fire, with genocides being carried out all across the globe. Enter Clavis Shepherd and his partner Williams, two men conditioned by the U.S. military to feel nothing as they investigate these brutal events. Tasked with hunting down “John Paul,” a man somehow linked to the genocides, they must scour the globe to find their target and secure peace for all.
Of course, that's just what their mission briefing says. One of the more interesting things about Genocidal Organ is that it's simultaneously infatuated with the mechanical trappings of super-soldiers while also being aware of the inhumanity of the modern military. The film's tactical action scenes are often its most viscerally satisfying, but those action scenes center on things like our heroes killing child soldiers while musing on how those childrens' drugged-up bravado isn't all that different from their own physical and psychological conditioning. Genocidal Organ is full of neat details regarding its near-future reality, from soldiers swallowing their enemies' subdermal implants to Clavis jogging against a holographic avatar of his own best route time. Organ's world feels thoughtfully constructed, believable, and extremely close to our own, and its action scenes hum with the intensity of a dedicated military drama while constantly undercutting the assumptions of that genre in their dialogue.
So what is Genocidal Organ so angry about? The film's initial surveillance state premise feels a little behind our current moment, but as the film continues, its interests gracefully expand to encompass the ways we dehumanize soldiers, the ways we “other” whole populations, our moral culpability in global capitalism, and the ability of language to guide our behavior. Eventually, even the initially cliche “we're all being watched and pacified” starting point feels utterly appropriate, given the film's final rejection of first world complacency. Project Itoh's philosophical digressions have a tendency to get long-winded, and that's not entirely avoided in this film, but Genocidal Organ's thematic preoccupations always feel relevant to its ongoing narrative, and more importantly, those preoccupations are really interesting.
The film turns a military potboiler into a reflection on the inhumane nature of the current global order one natural step at a time, rising to a desperate debate about the validity of several kinds of freedom, from freedom of action to freedom from moral consequence. Many of the film's obsessions end up being illustrated in graceful incidental ways, avoiding Itoh's propensity for tiring monologue. I particularly enjoyed how Clavis and his squadmates' ritual for when a teammate died is to watch pro football and comment on how boring all the safety regulations have made the game, naturally underlining how they themselves have been programmed to see any kind of fragility as weakness.
It's not all good, unfortunately. Itoh's ability to write characters with humanity is still basically nonexistent, and much of the dialogue comes in the form of labored speeches. The film's narrative lacks clear stakes, often coming across as a series of disjointed missions, and Clavis's infatuation with his theoretical love interest never feels particularly convincing. The film also sputters out more than it ends, finishing on a summarized anticlimax. On top of that, even though the villain's anger comes from a compelling place, his plan is fairly absurd in both its nature and intended effect, seriously oversimplifying both the mechanics of terrorism and the ways first and third world nations intersect. But on the whole, Genocidal Organ is propulsive, creative, and genuinely thought-provoking.
On the aesthetic side, Genocidal Organ is also the best-looking Project Itoh film. The film sticks to hyper-realistic character designs that allow it to implement a fair amount of rotoscoping without feeling entirely unnatural. The traditional animation isn't quite as strong, but making this film's action glamorous would undercut its dramatic intent, so I'm perfectly fine with the more restrained movement. The film's use of CG environments and smart filtering to create lots of point of view sequences gives its missions a powerful sense of immediacy, as well as an uncomfortable tonal familiarity to anyone who's played games like Call of Duty. Modern American violence feels effortless, instantaneous, and horrific in this film.
Genocidal Organ's music is pretty routine orchestral stuff, but it all matches the drama well. More impressive is the film's dub, which I actually preferred over the subtitles. Not only does the dub work hard to match the accents and even foreign language dialogue of this globe-trotting story, but I felt like the dub script offered subtleties of intent that the more terse subtitle script paved over. The characters are all well-cast, which along with this film's largely American cast and furiously imperialism-based narrative, makes me say the dubbed film is actually the better experience.
Outside of that dub, there aren't any meaningful extras included in this DVD release. But even given this fairly meager collection, I still give the film a solid recommendation. I may not have liked Project Itoh's other films, but there was clearly a unique and passionate creative voice there that could tell a great story. Genocidal Organ is far from a perfect film, but it's a thoughtful and satisfying thriller regardless, and a fine evocation of Project Itoh's singular point of view. The third time is apparently the charm.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Marries a compelling military thriller to searing reflections on the surveillance state and geopolitical order, solid visual execution elevates some tense shootouts
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