by Rebecca Silverman,

Origin: Spirits of the Past


Origin: Spirits of the Past BD+DVD
After a failed experiment on the moon, Earth has been taken over by the forests. Now people live on the outskirts of ruined cities in a tree-shadowed dystopia, trying to live with the Druids, a tree-born race of people who value the woods above all else. One day a young boy named Agito accidentally awakens a girl from the technologically advanced past, Toola, who was in cryogenic slumber after the disaster that befell the world. Toola can't bring herself to understand how the world has changed, and she allies herself with those who want the present to return to the advanced past. Can Agito stop her from remaking the world as she remembers it?

If you already own one of the previous two releases of Gonzo's 2006 film, you probably can skip this new release of it unless you're desperate for a (very pretty) blu ray version. Other than the BD disc, this is literally identical to the two-disc DVD that came out in 2008, right down to the trailers included on the discs. (The DVD opens with a trailer for Solty Rei volume one, which is actually sort of amusing.) If this is one of your favorite films, the blu ray does enhance the already gorgeous visuals, rendering them richer, smoother, and even more striking than the original DVDs. Some of the scenes in the woods are absolutely breathtaking, and a few of the water scenes, particularly one where Toola and Agito are being flooded out of the facility Toola has been preserved in, are very well done, down to the way Toola's white smock clings to her body translucently.

Regretfully, the visuals are not accompanied by a story equally as captivating. The story itself has the potential to play with the more typical dystopia tropes – yes, the world was destroyed and remade because of man's overweening hubris and need to tinker with Mother Nature (who would rather you kept your hands off of her, thank you very much), but instead of most of the world being a desolate wasteland, it's returned to the forest primeval. With these woods came the Druids, a tree-born race who defend the forest like a group of Loraxes, and humanity now gets to see what it's like with the shoe on the other foot – they must protect themselves from a different group of beings who see them as an invasive species. Some people, in the aptly named Neutral City, have decided to make the best of this, and several of them have even become “enhanced,” which means that they've basically received the forest's blessing in the form of a seed that gives them arboreal powers. Others, led by people from the past like Toola, rebel against the idea of human subjugation to a bunch of plants, and seek to remake the world as it once was.

There's definitely a generational metaphor lurking in this story. We've all heard someone complain about how things used to be better when they were young, and that's very much the impression Toola and Shunack, the previous past person to awaken, give: when they were younger, there were cars and roads and shopping malls and they never had to hike barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways…Shunack and his allies see the present world as inferior, as one that needs to be changed so that things can go back to how they “should” be. They don't necessarily try or even want to understand how things have changed or that people may be content, if not actively happy, with the way things are. Shunack carries the extra burden of guilt, and for Toola loneliness is a large part of it – one of the saddest scenes in the film is when she tries to call a phone number that we know will never answer.

At its heart, Origin wants to be a story about how you can't always fix the mistakes of the past. We're stuck with the present we've created, and while small changes can be made, you can never truly go back. On some levels, it succeeds at this – the juxtaposition between Toola and the people of Neutral City shows people who are, at heart, happy and someone who just can't believe them. Agito's character, however, doesn't really help with this, despite the fact that he's ostensibly the main character – his transformation from walking disaster to badass action tree hero doesn't feel like it quite works with his personality or age (which is never clear), and the story flow is jagged, which gives his transformation a feel of disconnect. The balletic soundtrack is gorgeous (and KOKIA's haunting theme song my personal favorite of her pieces), and it works with the animated action; the story itself just can't quite keep up. Instead of a thoughtful tale of acceptance, it instead becomes a beautiful but empty-feeling parable.

Funimation's re-release of Origin gives us a repeat of its previous releases down to the trailers, extras, and pre-menu content. The blu ray absolutely enhances Gonzo's exquisite animation, but the story itself doesn't match up to its beautiful visuals and soundtrack. Both language tracks are serviceable, with Toola better in Japanese and Agito a bit better in English, but the real stars of this show are the images and the music. If you just want to be wowed by sweeping visuals and soaring music, this is worth watching. If you want a story to match up with those, maybe not so much.

Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A-

+ Gorgeous visuals and balletic music, interesting themes
Can't really deliver on those themes, plot progression is both erratic and facile, no new content on discs

Director: Keiichi Sugiyama
Naoko Kakimoto
Nana Shiina
Umanosuke Iida
Hiroyuki Kakudou
Mahiro Maeda
Keiichi Sugiyama
Music: Taku Iwasaki
Character Design: Kouji Ogata
Animation Director:
Masami Goto
Naoyuki Onda
Atsushi Yamagata
Mechanical design:
Kenji Andou
Mahiro Maeda
Art design:
Masanori Kikuchi
Rei Nakahara
Hajime Satō
Mecha design: Kenji Andou
3D Director: Ryukou Masuo
Sound Director: Kazuhiro Wakabayashi
Executive producer:
Hiroyuki Inada
Shinichiro Ishikawa
Keiji Kameyama
Hiroaki Kitano
Ichiro Seki
Yuuji Shimamoto
Maki Horiuchi
Koji Kajita
Takatoshi Kobayashi
Yasuaki Kurata
Shouji Murahama
Noboru Sugiyama
Tsutomu Yanagimura

Full encyclopedia details about
Origin ~Spirits of the Past~ (movie)

Release information about
Origin: Spirits of the Past (BD+DVD)

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