Origin: Spirits of the Past (Gin’iro no Kami no Agito) 2006
In the years after Spirited Away won its Oscar it seemed that mainstream western journalists and reviewers suddenly had a benchmark they could refer back to in order to measure any subsequent release against – and I understand, it’s a clear reference and hallmark of superb quality, and one that a large readership would have recognised.
And all reviews are probably at least a little bit of a reaction to ‘what came before’ and I certainly do that myself and I like that approach when it contextualises a film. But what I think bugs me a little about bouncing any movie or series off a high water mark is that invariably, almost everything will fall short and then not be wholly judged on its own merits, and instead be discussed in light of all the ways it didn’t match the seminal text.
So I’ll try not to do that here and instead try and say that while Origin will make some viewers think of Miyazaki and Ghibli, it has its own problems that are unrelated to how much or how little it evokes Studio Ghibli.
And it’s not the animation or art, which is at times breathtaking, especially during the opening forest scenes or the fiery climax, but for me, a general flatness to the story drags it down. And I know that’s a vague, essentially useless descriptor for a review, right? But despite some great action sequences and big themes (around environmentalism and cooperation), the story didn’t captivate me.
Maybe it was a little rushed, because I wanted more time with the characters. I wanted to see them explore the world and magic and new societies a little more deeply too. And there were a few folks introduced that felt like they could have had a bigger impact on the story – but were somewhat reduced to cameos, like Jessica and Minka.
Still, I enjoyed Origin: Spirits of the Past despite my largely critical review here and maybe I’m most disappointed in how close it might have come to a real classic? There are some fantastic scenes throughout and again, wondrous imagery and animation to enjoy too, if you don’t mind a storyline that’s a little generic at times.