Project Itoh - real name Satoshi Ito - had an uncanny knack for predicting the future of mankind before his sudden death from cancer in 2009, aged only 34. Two of his books, Harmony and Genocidal Organ, take the concepts of a unified, utopian humanity and a dystopian post-nuclear world and push them to their darkest extremes. All three of Itoh's most outstanding novels have received animated adaptations, and this is the most recent - and, perhaps, the most pertinent, considering the world in which we live.
The setting is this: after a nuclear device is detonated in Sarajevo, the developed nations of the world quickly become a collective of police states. An enigmatic figure named John Paul, responsible for the attack, is seemingly inciting genocidal behavior in the countries he visits, and in an effort to stop his onslaught of terror, US special forces operative Clavis Shepard and his comrades are tasked with apprehending him.
This film had its fair share of troubled production. Originally due to be released in late 2015 the abrupt bankruptcy and subsequent closure of Manglove postponed production, leaving the film only 20 percent complete. Geno Studio picked up the pieces, saving the project from falling into obscurity - and thankfully so, for this film is an analytical delight.
On the surface, it seems as though it isn't much more than a bog-standard action thriller, and in that regard it is certainly serviceable if a little cut-and-dry. You have your grizzled and determined lead character, an intellectual antagonist shrouded in mystery and bewitching femme fatales. You have your assortment of futuristic technology, military equipment, and gripping action sequences that the realistic yet visually appealing art style makes nice to look at. It is an exterior that, admittedly, may bore some or appear too rote and plain, but beneath the flashy veneer is where Genocidal Organ's strengths lie.
The film takes a look at a world eerily similar to our own, one wracked by constant skirmishes and conflict, the ghost of 9/11 still lingering. People of the first world view the horror from afar with disconcerting indifference. At home, bolstered by technological advancement, mass consumerism and wastefulness reach an all-time high. This apathy towards events beyond our walls, a topic of strong discussion today, even manifests in the lead characters, albeit in different ways. For people like Clavis who are first-hand witnesses to the carnage, they are desensitized to the depravity and slaughter by strict mental conditioning and a potent cocktail of drugs - nothing they are tasked with fazes them, and even horrific injuries don't stop the trigger from being pulled as the limited action spares no expense in detailing this blase acceptance of war. Clavis states on a number of occasions that he views his dirty work as a normal job to give his actions justification, something that John Paul pointedly questions him on, and the whole angle is a caustic criticism of the 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality that we adopt towards affairs that don't concern us - even when, in this case, they're right in front of us. So many conflicts and insurgencies have been raging on, some for decades - and yet, we carry on, self-absorbed, oblivious to the suffering of others. Very early in the film, one of Clavis' partners says that the concept of hell relates not to a place where you go after death, but the idea of living with the knowledge that you have committed terrible acts
Genocidal Organ also explores the concept of language, specifically the subject of its evolution over the course of human history, and this directly ties into John Paul's motives for his campaign of destruction. Through this examination it takes an unflinching look at the darker side of the human psyche and makes the viewer wonder if 'civil' people are really above behaviour as inherently abhorrent as genocide. We need only look at the speech prominent figures have used across history - orators inciting others to commit acts of hatred and violence has happened almost as long as humans have existed, the perpetuation of 'us and them' for the sake of victory or survival. Of note is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the postulation that language determines or influences thought, discussed at length by John Paul and central to the movie's themes. It's gripping stuff for those who have a keen interest in global affairs, and with more people becoming aware to the state of our world the themes Genocidal Organ explores are bound to resonate with many of its viewers.
On top of this, the worst fears of conspiracy theorists are realized and governments constantly monitor their citizens through chip implants and mass surveillance. Already we have companies experimenting with that technology on a large scale, tagging their employees with microchips. While they currently merely function as workplace ID tags and scaled-down cash cards, there is always the possibility - in the minds of some - that they could be used to advance a much more sinister agenda. In a world where surveillance of the public is almost constant - where the UK alone has an estimated 5.9 million CCTV cameras across the country - the thought of one's every move and action being traced and recorded by a skin-deep intruder is a troubling one, and a very real possibility owing to recent developments.
It's a very predictive production, disturbingly so - and the ideas it holds are a lot more outstanding than the general thrust of the plot or the characters involved. The actual story of the film itself is rather by-the-numbers and characters aren't terribly outstanding, save for John Paul, and on a narrative level Clavis only truly comes into his own during the middle-end of the film. This relative lack of development is offset some by solid performances on the part of the voice actors, however, Sakurai and Nakamura in particular. It is, however, a small tragedy in a way. So much of the film's strengths lie underneath the surface that it ends up suffering for what it does display outwardly - the art is well-made, but the cinematography is not much to write home about barring a handful of scenes where the action gets going and an eye-catching sequence in a Czech bar that makes intriguing use of augmented reality tech. To people without a strong preference for thrillers, it's hampered by a dry outward presentation and a slow start that can make people lose interest before they can crack the outer shell to get to the meat within.
Genocidal Organ does falter in its presentation. It may not be the flashiest film ever made, and it not the film for the action-oriented with its prioritising of philosophical introspection, but it is an eye-opener. It examines our attitudes in the 21st century and puts things we take for granted under the microscope, asking if they truly are what we think they are. It makes us question our behaviour, sharply criticises human nature and may even make you concerned for the future of our species. It is insightful, above all else - and for that insight, it is worthy of remembrance.