By Andrew Osmond.
The new cinema film Genocidal Organ is rather unfortunately named. Many people may assume it’s some sex-and-violence exploitation anime with precious few brain cells. A few old-school fans may wonder if it’s linked to Detonator Orgun (sic), a mecha miniseries from 1991.
Actually, Genocidal Organ does have fleeting sex, and intense, shocking violence. In the early scenes, you may expect it to turn into a hardboiled techno-thriller. Instead, it becomes something more subversive and a whole lot darker. As blood and brains spatter the frame, you may be reminded of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, taunting you for sympathising with the on-screen characters.
In short, Genocidal Organ is a harsh watch. It’s also one of the smartest SF films to be made as an anime. Set in the near future, it’s very much a post-9/11 drama, about America and its place in the world. The land of the free has become a high-surveillance state, but most of the film takes place outside America in a collapsing world. The city of Sarajevo has been obliterated by a home-made nuke; other states have become charnel houses. The reasons for the mass killings seem past understanding, even for the killers themselves.
However US intelligence officer Clavis Shephard has reason to believe there is a secret reason for the bloodshed. Somehow, genocides around the world are linked to one man, an American called John Paul. Following his quarry to the Czech Republic (there’s a lot of Prague scenery), Shephard targets Paul’s girlfriend; she’s a pretty, brilliant academic with a passion for languages. So far, so spy thriller… but as Shephard’s journey continues, it takes gruesome turns that take the film beyond any comfortable sense of good or evil.
Genocidal Organ is a standalone story. But it’s also part of a thematically-linked SF trilogy, following two films we’ve already covered on this blog, Harmony and Empire of Corpses, both released by Anime Limited. True, it’s a very strange film trilogy. Each film was made by a different director and anime studio, but they were all inspired by one novelist, Satoshi Ito, better known by his pseudonym Project Itoh. Genocidal Organ was his first novel in 2007; two years later, Itoh died of cancer, aged 34. Harmony was published just before his death; the unfinished Empire of Corpses was completed by Itoh’s friend Toh Enjoe.
There are similarities in format between the film versions. They’re all long (about two hours each); they each take their characters to many countries across the world; and they’re political and social satires. Empire, as you might guess from its name, targets the British Empire. Harmony, though set in a post-cataclysm future, is a savage mockery of modern Japan. The near-future Genocidal Organ takes on America, and may or may not be a prequel to Harmony. Empire of Corpses is its own thing; a steampunk adventure, set in an alternate-history world stitched from umpteen others.
Genocidal Organ and Harmony are aligned. They’re deeply pessimistic, focused on the illusions of civilisation and the bloody barbarities of humanity that modern nations pretend to suppress. They’re also both genre traps, as much as Blue Velvet or Audition. Genocidal Organ pretends to be a spy-surveillance thriller; Harmony looks like a story of teen relations and rebellion. But both plunge into extreme violence with nihilist punchlines. And one of Genocidal Organ’s punchlines must be read between the lines. In the film’s last moments, look closely – can you see the terrible final trap?
As for content, both films focus on the material mind, dissected by science, and how little control we have of “ourselves.” The villains (or antiheroes?) in the films need merely flip a mental switch to start the bloodbaths gushing. Of course they’re not the first puppet masters in anime. Think of the Puppet Master himself in Ghost in the Shell.
Genocidal Organ also echoes other films by Ghost’s anime director, Mamoru Oshii. The anti-American politics is reminiscent of Patlabor 2, as is a plot that circles an adult couple with an adulterous past. The wordy script, dense with discussion of language and the mind, may remind viewers of the second Ghost in the Shell (though it’s not that dense). Hint: if you know a bit about Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar, you’ll find the ideas less abstruse… though perhaps still mad.
Genocidal Organ is also a film about empathy and what happens to people or nations who lack it. In science-fiction, this is a Philip K. Dick theme; you may remember the Voight-Kampff test from Blade Runner, but the theme was explored deeper in Richard Linklater’s animated film of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. In Genocidal Organ, there’s a scene where we see two of Organ’s characters watch baseball on TV and comment on a serious accident; it feels very Dick-ian. Beyond Dick, the film’s nastily clever conceits have something of Nigel Kneale about them.
The film’s own director has form in SF. Shuko Murase, who scripted and directed Genocidal Organ, previously made Ergo Proxy, one of the most strikingly cerebral TV anime, shown in 2006. Murase’s career has largely been as a designer and animator, though he directed the 2015 crime anime Gangsta. His credits go back to the likes of Gundam Wing and the Street Fighter II film (he was Character Designer on both), as well as multiple credits on Shinichiro Watanabe’s Samurai Champloo.
His film began production at the Manglobe studio, the makers of Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy and Gangsta. However Manglobe went bankrupt in 2015, so Detonator Organ was completed at the made-to-order Geno Studio, established by Koji Yamamoto, a Fuji TV producer. However, there’s no sign of the troubled production in the final glossy, perversely handsome film.