Have you ever watched a minute and a half of something and immediately known that it was going to be pitch-perfect and would have a major impact on you? It’s an odd feeling, but one that’s instantly recognizable.
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It isn’t the years of reviews and pulling media apart to examine it under a microscope that leaves me feeling like this. It’s something deeper. Something about those first few minutes or that short trailer touches something deep within you—glimpses of something you’ve desperately been searching for, the wide-eyed wonder of the child you once were, something that touches upon human nature itself.
Just as it has many times before, this indescribable energy was palpable in the trailer for director Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s award-winning Sing a Bit of Harmony, the feeling only growing stronger upon the first few minutes of the movie itself.
And, my friends, you need to watch Sing a Bit of Harmony.
On a small Japanese island, there is a large, prestigious tech corporation. One major field of research for them is robotics, with one team run by main character Satomi Amano’s mother. As one of the few women leading a team, she has much to prove, and her latest project is sure to be noticed.
Shion is a robot, more specifically an A.I., one that can be easily mistaken for a human. While this is groundbreaking tech the likes of which has never before been seen, the true test is yet to come. Shion has to navigate a set number of days at the local high school—Satomi’s high school—without anyone ever noticing that she isn’t human at all.
However, things are never quite that easy. Shion’s classmates think her a bit strange, but the “transfer student” is so full of life and charm that any oddities are quickly ignored. Yet Shion seems drawn to one individual in particular. Satomi quickly finds Shion hovering over her desk, asking the last question she expected to hear.
“Are you happy now?”
Sing a Bit of Harmony, on its surface, is a tale of the first truly humanoid A.I., the friends she makes, the unbreakable bonds they share, and what the unlikely companions teach one another. It’s a story about friendship, bonds and so much more. Yet, this sci-fi tale is truly more than the sum of its parts.
“Are you happy now?”
Happiness is a thing that we all strive for. As we age, however, it can often seem more difficult to find. Even when we do the correct—the just—thing, it can often feel as if we’ve made the wrong choice.
Things we’ve loved as children can be viewed as, well, childish, by some, and many feel pushed towards other things. Events big and small, things left unsaid or said too much, can put a wedge in relationships. And sometimes you wake up unable to answer the question, “Are you happy?”
Shion asks a simple question that Satomi quickly finds is actually quite difficult to answer. A flat out “no” feels wrong, especially since it’s unclear to Satomi if Shion truly grasps what happiness is, as she’s an A.I.. However, a “yes” isn’t quick to come from Satomi either.
Satomi attempts to make Shion understand that happiness is complicated, and the definition and causes change for different people. What makes one person happy may not have any influence on another. And sometimes immense joy can paradoxically reside side by side with heartache.
Happiness is complicated, Satomi tries to explain.
Shion, it seems, thinks differently.
This is a movie that makes you smile. No matter what you do, you find yourself grinning from ear to ear.
The art is simply beautiful. The story is perfectly plotted, with the ups and downs hitting at just the right moment. It knows when to show you immense, awesome beauty before ripping your heart right out of your chest.
However, one of the key things that sets it apart is the music. Sing a Bit of Harmony is full of the sort of songs that mark the Disney movies of our childhood.
Shion sings absolutely beautifully, initially confusing Satomi and her classmates by breaking out into song. This quickly changes, though, with the students finding themselves drawn to the A.I. and what she tries to teach them in her own ways.
And, slowly, Shion is able to bring about an understanding that only music seems able to achieve.
A reminder of what’s important
The singing and dancing led by an A.I. isn’t simply because the A.I. is partial to musical numbers, nor was it added solely because the songs are beautiful to listen to. The movie is filled with song precisely because of Shion’s penultimate question.
“Are you happy now?” Shion asks, again and again.
When the singing began, something changed. Not within the movie, but within me.
There’s an instant inhale as the music picks up. You hold your breath a moment as your eyes grow ever so slightly wider. Everything feels a little more vibrant, more alive in those first few seconds, and—just for a moment—you feel like a child again, looking up at a screen so big it’s nearly incomprehensible. And in that moment you can answer the ever-lingering question, “Are you happy?”
Yes. Yes, very much so.
Just as Shion tries to help Satomi find her happiness again, so too does she help us in remembering the things that make us happy.
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Age doesn’t matter. The bold song and dance numbers you watched so eagerly as a child still hold that wondrous awe, saying in song what’s often so difficult to just say flat-out.
The simple days with childhood friends still matter, the things you’ve spoken about still important. Fireworks overhead still look like magic. And the majesty of the starry night sky is still only topped by the awe-inspiring sight of the stars brought down to earth, glittering the reflection of waves (or high-tech solar panels).
Happiness is a lot of things, many of which are contradictory and difficult to put into words. Yet, Sing a Bit of Harmony captures all of them.
However, most important is this: don’t forget the joys you’ve felt in the past, the happiness you knew as a child.
Different sorts of happiness
Shion prompts Satomi and her other new friends to realize how to be happy again. She teaches them how to take that first step forward and grasp that thing that will bring them happiness. Whether it’s learning how to communicate how you truly feel, striving to better a skill and win a competition that’s always been just out of reach, or to recapture something that faded with time, Shion does what she can to help them achieve it.
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Sometimes things aren’t perfect. People leave us. Things get complicated, and we may not know how to uncomplicate them. It may be hard to speak your mind, and sometimes it takes so long to become an expert at the hobby you love.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy.
It’s okay if your happiness doesn’t look like anyone else’s. It’s okay if you’re so happy you cry. It’s okay if joy is laced with the pain of having to say goodbye, or goodbye for now.
Sing a Bit of Harmony is more than just utterly gorgeous animation and an impressive array of songs—it’s important. It tells us that it’s more important than ever to remember how to be happy: fighting for something that truly matters to you and being there for those you care about despite the odd. These are all truly worth the struggles they may bring.
Sing a Bit of Harmony hits theaters for a limited run in the United States on January 23; in Australia and New Zealand on January 27; and in the United Kingdom and Ireland on January 28. Tickets are on sale now.