A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 340 – Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell – February 3rd, 2011

I feel so ridiculous admitting to never having seen this movie. I mean, I’m no expert, but I’ve seen a fair amount of anime in a few different genres. There was a time when Andy and I were going through the rather large collection at the video store we worked at and watching something new on a regular basis. How did I miss this? I’ve read the manga. I’ve watched the Stand Alone Complex series. I remember being told that the movie didn’t really live up to the source material, but I know tonight was the first time I’ve seen it for myself. I just seem to have missed a couple of anime classics, so it’s a good thing we’re watching everything we own, cause Andy’s better about buying them than I would be.

I will also admit that it’s been years since I read the manga. I’m far more immediately familiar with the SAC stuff than with the written material, so this isn’t going to be much of a comparison. I know I recognize plot elements, but I couldn’t say how closely it cleaves to its source. It certainly focuses on the more philosophical themes from the world it’s all set it, which is fine by me. I like the philosophical themes here. The question of what makes a person a person is one of the central issues I associate with Ghost in the Shell, regardless of format.

The setting for the movie (and all the material in the franchise, really) is a futuristic Japan in a world where cybernetic implants are the norm and cyborg parts and bodies are possible if you have the money for it. The more money you spend, the better your hardware is, with possibilities like enhanced sight, strength and even skin that can turn you invisible (though that last seems intended to be a government-only perk). Cyber-brain implants allow people to hook directly into an online network and even into each other, which means hacking isn’t just into people’s machines now. Your brain can be hacked too. The main characters for the movie are Section 9, an elite undercover government agency that handles network security. They are, as the young people say, Bad Asses. They’re also all using heavily modified cyborg bodies (except Togusa, who was recruited specifically because he’s all natural except for his cyber-brain implants, and Aramaki, the boss). But the most heavily modified of them all is Motoko, the Major. The only ‘real’ part of her left is her brain. Everything else is synthetic. And she’s beginning to have some questions.

The story of the movie follows a terrorist known as The Puppet Master. He’s a mysterious figure who’s been able to hack into protected systems, some of them inside people, and insert memories or instructions. And he’s been impossible to catch thus far. There’s a lot of politicking going on in the background of the movie. Machinations and plots and secrets. Plenty of maneuvering on the part of both the Section 9 folks and other government agencies and officials. And then midway through the movie a body is recovered. It should just be an empty cyborg shell, but it’s not. What differentiates a human from a purely cybernetic system is a “ghost”. And only humans have them. They can be dubbed, but dubs have flaws. And the body that shows up has a ghost, but no corresponding original owner. No human brain. It is a mystery, and Motoko wants to know if it’s possible that a ghost could be created by a program and if so, is she really real, or does she just believe she is because she’s been told so.

Now, the action in this movie is lovely. The visuals are gorgeous and the animation is beautifully done. There are some great car chases, and lots of fighting (including one fantastic scene where an invisible Motoko kicks a guy’s ass, throwing him around like a rag doll and since she’s invisible, all you see are the effects of what she’s doing). But while there’s plenty of action and lots of espionage hinted at, the point of the movie, and of the world as a whole, is the nature of personhood. What makes someone a someone, not a something? And will the definitions have to change as technology advances? The movie touches on it quite a lot and seems to be attempting to do more, but then it gets bogged down in extensive scenes of the city in the rain, or Motoko swimming, which is a pity. It’s not that long a movie, really, and the manga is a bit of a brick. So why the need for padding? And not padding that actually says anything about the world of the movie. Ah well. Maybe we’ll end up doing all of our television when we’re done with movies and I can really dig into all of this when we get to Stand Alone Complex. Or maybe tomorrow’s movie will do more with it. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the second Ghost in the Shell movie either.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ghost in the Shell

February 3, 2011

Ghost in the Shell

I miss the Tachikomas.

This movie, like Akira, is one of those anime classics which qualify as required viewing for neophyte anime viewers. It is also my least favorite of the several versions of this continuity. I love the manga it is based on, although I’m more of a fan of Shirow Masamune’s Appleseed books. When I did see this movie for the first time it was with my fond memories of the manga firmly entrenched in my mind, and although this movie is cool it didn’t quite capture what I think of as the spirit of Shirow’s original work. The main characters were recognisable but subtly altered such that they struck me as odd and slightly off. It wasn’t until several years later that the television series Stand Alone Complex came out, and I was relieved to find that although that series created new plot lines and new villains the way that it showed the characters from the manga seemed much more faithful to me. Clearly my affection for the original manga very heavily influences my reaction to this movie, so this is not so much an impartial review as an analysis of just what it was about the movie that left me so underwhelmed.

One thing that all three projects share is that their plots are confusing and convoluted. I often wonder if this is an issue with translation or if there are archetypes familiar to a Japanese audience which require more processing power for a gaijin like myself to understand, or if they are intentionally dense and confusing to encourage repeated viewings (or readings.) Perhaps it’s a combination. Shirow’s storytelling technique is better suited to an episodic format than a single-shot movie though. For one thing there are a number of characters here, each of them rich and with stories of their own to explore, but in this movie they’re only given seconds of screen time to explore those stories. We briefly see Bato’s love of guns when he complains about the damage done to a submachine gun filled with explosive rounds. There’s a small montage of Aramaki taking command of things in Section 9 headquarters, but we don’t get to see his knack for political maneuvering and his incorruptible commitment to his team. We are told about how Togusa is a mostly old fashioned organic human, but we don’t get to see him do any police work.

Mostly the movie concentrates of Major Motoko Kusanagi and her encounter with a being called the Puppet Master. This was one of the later plot arcs in the manga, but of course everything is truncated and concentrated to fit it in movie form. A few recognisable moments are lifted from the manga, but altered to fit the plot arc of the movie. There’s the garbage truck driver tricked into doing a computer hack. There’s the naked rogue robot woman struck by a car. I found it disorienting to see these bits that were straight out of the manga altered to fit a different plot arc. Most grating, however, was the lack of much of the anarchic humor that colored the books. The movie is deadly serious and a bit heavy handed in its philosophical bent. It replaces character development and light hearted antics with long establishing shots of the canals of the flooded streets of Tokyo in this high-tech future.

In this version of the story Motoko and her team-mates are tasked with stopping a rogue hacker who is engaged in some kind of cat and mouse game with Section 6 – the sort of equivalent of the CIA in this future Japan. Motoko, Bato, Togusa and all work for Section 9 – a top secret extremely well funded police organization that does black ops to defend the interests of the government. When the hacker that is called the Puppet Master activates a cyborg body assembly line remotely a robot is constructed which has no human brain and yet appears to have a soul in its neural net. What in this world is described as a Ghost. A consciousness which should indicate that it is human. It turns out that the robot body was a trick by Section 6 – who want to trap the Puppet Master in an isolated body to get it out of the ‘net. Because of course the Puppet Master is a synthetic consciousness which arose from a program Section 6 had been using to hack into the minds of foreign diplomats to get their own way in negotiations. But the Puppet Master has an agenda of its own, which is why it runs to Section 9 when it inhabits the robot body. It is up to Motoko to foil Section 6 and find out just what that agenda is.

This is actually a very pretty movie. The animation is richly detailed (sometimes at the expense of fluid movement it seems.) The music is haunting and creepy. The action is full of big explosions, over-the-top gore and gratuitous breasts, all of which fit my sense of Shirow’s aesthetic. The technical design of the robots, planes, guns and tank in the movie are reminiscent of Shirow’s designs. I even like the philosophical maundering about the nature of life, what makes up an individual, and the thin line that defines self and consciousness. If I had seen this movie without having read the book I probably would have found it moving and revolutionary. Instead I am left feeling that it is derivative and lacks the depth of the work it is based upon.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment