A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , , , , ,

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