This is another one of those “High School Movies”, and i’m going to take a stab at a generalisation and state that a lot of people my age (nearly 30) probably were introduced or exposed themselves to Anime in and around their mid to late teens.
The movies watched were likely some combination of Akira, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, and some Miyazaki movie (likely Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, or Spirited Away). As these were the most praised in the early days of the internet, and easily accessible with the advent of DVD’s becoming the dominant format of home theater experiences.
Now it goes without saying that i have just projected my Anime viewing experience onto you as the reader, which is something that you’re going to have to live with as this is a one way conversation and i am all knowing and all seeing by virtue of writing a post on the internet. But to get back onto subject i was blown away by those early forays into Anime, i was always a fan of animation (being a kid when i was had me experience the 90’s animation renaissance first hand) and those films opened the door to an adult and mature part of it without having to seek out offensively incomprehensible garbage like Wizards or re-live horrific nightmares like Rock & Rule…
To get further on topic; i must state that i haven’t watched Ghost in the Shell in a very long time (circa 2008). So i was curious what i would think of it when a buddy came over and suggested we check it out (as he never watched it himself).
In this adaptation of the long running Ghost in the Shell series we follow the stoic android agent Motoko Kusanagi of Section 9 as she attempts to track down the enigmatic hacker The Puppet Master, in a futuristic and politically unstable Japan.
One of those early introductory articles i read about Anime’s unique aspects (who exactly wrote it is lost to time and my memory) pointed out that while American animation stressed and emphasised motion (Power Puff Girls and Samurai Jack are some of the best examples), Anime was more concerned with preserving detail within the artwork (at the expense of smooth motion). To that end almost no other movie to my memory exemplifies that philosophy as clearly as this version of Ghost in the Shell.
From the character designs to the backgrounds every aspect of the film is filled with lavish and intricate art design. Grimy streets to high tech laboratories are all rendered in painstaking detail that is almost tragically glossed over by the film’s short running time. The film is also a poster boy for the cyberpunk sub-genre of media with its combination of lo-fi CGI animations, themes, and over all aesthetic.
Speaking of the thematic content of the film, Ghost in the Shell delves into such subjects like Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence, and the essence of identity all of which are very fertile and relevant ground to explore. Which makes me depressed as i wonder what the hell are the film makers of the Star Trek reboot doing? It seems that they’re content to make movies and trailers about explosions and filled with obnoxious soundtracks instead of exploring the same issues as Ghost in the Shell does, and to pour salt on that particular wound they do it in spite of the fact that the series tackled the exact same issues as this movie as early as 1979…
Unfortunately an interesting premise and thematic content can’t carry a movie by themselves, and to that end the producers of the Anime were clearly more interested in presenting their themes as strongly as possible, and not overly concerned with making an interesting narrative. The film’s story is apparently about finding a mysterious hacker, however long talky scenes of identity and the ramifications of Transhumanism and two large action set pieces rob so much of the film’s 82 minute running time that important plot developments seem to happen off screen or are almost unexplained.
I’ve seen the movie at least 5 times and i still have no idea why Aramaki takes a SWAT team to spy on some international delegate, while having a situation report fed into his head. I have no idea what government agency violently takes the Puppet Master away from Section 9’s laboratories, or why some other agency wants to kill Kusanagi and the Puppet Master. Nor do i care or really understand why the Puppet Master wants to combine with Kusanagi, as its sole motivation is explained (painstakingly) through endless and pretentious dialog with almost no narrative weight or motivation to back it up.
Oddly enough because the film’s narrative is sidelined the film’s pacing feels a bit slow despite its short running time. This is a symptom of having none of the events that occur at the beginning of the movie motivating any of the plot developments at the end. Another symptom of poor plotting is character motivations are glossed over (why does Kusanagi care about the Puppet Master so much to destroy her body in an attempt to rescue him? Other than it giving us a cool shot?).
While Ghost in the Shell explores very engaging themes with spectacular visuals, it does so at the expense of providing a suitably engaging narrative. Unfortunately this has the film failing to stack up to similar Sci-Fi epics like Blade Runner, The Matrix, or even The Terminator as all of those films stories are head and shoulders better than what’s on display here in Ghost in the Shell.
While this doesn’t make it a bad film, uninitiated viewers may be left wondering what the big deal is and may not be willing to give the film the 5 or so viewings it takes to fully understand what’s going on in its confusing narrative. Although if you’re curious about Anime and/or cyberpunk films this is still as good a place to start as any.
OUT OF FIVE