It sometimes feels pretty lonely being a fan of Mamoru Oshii. He's squandered much of his goodwill on the fiasco Innocence (which I still liked but that's a whole 'nother story) and the rest of his cinematic canon is quite often dismissed, and not merely by action fans who dislike anything slow. He's accused of being pretentious for its own sake, following the forms of arthouse flicks merely at the surface without adding sufficient depth to create a good film.
There's truth to both of these criticisms, particularly in his weaker works. Certainly Oshii is pretentious but heck, pretentiousness is underrated. I love me some good pretentiousness. It's an essential quality in the kind of films he tries to make, those that borrow so much from the greats of art cinema in an effort to bring something different to the world of cartooning.
Oshii's never been spectacularly successful in the West, but he did have one bona fide hit - a film that many anime fans have watched and no doubt some still love (even those who probably have no idea who I'm talking about or think I mean Matsumune Shirow).
That film, of course, is Ghost in the Shell. This is a cyberpunk tale that deftly melds action and philosophy - though none of the questions it poses about man and machine are particularly original, they're interestingly framed. A difficult but surprisingly successful balance is maintained between the action aspect and the underlying thematic material, though it tends to lean towards the latter to the expense of the former.
Perhaps the most intriguing notion raised is that of 'ghosts', which are meant in the now somewhat archaic sense of 'soul' - a quantity that can determine the difference between real life and artificial intelligence. For those whose entire bodies have been replaced by machines, these ghosts are the only indications left of their humanity. However, it is a little opaque as to what exactly these ghosts are, giving it a vaguely tacked-on metaphysical feel.
I'm not calling this a profound film (it isn't), but it executes its aforementioned blend effectively. How well you believe it does really would depend on your fondness for extended monologues or debates.
This is a wonderfully realised urban landscape - the Blade Runner of the East, at the time only rivalled by the landmark Akira. Action sequences are kinetic and the character designs are good. The animation brings out the best of the cyberpunk aesthetic, one I'm more than partial to.
What's aged poorest is the use of CGI, which thankfully was confined to computer screens rather than being incorporated into the film itself. Still, this CGI seems primitive compared to what our computers could handle today, let alone in some near-future where we can create cyborgs.
An atmospheric and haunting chant in ancient Japanese is the most memorable piece of music, provided by frequent Oshii collaborator Kenji Kawaii. There's an extended musical interlude featuring this around the centre of the film that is one of my favourite moments in anime - it is almost spiritual in its reflectiveness.
The voice acting in English is a little monotone but I thought it was okay - Mimi Woods's delivery resembles Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise. Naturally, the Japanese track was a fair bit better.
Characterisation isn't a strong point here. Mokoto Kusanagi may raise a lot of questions about her own humanity but she's sufficiently robotic to make us doubt too, and the rest of the cast are without much presence. Perhaps the most interesting character is the least human - but that's mainly for the questions he raises as an entity. They're largely people to follow around as they fight and then as mouthpieces to idly air the philosophical touchstones of the piece and they work on that level.
If Hayao Miyazaki introduced me to the possibilities of anime, then Oshii films like Angel's Egg, Beautiful Dreamer and this one is what made me fall in love with it. Fans of cyberpunk who presumably live under a rock and haven't seen this film are invited to try it.
ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
GiTS, the story of an anti-terrorist group of men and cyborgs, as they prevent cyber crimes and try to apprehend a criminal who manipulates the memories of his victims. And this is not even the tip of the iceberg.
1995 was a major turning point in anime and stands as the point where the gold era of Japanese animation began. The industry started taking risks and making a lot of interesting titles thereafter for over a decade. A reason is the great effect Neon Genesis had on its mainland audience, which inspired the companies to fund affiliated works, things that before that anime would pass as risky and not profitable. Another reason is the coming of a new form or data recording. I am referring to the DVD which offered much higher analysis and resolution than the CD and thus allowing for anime to look better.
Also, the third generation of anime fans came to be around this point for me.
- The first is the one in the mid 60’s who grew up with Tetsuwan Atom and Tetsoujin 28. That generation was given works of producers who grew up in WW2 and thus all famous works of that time have to do with technology and sadness around a vastly changed world which seems to have lost its innocence, yet strives on with hope.
- The second is the one in the early 80’s who grew up with Urusei Yatsura and Macross. That generations was given less depressing works and a world now recovered from war and enjoying unparallel technological achievements.
- The third generation is the one I am referring to this point. Their country was going through economic depression and the end of the world speculation fuss had created this feeling of unrest and doubt to the problems technology can solve. So once again the feeling returned to a more depressing one around technology and the change of the world, just like before.
All that contributed to the creation and even to the success of Ghost in the Shell, a movie phenomenon for its time and era in general. If it was made a few years back, chances are it would flop badly because the audience was not mentally ready to accept such a concept yet. Even Akira, which was also an instant hit, was far simpler in its ideas and based half its appeal on action and mass destruction, something this movie does not have. Although it itself probably inspired by even older sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner or Neuromancer, it still succeeded in further progressing the main theme of man-machine interface to far deeper regions.
The story is basically the loose adaptation of the homonymous manga, which was a phenomenon on its own. And since I love lists, here are the reasons of why this film, and by extension the manga, is so great.
1) Great production values. Even better than Akira, which also counts as great. Cinematography is masterful as everything is drawn and animated in a way it feels alive, There is an amazing detail given to machinery and various parts explain brand new technologies and applications. It gives you the feeling that it is all possible and probable, making you believe them as viable and not as mumbo jumbo magic technology like in other sci-fi works. The smart camera angles, the right use of BGM, and several scenes which are used only as mute depiction of a feeling or a mood. All that make viewing a pleasure unlike anything else ever made up until then.
2) Great story and concepts. The blur between reality and virtual reality may feel commonplace today but this movie is from the oldest examples and still holds today as amongst the most mature and well-thought-of takes on the subject. In fact, more than half of all following movies were heavily influenced by this work and any similarities may as well be considered as tribute to this one. Also, unlike most other variants on augmented or virtual reality which focus on a small concept or part of the world, here the idea covers all aspects of life, from society, to religion, to philosophy, to one’s personal search for identity and happiness.
3) Great characters. Motoko, Batou and Togusa are three very easy to understand yet complicating personalities, all a product of their era, affected by the ever-present technology yet still making their own personal choices. The movie is more about them having existentialism dialogues than fighting criminals and more about separating reality from illusion to completing their mission and go home for beers. There were many shows about people turning to robots or robots trying to be people before, but most were quite simple and all ended up by having to beat a bad guy or something. Here, the main bad guy of sorts is the Puppet Master who, as corny as his name sounds, is actually a very interesting character by himself; not really evil or with hatred towards the world. In fact, nobody is really evil as is selfish and profit-centered. Mercenaries and company presidents and politicians, all of them just try to make the best of what they can in a world run by information and the power of stealth ends up being more effective than the power of guns.
I have heard lots of things from people who didn’t like the movie and almost all of them are about how the film doesn’t have great action or how they keep talking and acting all emo instead of, I don’t know, shot at stuff and laugh like they enjoy what they are doing. To those people I can only say that this is not a brain-dead action story like the Transformers or Black Lagoon. It is dialogue-heavy and full of talking around philosophy and politics and the meaning of life. It may feel like it’s preachy or overblown with emoness at times but, hey, that was what it aimed for in the first place. I too would prefer longer action scenes and longer duration to get to see more about the world that is why Story and Enjoyment don’t stand as perfect for me; but I’m not going to disregard all the rest just because of that minor issue.
A thing to take notice is that the manga version has a far different feeling, as the characters there are more comical and act more like humans. If you prefer less depressing stuff, you can just read the manga version. Also, a decade later they made two tv seasons based on the same story, and again the feeling is different as here the characters think and act more like amoral professionals rather than people who seek a reason for being. You can also check that one. And if you still find the concept simplistic after all these years and how today all that are mainstream stuff, you can also “try” to read the second GiTS manga or the watch the second GiTS movie, where things are even harder to understand. Good luck to you; I lost track at some point and my organic hard drive crashed so I left it for another time.
Bottom line, GiTS stands as most likely the best in overall and most influential cyberpunk work to hit the screens and tv screens and it is still a concept that was never surpassed in detail and attention by any other producer or filmmaker. Seriously, the Matrix trilogy looks like elementary school before it.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 10/10
General Artwork 2/2 (great)
Character Figures 2/2 (realistic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (detailed)
Animation 2/2 (fluid)
Visual Effects 2/2 (great)
SOUND SECTION: 10/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (mature and intelligent)
Music Themes 4/4 (great)
Sound Effects 3/3 (great)
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (too fast)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 2/2 (fine)
Conclusion 2/2 (satisfying)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (rich)
Development 1/2 (rushed but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (rushed but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you like its style)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely mature to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10
Art 1/1 (looks great)
Sound 2/2 (sounds great)
Story 2/3 (rushed but great)
Characters 4/4 (amazing)
The first series of Ghost is like we all know (excellent) I give it the thumbs up, especially when it comes to the laughing man arc, giving true meaning to whether technology will truelly be progresion or regression. Brilliant series
La historia de "Ghost in the shell" transcurre en el año 2029, en un mundo onda Lain (que buena explicación, pensar que había empezado tan serio :-P). Los países desaparecieron (¡sii!) y el mundo se fusionó en una enorme red, la cuál es monitoreada y protegida por policias que investigan los cyber-crímenes (? sé que sonó re-estupido, pero no se me ocurrió una mejor palabra). Una de las divisiones de esta policía es justamente la sección 9, en donde trabajan nuestra protagonista la mayor Motoko Kusanagi y su compañero Bateau.
Nuestros protagonistas se encuentran investigando a un hacker conocido en la red como el Puppet Master (Amo de la Marionetas, o algo por el estilo), cuya especialidad es implantar falsas memorias en las personas y obligarlos a hacer el trabajo sucio (genial, ¿no?). La cosa es que este Puppet Master no es nada mas ni nada menos que parte del Proyecto 2501 (pero disfrazado con el nombre de "Puppet Master"), el cuál pretende crear la nueva generación de agentes en la red. Agentes no-humanos que no tienen cuerpo físico y pueden navegar libremente a través de "las pistas de la información" hackeando y manipulando personas y maquinas a voluntad.
Hasta ahi todo re-lindo.. Si, hasta que este agente virtual se aviva de que es una forma de vida nacida en "el mar de la información" y pide asilo político y una existencia física... Es lógico, ¿no? :-D (¿no?). Asi que la polícia queda encargada de perseguirlo y recapturar el Proyecto 2501 antes de que pueda encontrar un cuerpo que lo albergue y se escape. Pero lo más genial del Puppet Master es que amenaza a sus creadores de revelar su creación ilegal al Bureau de Investigaciones Internas, por lo que ambas agencias entran en una guerra por ver quien captura primero al omnipresente Puppet Master.
Es ahi donde la mayor Kusanagi (parte del Bureau de Investigaciones Internas) se ve en una encrucijada, ya que ella es una agente mitad humana, mitad cyborg quien se cuestiona su validez como ser humano y puede comprender el deseo del Puppet Master de ser un verdadero humano y existir fuera de la Red. Y es ella quien deberá tomar la decisión de ayudarlo o eliminarlo.
Gracias a "Mangaml".
I’m not quite sure what to make of Ghost in the Shell. I think it’s a good film, thought-provoking and entertaining, with dynamic animation and an interesting cast of characters. But it’s also curiously pedantic – the exposition is just a little too on-the-nose, and the ending is an anticlimactic mess. It’s still an excellent movie, but at the end I found myself wondering, “Is that it?”
This might not be the film’s fault. I’ve done quite a bit of research and critical reading on the concept of embodiment in cyberspace and cyborg-feminist theory over the past year or so, and many of the film’s ideas are ones that are not particularly revolutionary for me. This may also account for how I had an easier time following a film that has a reputation for being somewhat opaque. But I don’t want to pretend I’m smarter than this movie – this is a very smart movie. And I also don’t want to let it off so easily.
The film starts out in a remarkably interesting way, with a truly unique assassination. It then moves on into murkier, more interesting territory as we learn about a hacker called The Puppet Master, and get a couple of highly engaging action scenes that show the extent and power of his (or her … or its) influence. The Puppet Master can control people through erasing their memory and other such devices; he can do this because of how cybernetically enhanced everyone in this world is. Let’s put it this way – it’s a big deal that one of the characters doesn’t have hardly any cybernetic enhancements.
The film begins with the question of what makes us human, and at first the answer seems to be “our memory,” because of various monologues about how we are who we are because of what we remember about our past. As the film the progresses the answer gets harder and harder to discern, as the question is broadened to ask, “What is life?”
These are the big questions. These are questions we’ve been trying to answer for millennia, since the dawn of man, probably. Now, I’m not expecting this movie to "answer" these questions. That would be miraculous. What I do expect is an honest engagement with them, which is hard to do when your runtime is so limited. This movie is under an hour and a half long, and therein lies the major problem it has: it simply has too many ideas to cram into one movie, especially one that’s so short.
To be fair, someone must have realized this because there’s a TV show based on the movie. But that doesn’t really help the movie much; with such a short runtime, the characters have to engage in lengthy dialogues that don’t just explain the admittedly complex plot, but also the large, omnipresent themes of the film. It simply doesn’t have time to do these big questions justice, and it seeks to remedy this through a series of exposition-laden conversations towards the end of the film that more or less kill the momentum. Even a last-minute car chase can’t make up for the fact that most of the characters spend the entire thing talking through it, trying to figure out the plot.
It may sound like I didn’t like the movie, but I did give it 8/10 for a reason. The characters are highly engaging and entertaining – the female lead is especially complex and interesting. The animation is great, and the action scenes are among the most exhilarating I’ve seen. I enjoyed the music as well, though it wasn’t as instantly iconic in my mind as say, Kaneda’s theme from Akira. This is, in essence, an extremely well put together film that suffered some problems in pacing and runtime. Still, it’s also revolutionary and unique, and while its questions may be asked a little too bluntly, they’re still highly thought-provoking questions. This is a good movie that could have been great with better writing and a little more room to breathe; as it stands, it’ll have to settle for being one of the more influential anime.