Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ghost in the Shell Anime Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell
Gosuto in za Sheru and Kokaku Kidotai
Manga Entertainment
Movie - 82 minutes - 1 disc
$14.98 (2010) 2.0
$19.97 (2009) 2.0 Blu-Ray
$19.97 (2007)
$34.98 (2005) Special Edition
$19.98 (1998)
ISBN 780063552929
Japanese/English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Mamoru Oshii
Studio - Production I.G

Synopsis: Human technology has been steadily advancing to the point where in the year 2029 cyborgs are commonplace and the net is a vast landscape of information.  The line between human and machine continues to blur.  Cyborg enhancements enable great strength, dexterity, information processing, and direct communication through data links (similar to telepathy).  Entirely artificial prosthetic bodies are available with the human's soul residing as a 'ghost' in the machine.  Crime and espionage have reached a new level and governments have set up special groups to deal with the elevated threat.
The Major repels down a building after completing a mission
The Japanese government's Public Security Section 9 is a sanctioned group which deals with the highest level of cyber-crimes.  They use the most advanced technology and their field commander is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg.  She's an expert at hand-to-hand, urban combat, and tactics.  Her right hand is Batou who possesses enhancements to his eyes and upper torso.  He's a tough customer, but still bows to the Major's authority.  Section 9 is led by Chief Aramaki, a man with intense morals and attachment to his team.
A diplomat's aide gets her cyberbrain hacked and Section 9 is called in
Section 9 investigates a hack into the cyberbrain of an aide to a government official.  Soon they're embroiled in a chase to find the powerful hacker known as the 'Puppet Master'.  This hacker is able to enter the cyberbrains of individuals and make them perform involuntary tasks.  It's called 'ghost-hacking' and one of the frightening drawbacks of cyberization.  When their investigation draws attention from Section 6 it becomes a political power-play to find the Puppet Master.
Batou is the Major's second-in-command and a real hard-ass
Who is the elusive Puppet Master and who is really trying to find him?  Are Sections 6 and 9 being to carry out another government's kill order?  The Major and almost every member of her team have been cyberized - are they easy targets for the Puppet Master?  The intrigue thickens as Section 9 gets closer to finding the answers to these questions.  What is Project 2501?  Where does the line between humanity and machine intelligence begin to lose coherence?
The creation of the Major's cyborg body - here we see the
final formation of the artificial skin
Pros: Visually stunning and CG layering was revolutionary for its time (released in the mid-nineties), haunting soundtrack, compelling story which still resonates today with the nature of computers and humans, great action sequences, amazing technology (thermo-optical camouflage)
The backgrounds in a chase scene literally look like photos
Cons: Very little action and a lot of theorizing about electronic souls, movie does not end with a frenetic crescendo instead more theorizing, absolutely no humor (which deviates from the original manga), dry and existential movie - Oshii's specialty
Who is this mysterious prosthetic body which just walked
off the assembly-line and ran into the streets
Mike Tells It Straight: Ghost in the Shell (aka GitS) can easily be considered one of the top anime films of the 1990s and has been considered the decade's Akira.  It was a revolution in film making with highly detailed backgrounds, advanced use of computer graphics in tandem with traditional animation, and compelling exposition on the nature of humanity/technology.  The film is often considered director Mamoru Oshii's (The Sky Crawlers, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade) masterpiece and has garnered much international attention.  It's originally based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, a prolific artist with many works translated into anime (Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police) although none quite so popular as GitS.
One of the creepier cybernetic enhancements portrayed these
prosthetic hands expands out for lightning fast typing.  I think
this would instantly de-sexy any hot receptionist
In stark contrast to Oshii's film, Shirow's manga includes many humorous moments.  It's intricately detailed and paramilitary focused, but Shirow clearly enjoys contrasting the serious subject matter with comedy.  The character of Batou particularly has an amusing, awkward side in the manga, but is portrayed as a complete hard-ass in the film.  GitS the film spawned (thankfully) several sequels including another film (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) also by Oshii, two television series (Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex and Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex 2nd Gig), and more recently a prequel OVA series (Ghost in the Shell: Arise).
The Major takes on a Think Tank (multi-legged tanks) by herself
One of the biggest issues with the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of GitS are the various changes with each release.  I sometimes find this maddening (as in the case of Akira on DVD where the dub was replaced from the VHS version) and GitS has not escaped changes over the years.  What is the best version of the Ghost in the Shell movies?  Due to the critical popularity of GitS many fans have cried foul on the various releases.  The original Manga release seems to be fairly decent while the Special Edition gets lambasted for poor transfer quality and different closing song.  The 2.0 versions make many changes such as using amber hues for all of the formerly green CG elements and replacing several scenes with pure CG.
Original version thermo-optical camouflage effect from opening scene
CG enhanced/replaced version - major differences!
These changes were overseen by Oshii to make his first film more consistent with his second film.  The 2.0 release also includes an HD version of the 1.0 film, but surprisingly it's a transfer from the laserdisc.  It's tough to say which is the best version because we always cherish the one we were exposed to first (especially if we actually like the movie).  I suggest picking up the older and newer versions to make your own decision (if you're completely new to the film).  If you've already seen the film then try out the 2.0 Blu-Ray, but hang onto your older versions in case you end up disliking the changes.  You should be able to pick up a current copy for relatively cheap (unless you want the penultimate version = Japanese 1.0 Blu-Ray which is a bit more expensive and includes English dub/sub).
This scene looks much better in Blu-Ray HD
I believe GitS is an iconic film which caught international attention at just the right time to cement itself in anime history.  Despite being an anime classic it's quite dry and relatively straightforward (i.e. explains itself pretty directly through the dialogue of its characters).  It can be hard watching a film that's been built up so heavily by critics yet is almost two decades old and still come away with the intended experience of its director.  Technology has changed, but GitS remains the same.  I was pleasantly surprised to observe the future technology and feel of GitS has held up really well since it's release.  It's easily one of the cornerstones of anime cyberpunk history and worth at least one watch.  I don't really get the urge to re-watch the film aside from wanting to check out new versions (same thing with Akira).  It doesn't stop me from having it in my collection though!  I'm looking forward to checking out the sequel film by Oshii and the two television series.  Stay tuned!
The Major dives into the Jane Doe prosthetic body!
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