Reviews: Ghost In The Shell

Ghost of a Trainwreck

As someone who's watched SAC and read the manga, I just did not like this movie. Now, don't get me wrong; I understand what the movie was trying to do, and I appreciate it. The main idea is that you can't always be sure just what's real and what isn't, especially in the world that that the movie presents. When brains can be hijacked and memories modified at the drop of a hat, who's to say if what makes you you, is really you? And who can tell if any of that actually matters?

The major problem is how those ideas are actually presented. Rather than showing those themes throughout the natural course of the story, the film mostly does so by using the Major and the Puppetmaster as faux-philosophical mouthpieces. I'm not saying that there isn't a time and a place for monologues, but when those monologues amount to philosophical BS that doesn't sound anything like what actual people would say, you have a real problem there.

Those monologues also serve as a detriment to the characters, particularly the Major. While she's still presented differently in both the manga and the anime, she still manages to be fun and lively at times in both, while still being plenty serious when she needs to be. The point is that she had personality; that she was an actual character, but here, she's nothing more than a vessel for the movie to spout it's so-called words of wisdom. The other characters aren't much better. While they aren't exactly cold and unfeeling, they can still feel that way at times, and are less likeable and affable than in the show or even the manga. Even though the characters aren't the most important part of GITS, they should be likeable and enjoyable enough, and in the film, that just isn't the case.

Aside from everything else that I've already mentioned, the plot can be hard to follow, and doesn't always make a lot of sense. It doesn't even have a proper climax; heck, maybe not even a third act. It just ends. I've seen this in plenty of newer plays, and I can tell you that unless done right, it almost never ends well, and it wasn't any different for this movie. You feel like the real story is just starting, and yet, it ends just as it begins. Nothing truly feels accomplished, and you're left completely and utterly unsatisfied with an empty feeling in your stomach, and you just want to hurl the remote at the TV screen. (Which I actually did, natch. :P)

That said, the movie does have it's good points. The music is amazing, the animation is beautiful, and the film has a unique mood all it's own. I can see why it inspired the Matrix. But none of that makes up for the failings that prevent it from being an enjoyable and/or satisfying film; the same with the Matrix. Fancy effects or a unique mood does not make up for bland characters and hackneyed writing, and that's certainly the case for both the Matrix as well as Ghost in the Shell. (The film, not the show. Because the show's awesome. Go watch that instead while you're at it. )

Completely unenjoyable on every level

Lemme get this out of the way first—the dialogue, at least in the dub, is absolutely terrible. The expository dialogue has a very specific rhythm that it adheres to unwaveringly, a constant barrage of question and answer sessions even when it comes to things characters should already know about the way the system works. Most irritating is that any introspection the characters have is packaged like this too—the Major, especially, tells us how she feels about life and existence the same way she talks about the details of a case she's working or how this universe's robots work.

And speaking of life, existence, and how robots work, the film seems to repeatedly put forth that life is meaningless. The problem is that this philosophy is based entirely around the hypothetical world the movie is set in—memories can be fabricated, minds hacked. In such a world, yeah, the concept of life is kinda meaningless, and yet the movie seems to put this forth as a general philosophy rather than one specific to its warped universe. It's like if Lord Of The Rings put forth orks as evidence of fundamental evil. And of course none of this is helped by the rhythms of the dialogue.

You'd expect refuge in the action scenes. This is a crime thriller after all, isn't it? But the film seems convinced that if the pacing picks up for more than two seconds it'll lose its deep-and-brooding cred. Chase scenes are given slow steady music and a montage feel that just falls short of putting you to sleep. Oh, it has no qualms about quick bursts of brutal violence, so long as they don't linger.

Other, non-action silent scenes are like this, too, with one montage being just of people wandering about the city. There was probably a message in that, but maybe the film's right and I'm just too stupid to get it if everything isn't explained to me at length in monotone.

At 90 minutes the film feels overlong and understuffed. It has little to say and no skill to say it with. Oh, and the CGI is terrible and out of place.

Watch the show instead. It's far better in all respects.

A landmark film that does for anime what The Matrix does for films.

Ghost In The Shell is the 1995 film adaptation of the manga written by Shirow Masamune, revolving around Motoko Kusanagi, a member of the computer crimes unit Section 9. Kusanagi was turned into a cyborg, her human ghost inhabiting this cyborg shell, and she is assigned to track down a hacker known as the Puppet Master while she begins to question her own humanity.

Most people would be familiar with anime when this film was released. They might remember Astro Boy or Robotech that had a lot of Japan's signature philosophy and style. This film however is one of the first undiluted looks at anime and it works really well. It hits just the right darkness and depth without it going over the top or becoming too depressing and confusing.

The art style paints Tokyo as a gritty, washed out urban landscape that realistically captures the tone of the setting and the film as a whole. The character designs help sell this, with realistic humans and cyborgs rather than something cheesy or exaggerated. And the portrayal of a strong female protagonist is refreshing, there are a few eye candy shots but particularly when Batou looks away from her stripping it serves to further emphasize the psycho monosyllabic human cyborg dynamic rather than potential rape victim.

The music is edgy, subtle and perfectly sets the mood of each scene. Music is actually rather minimalistic, and to Mamoru Oshii's credit he saw no need to add in hard western rock like other anime of the time did. For the most part the voice acting is good, decent, and thankfully lacking in Narm. The characters sound believable and are not hackneyed like earlier anime.

There are two downsides to the film however, minor ones. The first is the film can get a little too clever at times. Like the first Metal Gear Solid it steps just to the point of showing off, though not to the point where it will turn off viewers. That leads into the second fault: this is a complex film. If you picked this up after watching, say, the Street Fighter anime then it will take several rewatches to fully understand it.

The Wachowskis cite this as an influence and it shows. If you enjoyed The Matrix check it out. Even if you hated the Matrix and just enjoy good anime or films it's worth watching. And on a final note, do you think Kusanagi and Rei Ayanami know each other?