ANIME REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL (2015)
Genre: action, crime, cyberpunk
Studio: Production I.G
Original year of release: 2015
Director: Kazuya Nomura
Writer: Tow Ubukata
Runtime: 94 mins
STORY AND CHARACTERSI still remember vividly, the first time I watched the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie. I was tired and not in the best of moods so I just wanted a really dumb movie to switch my brain off and laugh at. So I looked around a bit and found this silly anime flick that had a naked chick on the cover holding a gun. It was precisely what I was looking for. 88 minutes later and I felt like I’d just watched something life-changing. It was noirish, surreal and so very rich with unique themes and concepts. The only thing I had seen that came even close was Blade Runner but even that landmark of modern cinema wasn’t as unique and hard to grasp as the film I’d just sat through. I kept thinking about its themes of identity and whether or not the mind and body can be considered as seperate entities. Eventually, I wrote an essay on it for my philosophy club and only after a whole evening of debate (and two rewatches) did I feel I had some tangible idea of what this film was trying to say. In merely 88 minutes Ghost in the Shell changed the way I looked at anime, at movies and even life itself.
Some time later I watched its sequel "Innocence" (I still wish I hadn’t seen) as well as the subsequent tv shows and movies. But none of those incarnations came even close to the same impact the original 1995 movie had on me.
Now 20 years after the release of the original film and almost ten years after Solid State Society, we finally have another big screen Ghost in the Shell iteration on our hands. The story is nothing you wouldn’t expect if you’re even remotely familiar with the franchise. The Major and her crack team of ultimate badasses are called in to resolve a situation involving a group of foreign diplomats who've been taken hostage by a rogue section of the military. However, all that turns out to be a distraction to covertly assassinate the prime minister. Section 9 gets blamed for not being able to prevent the murder and since one of the other victims is Motoko’s former mentor Kurutsu, the Major is on the warpath. Off the grid and outside the law, she and her “parts” (as she calls her team-mates), will go to any lengths to find out what really happened that day and who is responsible.
Like any decent Ghost in the Shell installment, the plot of this film is particularly complex, involving many different factions and quite a bit of extensive worldbuilding. As smart and compelling as this is though it considerably drags down the pace of the film with the first half consisting of almost entirely nothing but people standing around, spouting exposition to one another. Screenwriter Tow Ubukata is clearly a very large fan of the original film as certain plot elements and sometimes even entire scenes are recycled with almost no attempts made at giving them a fresh coat of paint. Likewise, the Major we see in this film is very much like the Major from the 1995 movie. Cold and distant but also very uncertain about her identity and place in the world. However, Ubakata doesn’t dive quite as deep into her ghost as Oshii did, keeping her more introspective scenes brisk and to the point before moving back to unfolding his incredibly convoluted narrative.
ART AND ANIMATION
This film was put together by most of the same staff that worked on Arise. As you might recall from my previous review, one of my main issues with Arise was how a lot of the character designs didn’t quite gel with the setting. That is far less a problem with this film as the much greater emphasis on future tech and the advent of cybernetic enhancements makes the often rather stylistic designs seem at home in this future society.
I am, however. very surprised by how violent this film turned out to be. The original 1995 film was rife with extremely graphic violence but every other installment in the franchise so far has shied away from that. This film, on the other hand, brings back that element of ultra-violence in glorious fashion. Shootouts are bloody affairs with the camera often lingering on the nasty results after an action scene is done and even fistfights at times end with the removal of limbs. Interestingly enough though, the recreation of one of the 1995 film’s most iconic scenes is inexplicably toned down in terms of gore. I suppose good ol fashioned 90s ultra-violence is still a little too risqué for studios nowadays.
I feel like Production I.G made this film to repeat the success it enjoyed with the original. In that regard, it falls flat on its face. It has enough original elements and interesting concepts to make it a noteworthy installment in the franchise but ultimately it’s still the same story we’ve seen in almost every other iteration so far. Just painted in slightly different colors. That being said if you’re a fan of the franchise then you’ll really enjoy this film. It’s just that I’d like to see a Ghost in the Shell one day that’s completely outside the realm of what has become the established format for this franchise. If the 1995 film was pure gold then this film is polished bronze. Still, the fact that even now I’m talking about this franchise in terms of medals kind of proves just how awesome Ghost in the Shell still is and this film does nothing to make me question that.
Ghost in the Shell (2015) has been licensed by Funimation Entertainment in the US and Manga Entertainment in the UK and can be picked up on DVD and Blu-ray in both territories.
Special thanks to @Kuze for editing and feedback