Yes that really is the title, but this is not to be confused with the upcoming live action film that will star Scarlett Johanson and will be coming out next year, which I intend to review upon its release.
Ghost in the Shell is a science fiction film based on a Manga of the same title which is not that well known amongst a Western audience, but for the Japanese and fans of anime it’s a bonafide classic, with very good reason. It’s an excellent science fiction film in fact I would near say it’s my favourite science fiction film and probably one of my favourite movies. The original film depicts a dystopian future where humanity is so broken that pretty much everyone has some sort of cybernetic implants of some sort, with its main character, Major Matoko Kusanagi being what’s known as a full prosthetic, a human with a completely artificial body with the only human part intact being the brain, which even then still has cybernetic implants. I could go into this film all day about the fact the film had themes of feminism, the nature of existence, identity, exploration and even things to do with the spin offs, like the stand alone complex which went into further detail with these themes, and even some scenes in the second season which have scenes which mirror the current refugee crisis, but I don’t feel I would do it a service, I think you should just go out and watch the movie and both seasons of stand alone complex. They are very easy to get hold of, in fact you can get both seasons of Stand Alone Complex on iTunes. If you really want a comprehensive look at the film, check out Bennett The Sage’s review, he does a much better job than I ever could, I will actually leave a link to it HERE don’t worry, his video contains no spoilers so if you are curious about the movie but don’t know whether you want to purchase it, it’s a good video to start on.
This latest incarnation, however, may have received a mainstream release in select cinemas in the USA but it did not make its way over to the UK outside of film festivals, being released at ‘Scotland Loves Anime” which should be re-titled, ‘every anime film you want to watch next year’ as well as a couple of other festivals including the upcoming BFI Anime weekend, this weekend. So, if you are in the London area or fancy a trip to London you can see it there, along with several other films that look fairly decent, though, be warned, there are no screenings of the films in English dub, so you will have to watch all the films in Japanese with sub-titles which I know isn’t for everyone.
I am a huge fan of all things ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and I think the stories are excellent sci-fi but I really feel like this film was being made to just bridge the gap before we get to the live action film, plus it’s a way of Manga Entertainment covering themselves saying, well if the live action film sucks, at least we got something out of it that was good. I assume that most of the people who are reading this review are familiar with Ghost In The Shell and the Stand Alone Complex so I am going to be making a lot of references to terminology and characters in the film and there won’t be any restraint on spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film or both TV series this is your last chance, there will be spoilers about them, though I won’t be spoiling the plot of this movie.
Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie, takes place in the year 2027 following the end of the non-nuclear World War IV. A bomb has gone off in Newport City, Japan killing the Prime Minister and a major arms dealer. Major Matoko Kusanagi (played by Elizabeth Maxwell) investigates the case with her squad following the death of her friend Koratsu (played by Mary Elizabeth McGuin) however, the case uncovers a conspiracy of mind-hacking murder and Matoko has a body double wandering around committing terrorism in her name. I don’t want to go into too much detail in this film because, despite the fact that this is one of the longest films in the Ghost In The Shell series, running at a total of 1hr 40mins, I think it will be better for people to go in not knowing too much since the major crux of the film is the investigation itself. Despite the fact that one of the co-directors of this film is Kazuchico Kizai who directed the original film he is joined by up and coming director Kaziu Mamora and I feel like his influence was more on the film since this feels a lot more like Stand Alone Complex than the original Ghost In The Shell and it will be interesting to see what people’s opinions will be as I believe Stand Along Complex has mixed reactions since it was much more of an action anime more than the film it was based upon.
The best way I can describe this film is ‘Ghost In The Shell’ was a philosophical film that happened to have action in it, the new movie is an action movie that happens to have some philosophical discussion in it and even then it’s not that much. Stand Alone Complex has a lot more going on under its surface as the season would roll on and granted, I understand that a 1hr 40min film doesn’t have as much time as the 22 episodes season does, but the original got out a lot more than this with a shorter running time. The investigation just isn’t that interesting and I think it’s mainly down to the villains, they are just not that interesting and they don’t feel much of a threat like, say, The Puppet Master or The Laughing Man did, nor do they feel as anonymous, not helped by the fact that there is a plot twist halfway through the film that I saw coming a mile off! There is some philosophy on the nature of humanity and society, for example there is an interesting idea brought up about people placing their consciousness on a programme similar to the Internet that is named ‘The Third World’ which acts as an allegory for the afterlife so that people’s consciousness’ can still exist, there are also ideas about the nature of prosthetics in this modern society and all sorts of other interesting ideas are brought up, but unlike other incarnations, they never fully develop, they just seem to be there, there are some interesting ideas in this movie, but they just feel under-utilised. The resolution is rather under-whelming, it doesn’t feel like we had a slow build up to this, it just feels like a lot of action set pieces that led to a set conclusion. Granted, this is more of a problem in the first half since the second half fixes most of this but it would have been nice for the film to feel more consistent, though it did manage to keep my attention.
The film is also insistent that you are aware of Ghost In The Shell, despite the fact it’s kind of an origin story with something, I’m not sure what, it might be something to do with Ghost In The Shell Arise, I have heard this is an adaptation of that from a different perspective, I haven’t actually seen Ghost In The Shell Arise, though it still insists that you are aware of terminology, such as The Ghost being a terminology for someone’s consciousness and anyone that is not that familiar with the franchise may find themselves lost, though at this point, why you are watching something called Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie without having seen anything previously, does make me wonder! Other incarnations seem to have some sort of running comedy commentary. The first one was about the nature of humanity, the first season of Stand Alone Complex had some interesting ideas about viruses and biological warfare as well as the ethics of experimentation and the second season of Stand Alone Complex was an interesting commentary on various refugee crisis’ s (which could easily be an allegory for the current one) and the war on terror, though it’s not as unsubtle as it sounds, this one doesn’t have anything like that, it just feels like your typical action sci-fi series that is just there and that’s not something you could say about any of the other films or TV series.
Don’t get me wrong, this still feels like a Ghost In The Shell movie, it still keeps the very thought cade, inspired world, the characters whilst re-designed still look and act like you would expect them to and I daresay they got down a lot of the characters relationships very well, especially Matoko and Batou’s close relationship as well as the camaraderie felt within the group that will eventually become section 9. They are not all brilliant however, Togusa for example is really reduced to the butt of jokes, which is a shame because he was rather interesting and useful in Stand Alone Complex. Chief Aramaki is also rather reduced in his role in this film and he feels more of a hinderance than a help to the plot. There is a lot to enjoy in Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie’s plot, but I don’t think it quite stands up to what we have seen previously in the franchise, it also doesn’t quite explain how it fits into continuity, though maybe thats down to the fact that I haven’t seen everything from the franchise or read everything for that matter.
The new movie also comes with a new cast, it’s the same cast as Ghost In The Shell Arise, which I haven’t seen so I am going to judge their performances on this film alone, and they don’t work for me. Maybe it’s because I am so used to the film and Stand Alone Complex, but I am not really into this cast, at least for the most part. The one who comes out the best is Elizabeth Maxwell as Matoko, who doesn’t start out very well and I was initially thinking that her performance wasn’t as good as Mimi Woods or Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s performance as the character, but I am not going to lie, she grew into the character and I think she did a pretty good job, though it’s a bit weird that Kuratsu is played by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn so it feels very weird thinking that there are 2 Matoko’s on the screen. I’m also not really a fan of most of the other casting. I’m not too keen on John Swayze as Aramaki who didn’t sound nearly as good in the role as William Knight and Batou feels the weirdest, he is played in this film by Christopher Sabat and he is cast well in the role, but Richard Epcar has played this role until now and it’s very weird to not hear the voice cast by him, especially considering that this was one of Richard Epcar’s most iconic characters, it’s also very weird because he uses the same voice as he does for Picolo in Dragon Ball Z and that’s really distracting. I haven’t seen the film with the performance from the Japanese cast, but I imagine they do their roles slightly better and I think if you prefer seeing films in the sub, it might be worth seeing the film in its original Japanese. The dub cast do a pretty good job but I think fans of previous incarnations will not take too well to the new cast.
As for the animation, it’s fantastic. This is the one thing the film excels at, it’s absolutely great. Even the 3D animation, which I am not really a fan of in anime is integrated pretty well. It simply looks great and the action scenes are also fantastic. They are fast paced and choreographed brilliantly. The film really excels in this department and since so much emphasis is put of the action, that is a hell of a plus. I do think, however that this crisper animation means that Ghost In The Shell has lost a lot of the gritty nature that gave the original film its feel and I have a feeling that it has been slowly lost, especially after Stand Along Complex and here it feels almost non-existent, though we do get a sense of it, as I said, this does feel like a Ghost In The Shell movie.
Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie is basically another entry in the the franchise, though this time I think it’s more passable than it is good. There’s a lot to admire here. The plot has some interesting ideas, even if it doesn’t go completely out with them. The action is well done, the animation looks pretty good and I do kind of enjoy Elizabeth Maxwell in the role of Matoko, I just don’t like her as much as other actors who have played the role. I am not a fan of some of the re-designs, although I will admit, at least this outfit looks more practical than Matoko’s first costume in the Stand Alone Complex and I didn’t really think the plot was as interesting as previous incarnations.
This really should only be approached by Ghost In The Shell fans, I think everyone else should go back and see, Ghost In The Shell, Ghost In The Shell Innocence and both seasons of Stand Alone Complex before they approach this one, because those were all much better, it’s good, but it’s not great and you can only take this one as an action anime and not really much else, which is a shame because I think Ghost In The Shell is much better than that. It is available right now on Blu Ray and DVD and as I mentioned, if you are a fan of this and you are at all curious, it is playing in its original Japanese at BFI, South Bank Greenwich as part of the BFI anime weekend. Like I said, I only recommend this to Ghost In The Shell fans, who I am certain a few will disagree with me on a few points. It’s a good movie, but I wanted this to be GREAT and it just isn’t!
“So what were your thoughts? Did you agree with me or not. I welcome all comments.”
Now it’s time to move on and next week I review the latest in a long line of Hollywood’s attempts to make a film based on a video game, when I review Warcraft, please let this film be good.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and why are half of sci-fi films based on Philip K Dick’s work or Ridley Scott, take your pick.
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