Ghost in the Shell is one of the groundbreaking works in Japanese Animation. Now, the movie titled Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie has aired in cinemas. Does it hold up?
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is an odd construct. It’s part reboot, part re-imagining, part sequel and part… something else. Either way, it reunites us with all our favourite characters from the universe whom we’ve seen in many an incarnation thus far. And despite Motoko Kusanagi, her friends and her team being re-interpreted so many times, they remain the same at their core.
- Motoko Kusanagi – The leader of the unit known as Public Security Section 9, a clandestine, independent unit of specially trained agents. She’s been a cyborg since birth and only her brain is still human. She’s also a very skilled hacker.
- Batou – Kusanagi’s right hand man. He’s also almost a complete cyborg but used to be human. Most notable are his eyes that are two green optics in his face. He’s a skilled fighter and often acts as Kusanagi’s conscience.
- Togusa – The only fully human agent of Section 9. He favours a revolver and often struggles to hold his own in a world full of cyborgs.
- Ishikawa – Generally on the more secretive side, he is the team’s analyst.
- Saito – The team sniper. Apart from his left eye, an antenna in his forehead and his left eye, he’s fully human. He has a lust for killing.
- Paz – Has contacts in intelligence circles as well as organized crime. Usually fights dirty and uses a knife.
- Borma – Forensics and explosives specialist with an augmented body granting him incredible strength, resilience and endurance.
For most of the anime incarnations of Ghost in the Shell – known as Kōkaku Kidōtai or 攻殻機動隊 in Japan – these characters are exactly the same in terms of personality, but their origins and backstories, if we know them, are changed from incarnation to incarnation, sometimes tweaked only the tiniest bit. Because, what most people outside the anime fandom know is that Ghost in the Shell is a multimedia juggernaut and has persisted through pop culture for the last 21 years after the first, groundbreaking movie hit in 1995.
Ghost in the Shell – A Short Timeline
I know you’re here to read about The New Movie but it helps immensely to know that construct that is Ghost in the Shell. Because, interestingly enough, it has occurred to me over the course of the research for this article that from all appearances, the Japanese are way less adverse to reboots and re-imaginings and all the stuff that people who observe Hollywood regularly get upset about. Remember the big huff people made when Tobey Maguire stopped being Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield took up the job in a re-imagined first movie? That kind of thing is somewhat normal in these generation spanning multimedia franchises in Japan.
So here we go, Ghost in the Shell in a nutshell.
|1989||Kōkaku Kidōtai: Ghost in the Shell||Manga serialized in Young Magazine|
|1995||Ghost in the Shell||Cinematically released movie|
|1997||Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface||Manga serialized in Young Magazine|
|1997||Ghost in the Shell||Videogame on PlayStation|
|2002||Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex||Animated TV series|
|2003||Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor||Unpublished stories from Man-Machine Interface|
|2004||Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd Gig||Animated TV Series|
|2004||Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence||Movie based on the first manga|
|2004||Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex||Videogame for PlayStation 2|
|2005||Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex||Videogame for the PlayStation Portable|
|2006||Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society||Made for TV animated movie, serving as a finale to the Stand Alone Complex Series|
|2013||Ghost in the Shell: Arise||Series of Original Video Animation (OVA) re-imagining the series.|
|2014||Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture||Re-cut from 2013’s Ghost in the Shell: Arise, 10 episode TV animated TV series|
|2015||Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie||Theatrically released movie, tied into Arise, but able to stand on its own|
In addition to all this, there’s a bunch of novels and soundtrack CDs as well as a slew of merchandise out there. There’s quite probably also a number of Manga I skipped, but I think given this little overview, you should get a good overview of what Ghost in the Shell is and what it can be in its various interpretations. So if you want, go check it out, you won’t regret it. And the franchise makes no attempt at stopping anytime soon, with a videogame announced for 2016 and The New Movie very likely not being the last in the series.
The New Paradigm
Finally, on to what we’re here for. Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie looks like so:
Kicks ass, right?
The movie itself is somewhat less awesome, to be honest. It’s good. What it doesn’t have, though, is the absolute mindblowing and groundbreaking effect the 1995 movie had. How could it, as times have changed quite a bit since then. Because in the original movie, the central themes were cybernetics, the role of human beings when every part of a body could be seemingly effortlessly replaced by machine parts and the question where a human being stops being a human and becomes… something else. All this was framed in a plot surrounding a mysterious and powerful hacker calling himself the Puppet Master. The animation was groundbreaking. The story was mindboggling. Ghost in the Shell finds its way onto many Best anime of all time lists and it’s got a right to be there.
Just look at this opening scene:
So here we are, at the dawn of a new era for one of the most beloved franchises in anime history and it falls flat at first glance solely by not having the same impact as the original movie.
That, however, does not mean that it’s a bad movie. In fact, it’s a very good movie, distancing itself nicely from other anime trying to inhabiting the same genre but never quite managing and cementing its status as the de facto standard for Cyberpunk anime. Because technology has come a long way since 1995 and so has the speculative future. When the near future of 1995 produced hands, splitting their ten fingers into thirty smaller fingers, there’s no need for Human Interface Devices in the near future seen in 2015.
In fact, the main problem with the increasing digitalization of everything and the fact that pretty much everyone has a Cyberbrain in the 2029 that The New Movie is set in seems to be that data can’t be controlled. Increasing amounts of data flow across borders and among them, there is confidential information such as trade secrets and political plans. Naturally, data is among the most precious things in the world of The New Movie. As such, it’s of no surprise that Section 9 is activated or activates itself to end a hostage situation in an embassy where trading is supposed to go on. Or negotiations.
However, when that turns out to be a smokescreen to assassinate the Japanese Prime Minister, things get really hairy. In addition to all this, as if Kusanagi and her team have nothing else to do, a hacker known only as Fire Starter keeps interfering, supplying people’s brains with wrong memories and false identities without their knowledge.
All these story threads are juggled over the course of a 99 minute movie, intertwining here and there and ultimately resolved. Writing duty fell to Tow Ubukata who gained international fame with his trilogy of Cyberpunk novels known as the Mardock Scramble trilogy, itself a mixture of evolution, artificial intelligence, revenge and – most importantly – eggs and poker. Seriously. Eggs and poker. I’m not making this up. Mardock Scramble was also adapted into an anime series.
Full of Story, Lots of Confusion
The best thing this movie has done is skip the entire introduction of the cast, assuming rightly that we already know who these people are and having our minds open for new details about their biography. This is, by the way, what so many superhero movies get wrong. Did we really need another origin story for Spider-Man when Andrew Garfield took over? And as much as I like the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films, was it necessary to have a young Bruce Wayne watch his parents die yet again?
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie jumps right in. Embassy gets stormed in a really impressive and fantastic action scene where one of the more unsettling aspects of the franchise comes to shine: The fact that all our characters are basically nothing but a brain in fully mechanized bodies. I couldn’t help but think «Whoa! Hold on!» when Batou blocks an armour piercing bullet with his arm. Because he doesn’t even flinch, cables fly and he keeps going on as if nothing happened. This illustrates nicely how combat – armed or unarmed – would evolve when human bodies are reinforced and upgraded. This effect becomes only more jarring by the fact that the characters seem perfectly human in all other scenes and them being shot to bits without any blood flowing or the people themselves not even acknowledging that they’ve been wounded.
Upgrades are a central theme of the political and economical part of the movie. Because reproduction is a bit of a weird topic in a world where most people presumably don’t even have genitals anymore. So they don’t bear children. Also, at some point, the human brain is accustomed to its form and can no longer be upgraded, which is a risk that a lot of people run unless they’ve been fully converted to cyborgs at a very early age in which case they’re used to not having a body that is their own and that can’t be separated from their brain. In fact, removing a brain from its body for prolonged periods of time often leads to quite a bit of brain damage as seen in the first episode of Stand Alone Complex.
Various economic powers are very interested in pushing the whole cyberization as it’s called to the next level, but they’re hindered by economic, biological and social factors. So they’re resorting to illegal means in research and development in order to gain control and/or access to what they call the Third World where humans exist as data-only constructs in a cloud-like environment. That part is a bit confusing.
True to the Spirit, Not the Source
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is very firmly an entry in the Ghost in the Shell series, even though the series has undergone quite the evolution. In addition to being a new starting point to things to come – unless it is decided to take another shot at re-interpreting the characters – as well as a thing where the story comes full circle. The movie borrows quite some elements from the very first volume of the manga, but adds a modern twist.
All in all, Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is a worthy entry in the series and a new launching point for the franchise. It doesn’t however, carry the same oomph as the original movie and will never have its impact.
As a last bit: Quite possibly one of the weirdest mainstream appearances of Ghost in the Shell is the 1999 music video to Wamdue Project’s single King of my Castle.