Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015)

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie [攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijō-ban] (2015)
AKA Ghost in the Shell: The Rising

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichiro Matsuda, Mayumi Asano, Kazuya Nakai, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Tarusuke Shingaki

Directed by Kazuya Nomura


A few years back I did a rundown of all the Ghost in the Shell films. Since then there have been a few more releases in the franchise, and I figured I would give them a glance before checking out the new live-action film slated to release at the end of March. Now it’s never a good idea to call your new movie in a long running franchise “The New Movie.” It just means that a couple of years later when a newer, higher profile production starring Scarlett Johansson comes out your no-longer-new movie just sounds dumb, and probably confusing for the audience. But I can’t stop some idiot without a scrap of originality from doing just that, so unfortunately we’re stuck with it.

In another really confusing move for a film so concerned about its timeliness, Ghost in the Shell: The It Was New a Couple Years Ago Movie is actually a prequel to the original story, showcasing how Major Motoko Kusanagi put together the team of operatives that work for Section 9. This far into the series we have only heard small bits about her past, mostly that she has been a cyborg since childhood, so I was a bit unconvinced that exploring her background was a good idea. We’ve gone this far without it. Why do we need it now? But the film does go a good way toward establishing some of the motivation for her decisions at the end of the first film, so I think they actually did find a pretty good reason to go back and examine her history.

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Stephen reviews: New Dominion: Tank Police (1993/1994)

New Dominion: Tank Police [特捜戦車隊ドミニオン Tokusō Sensha-tai Dominion] (1993/1994)
AKA Crusher Police Dominion

Starring Rei Sakuma, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Aya Hisakawa, Niina Kumagaya, Shigeru Chiba, Yūsaku Yara, Hiroyuki Shibamoto, Kousei Tomita, Ayako Udagawa, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Rihoko Yoshida

Directed by Noboru Furuse


I suppose this six-episode miniseries is a sequel to the first Dominion anime series, but it’s impossible to say for sure that it isn’t just a different adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga set further down the timeline. The style and artwork for this newer series is so different from the first one that it’s hard to consider them related. No one important remains on staff from the original series save for Yoichiro Yoshikawa, who was in charge of the music in both series. Not even the actors remain, which seems odd considering the mere six-year gap between the two series; you would think they could get at least one person to reprise their role. New Dominion never refers to or builds off of the earlier series either, so there’s not much connecting the two.

This newer series does expect you to be familiar with the characters, though, or at least the concept, as it does nothing to introduce the audience to the situation. It starts off with Leona and her custom-built tank already installed in the police force and jumps right into the story. Each episode has a new criminal to hunt down, each one with mysterious goals and resources. Eventually all the pieces get put together revealing a central criminal scheme behind it all that Leona must stop in the final episode.

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Stephen reviews: Dominion: Tank Police (1988)

Dominion: Tank Police [ドミニオン, Dominion] (1988)

Starring Hiromi Tsuru, Masaaki Ohkura, Ichirō Nagai, Jouji Yanami, Michie Tonizawa, Yuko Mita, Yūsaku Yara, Daisuke Gouri

Directed by Kōichi Masahimo & Takaaki Ishiyama


“Cyberpunk comedy” is not a genre that you see very often, yet that’s what I’ve got for you today. The original manga of Dominion was penned by Masamune Shirow, best known for Ghost in the Shell. If you’ve never read any of his manga, it may come as a surprise to find that Shirow has a thriving sense of humor, but most of his works are suffused with an absurdity that doesn’t often carry into their adaptations. Nevertheless, Dominion is probably his most comedic story, and this four-episode miniseries revels in that silliness as much as it revels in its degraded technological future.

The series plays a bizarre homage to the comedy routines of yesteryear, dredging up stock sound effects that seem more appropriate to vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoons or Three Stooges episodes than anime. Dominion is relentlessly goofy, and handles pretty much all of its violence with a lack of gravitas that seems at odds with its dystopian setting. The Tank Police themselves are equally laid back and unconcerned with following the rules. An early scene has them interrogating a suspect by playing croquet with assault rifles and hand grenades while the poor criminal stands precariously with a noose around his neck and a grenade stuffed in his mouth. The squad’s chaplain tells him it’s better to rat out his friends and join them in jail than to abandon them and go to heaven alone. Things go downhill from there.

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Stephen reviews: Patema Inverted (2013)

Patema Inverted [サカサマのパテマ, Sakasama no Patema] (2013)

Starring Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintaro Ohata, Shinya Fukumatsu, Masayuki Kato, Hiroki Yasumoto, Maaya Uchida

Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura


This is the first of Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s films that I have seen, and if this film is any indication then he will certainly be a major part of the new era of anime we’re in. Patema Inverted fits neatly in the list of recent family friendly anime films by Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, and others. In tone and style, Patema Inverted leans more towards Makoto Shinkai. While it certainly cannot match Shinkai’s visuals, it has a fair amount of beautiful images to dazzle the eyes. Yoshiura seems to have picked up the science fiction torch that Shinkai set down after The Place Promised In Our Early Days, and I’m happy to see that it hasn’t been abandoned.

The premise of Patema Inverted is that some science experiment went horribly wrong and reversed gravity for a bunch of people who then fell up into the sky, never to be seen again. However, some of these people managed to survive underground, where they live separated from the rest of humanity. Now a young girl named Patema explores a bit too far astray and winds up in a land where she falls upward towards the sky. There she meets a young boy named Age (not the way I would have chosen to spell his name, but I’m not the translator here), and we run into the age-old concept of two people from opposite worlds falling in love with each other.

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Stephen reviews: Bayonetta: Bloody Fate (2013)

bayonetta_1Bayonetta: Bloody Fate [ベヨネッタ ブラッディフェイト] (2013)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Daisuke Namikawa, Mie Sonozaki, Miyuki Sawashiro, Norio Wakamoto, Tessho Genda, Wataru Takagi

Directed by Fuminori Kizaki


Usually, I am rather dismissive of films based on video games (and vice versa), but Bayonetta somehow felt like a potentially good idea. I don’t think I had any actual reason for this uncharacteristic optimism other than the vague notion that the game was so absurd it would at least be interesting to see what they did with it in film. This seems to have been a mistake as the film mostly uses the least ridiculous aspects of the game.

As far as video game films go, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate isn’t bad, though. It retells the story functionally while maintaining the game’s style and tone. Bayonetta is a sexy witch with amnesia searching for clues about her past. All she knows is that she woke up in a coffin at the bottom of a lake and angels are out to kill her. She finds out about a church leader named Balder who might be involved somehow, and she tracks him down to find out more. Along the way, mass death and destruction ensue, along with a gallon of fan service.

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Stephen reviews: Assault Girls (2009)

assaultgirls_1Assault Girls [アサルトガールズ] (2009)

Starring Meisa Kuroki, Rinko Kikuchi, Hinako Saeki, Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Ian Moore

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


It’s been a while since I last dived into Mamoru Oshii’s filmography, and it seems I have blundered into the worst spot to do so. Assault Girls is apparently a semi-sequel to a variety of short films Oshii made earlier, so perhaps I would better appreciate what it was trying to do if I had already seen those. But the film ought to stand on its own in any case, so I won’t be pulling any punches here.

Another of the film’s quirks is that it is almost entirely in English, with the unfortunate fact that all the actors, aside from narrator/gamemaster Ian Moore, are not very fluent in English. Rinko Kikuchi (best known to American audiences for Pacific Rim) would undoubtedly have been the best at speaking English intelligibly, so it’s pretty sad that her character, Lucifer, is the only one that has no dialog, remaining completely silent throughout the film. As such, much of the English in the film still requires subtitles to understand, and the resulting stiff acting really drags the film down.

Assault Girls follows the Mamoru Oshii tradition of combining evocative visuals with sluggish pacing. As such I’m a bit torn on it, just like most of Oshii’s films. This time I’m leaning much more towards boredom than interest, and only partially from the acting. The movie talks a lot about abstract social concepts, dumping a lot of explanation right at the outset. On top of that, the film has a lot of slow sections where nothing much is happening. This is a very good combination for tuning out and losing interest.

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Stephen reviews: Dark Cat (1991)

darkcat_1Dark Cat [ダークキャット] (1991)

Starring Tsutomu Kashiwakura, Ryotaro Okiayu, Daisuke Gori, Shigeru Nakahara, Aya Hisakawa

Directed by Iku Suzuki


This is clearly one of those anime titles that is a reduced form of the original story it was based upon, except that upon further investigation I can’t find anything that it was based upon. Now that’s pretty bad if it really was this disjointed and incomplete right out of the original design phase. It truly feels as if there is a much larger story to be told, and it just got drastically cut down for a movie adaptation. So many of the plot threads reference backstory that doesn’t exist in the film that I have to believe there was a lager story somewhere, even if only in the writer’s head.

The film opens with a tall dude with hair shaped slightly like cat ears talking to a blue girl in a hospital bed. It cuts back and forth between his conversation and random girls about town vanishing in a flash of light that leaves smoking craters behind. This is actually a pretty good opening that really got me interested in what was going to happen. Sadly, it never really follows up on that mysterious situation. The rest of the film is mostly filled with the emotional struggles of a teenage girl and the guy she’s been in love with since childhood, then a bland fight with a cat monster gets tacked on at the end to wrap things up.

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