Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Peter Ferdinando

Directed by Rupert Sanders


I was looking forward to this movie with a mixture of hope and dread. My expectations were set low, but at the same time I had a hunch that Ghost in the Shell was possibly the only anime franchise that might work well as a Hollywood production. The serious tone, cyberpunk setting, and evil corporations mesh well with the kind of FX-heavy, sci-fi action films that Hollywood likes to churn out. So does it work? Well, if by working you mean that it is a functional mass market formulaic Hollywood film, then yes I suppose it does. It checks off all the boxes that modern Hollywood films are supposed to have at any rate.

The film is basically a hodgepodge of scenes from the various anime titles, mostly the first movie, so it was pretty much all stuff I’ve already seen. I can’t really call this a bad thing since this is an adaptation of the story. This live-action film was honestly in a tough spot. It had to stay true enough to the original to avoid pissing off the fanboys, but it still had to have enough mainstream appeal to make a profit. On top of that, there has never been a truly successful Hollywood anime adaptation (sure, I liked Fist of the North Star, but that was hardly a commercial hit), so they were understandably playing this pretty cautiously and avoiding risky artistic decisions. This leaves the film kinda drab, neither good nor bad.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013)

Ghost in the Shell: Arise [攻殻機動隊 ARISE, Kōkaku Kidōtai Arise] (2013)

Starring Maaya Sakamoto, Kenichirou Matsuda, Tarasuke Shingaki, Ikkyuu Juku, Miyuki Sawashiro, Kazuya Nakai, Shunsuke Sakuya, Takurou Nakakuni, Yōji Ueda, Tomoyuki Dan, Mayumi Asano

Directed by Kazuchika Kise & Masahiko Murata (ep. 1), Atsushi Takeuchi (ep. 2), Kazuchika Kise (ep. 3), Susumu Kudo (ep. 4)


My journey through the Ghost in the Shell franchise took a snag with Arise, since I should have watched it before watching The New Movie, which is the proper conclusion of the Arise series. But, alas, I confused this series with Ghost in the Shell: Arise: Alternative Architecture, the re-edited for TV version of Arise, and I got the release dates messed up. If I had watched Arise first, it would have spared me a good deal of confusion with that film. But I still think both the series and the film would have been a bit confusing anyway. Of course this is Ghost in the Shell we’re talking about, so confusion is part of the package, but I think watching the film before the series even made the series more confusing.

Arise is a four-episode series, and each episode is a full hour long. Each one has a different crisis going on, but they all build up to finding the origins of a new computer virus called Fire-Starter (or maybe that’s the name of the programmer who designed it) that can rewrite a cyborg’s memories. At this point in the timeline, rewriting memories has never been done before, so the authorities are at a loss for how to combat the threat, and aren’t even convinced it’s actually possible.

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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: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)

ghostintheshell20_1Ghost in the Shell 2.0 [攻殻機動隊 2.0 Kôkaku kidôtai 2.0] (2008)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was not looking forward to the final entry in my journey through the Ghost in the Shell films. In fact, I almost decided to skip it over entirely. But in the end I decided to tough it out and watch this thing just for completion’s sake, or perhaps to give a warning to prospective viewers that might try to see this version instead of the original. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a touch-up of the 1995 film, much like what George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy just prior to the release of the prequels. (So it is strangely appropriate that Lucasfilm did the audio post-production here.) And just like Star Wars, the “upgrades” are useless at best, and obnoxious the rest of the time.

It could have been worse. I was expecting the entire thing to be redone in pure CG, but only a few scenes were desecrated that way. Most of the film does use the original cell animation. This means that most of the film is still intact and still enjoyable, even though the changes make it far less so than the original. With Star Wars you could make the argument that younger viewers would be unwilling to accept the old special effects, and maybe those retooled versions did attract some new fans that otherwise would have never watched them. But with Ghost in the Shell, there’s just no reason. The quality of animation has always had more to do with the amount of effort put into it than the technology available at the time. Just look up some of Max Fleischer’s Superman films from the ’40s; they’re extremely well animated even by today’s standards. Likewise, Ghost in the Shell is a gorgeous film already. Tinkering with it is a complete waste of time.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (2006)

solidstatesociety_1Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX Solid State Society] (2006)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kouichi Yamadera, Kazuya Tatekabe, Masuo Amada, Osamu Saka, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Toru Ohkawa, Yutaka Nakano, Yuya Uchida

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


When I started this journey through the Ghost in the Shell films I fully expected them to go straight downhill and never recover, and even though I still think the original 1995 film is the best, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the franchise has held its quality. Solid State Society keeps that tradition going with another good blend of cyberpunk thrills and intellectual depth. I think that’s what holds the series up and keeps it from grinding to a halt. It has never drifted so far into action fluff that it becomes mindless, but it has also never forgotten to keep that visceral edge honed sharp.

Unlike the previous Stand Alone Complex films, this one is actually meant to be a film. It is not a compilation, or even an adaptation. The story was intended from the start to be a movie, and that has helped it avoid the flaws that brought down Individual Eleven. I was hoping that would translate into better animation, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. It still looks about the same as the other Stand Alone series. That’s no terrible insult or anything, but it would have been nice to get a visual boost.

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Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG: Individual Eleven (2006)

individual11_1Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG: Individual Eleven [攻殻機動隊 S.A.C. 2nd GIG Individual Eleven] (2006)

Starring Arsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Ooki Sugiyama, Osamu Saka, Rikiya Koyama, Sakiko Tamagawa, Taimei Suzuki, Ken Nishida, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Toru Ohkawa, Yuko Sumimoto, Yutaka Nakano

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


As the title might suggest, this is a sequel to the previous Stand Alone Complex. It’s also a compilation film just like The Laughing Man. Because it’s a part of the same TV series, it has the same solid animation, though a little heavy on the CG for my tastes, and the same great dramatic Yoko Kanno scores. But somehow Individual Eleven didn’t entertain me as much as The Laughing Man did. It was a bit less action packed and more explanation packed. And this is in a franchise that is already very explanation heavy in the first place.

It doesn’t help that it mimics the opening scene of the original Ghost in the Shell film not once, but twice over the course of the movie. Yeah, I know, it was a cool scene, but I don’t need to see it reenacted all the time. After that opening that I’ve basically seen before, it dives into a very long fictional history lesson to set the groundwork for the events of the film. I can’t say that this was unnecessary, but it really dragged down the first part of the film. Things thankfully pick up from there, but I couldn’t get into it as much as the previous film. It may have just been that opening breaking the mood, but I wasn’t so fond of some other factors either.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd GIG: Individual Eleven (2006) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man (2005)

SAC_laughing_manGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Laughing Man [攻殻機動隊 STAND ALONE COMPLEX The Laughing Man] (2005)

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Osamu Saka, Akio Ohtsuka, Kohichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Toru Okawa, Takashi Onozuka, Taro Yamaguchi, Sakiko Tamagawa

Directed by Kenji Kamiyama


The Laughing Man is a compilation film of the Stand Alone Complex TV series. As such, it has a TV budget and it lacks the slick animation of the two Mamoru Oshii Ghost in the Shell films. It does have some pretty solid production values for a TV series, though, and strangely enough the CG is actually better than in Ghost in the Shell 2. There’s a good deal of it, but it’s not nearly as intrusive and actually makes an attempt to blend in with the line art of the character designs. It was a bit annoying to have every vehicle rendered by computer, but I’m more forgiving with something that obviously needs to make do with a lower budget. And since it’s not contrasted with such great standard animation, it’s less disappointing to see here.

Compilations can spell doom for a film in other ways, though (just look at the Yotoden Movie for an example of how bad things can get), but The Laughing Man is one of the better compilations I’ve seen. Partly this is because of its length. The Laughing Man clocks in at more than two and a half hours, and that means it has enough time to put in all the necessary content to make the story work. It’s still a little rushed at times, but everything you need is here. Although I really wanted an explanation of those girls curled up in Major Kusanagi’s bed. Were they spare bodies? Does she collect life-size dolls? Or were they just passed out after a satisfying S&M session? In a world full of cyborgs and robots the possibilities are endless. In fact, I’m not sure I want to know. The truth will probably never live up to my inflated expectations.

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