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.
In the midst of all the brain-hurting plot twists it never forgets the fun stuff. Those invisibility cloaks, high-tech gunfights, and cyborg fisticuffs that are the main draw of the series still play huge roles here, so you’ll never be in a state of boredom. Some of it feels a tad redundant to the earlier films, though. In particular I’m thinking about a battle between Kusanagi and a giant suit of combat armor that played out in a disappointingly similar way to her final showdown in the first film. But if in this instance Kamiyama went a little too far in homage to Mamoru Oshii, most of the time he does an admirable job of capturing the feel and tone of the earlier entries in the series without falling into the distracting bouts of excessive artfulness that can detract from Oshii’s films.
Anyone who liked the original Ghost in the Shell film will find a good deal to like here as well. And since this is a prequel, it’s not a bad place for a newcomer to jump in either. Its flaws aren’t serious enough to reduce the fun factor, so give it a shot if you’re in the mood for an intellectual thriller.