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.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

ghostintheshell2_1Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [イノセンス GHOST IN THE SHELL (仮題)] (2004)

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Kōichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka, Tamio Ohki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Yoshiko Sakakibara

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


While the first Ghost in the Shell dealt primarily with mental identity, the “ghost” of the title, Innocence deals more with the physical robot body, the “shell” in this analogy. In that sense, it completes the theme nicely and is the perfect direction for the series to take. This time the police case is investigating a series of crazed robots that have killed their owners. This immediately made me think of Boomers from the Bubblegum Crisis/AD Police series, but like the first film, Innocence is so full of philosophical discussion on the definition of life and the distinction between man and machine that it stands apart from most anything else dealing with psycho robots.

It’s certainly an ambitious goal to make a sequel to such a complex and well-made film as Ghost in the Shell, and although I have a number of issues with it, it didn’t do a terrible job. Mostly what bugs me is what really just comes with the territory in a mid 2000s anime; it’s chock full of obnoxious and very obvious CG. When set next to the original, there is just no comparison between the natural grace of handcrafted animation and the jarring, stiff feel of CG. What makes this more annoying to me is that the moments that don’t rely on CG look fantastic, which only emphasizes how ugly the CG is. Much of the film does look amazing, and it just makes me bemoan the fact that the entire film wasn’t made so well.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) →

Stephen reviews: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

ghostintheshell_1Ghost in the Shell [攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai] (1995)
AKA Armored Riot Police

Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi, Kōichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Ohki

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


It’s hard to imagine Ghost in the Shell as old. But here it is, nearly 20 years later, and the film still feels unrelentingly futuristic, far more than other science fiction films of the time like Total Recall, or even The Matrix which this film inspired. It probably has to do with Masamune Shirow, the series’s original creator, being so in touch with computer technology and engineering. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t just feel futuristic; it feels very real and absolutely believable. And that’s what makes it all the more frightening.

It isn’t a horror film by any means, but the concept of getting brainwashed by a computer hacker is scary as hell. We like to think of our souls, our personal identity, as something beyond the ability of others to touch, but not in this film. This is a future where your memories can be rewritten at any time, and “ghost hacking” is as common as computer viruses are today. For my money, that is far more frightening than any boogeyman jumping out of the shadows.

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Stephen reviews: Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

children_who_chase_lost_voices_from_deep_belowChildren Who Chase Lost Voices [星を追う子ども Hoshi o Ou Kodomo] (2011)
AKA Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, Journey to Agartha

Starring Hisako Kanemoto, Kazuhiko Inoue, Miyu Irino, Junko Takeuchi, Funiko Orisaka, Sumi Shimamoto, Tamio Ohki, Rina Hidaka

Directed by Makoto Shinkai


After watching the luscious visuals of 5 Centimeters Per Second, I just couldn’t keep away from Makoto Shinkai’s latest film any longer. The allure of a fantasy world seen through Shinkai’s visual style was just too strong. I certainly got some wonderful fantasy world visuals, and I loved those quite a bit even if they weren’t the best Shinkai has produced.

Unfortunately, the promotional art that reminded me so much of a Studio Ghibli production proved a little too true. The spunky female lead was certainly reminiscent of any number of Ghibli films, and her jittery cat bore a definite similarity to the squirrel-foxes of Nausicaa and Laputa. Inspiration is one thing, but this crosses that fine line into rip-off. And when the scene from Princess Mononoke of Ashitaka saying goodbye to his sister was copied almost exactly, it was nothing short of depressing.

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