Monday, September 3, 2012

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
83 minutes

Hi there. I guess I should start with off my month of anime with something overdone and over-analyzed to the point where it becomes generic. Ghost in the Shell is one of those titles that really is as fucking good as everyone says it is. I first saw this film in a packed theater in Palm Beach back in 1996. It didn't matter to me that the place was a ratty dump with uncomfortable seats because I was seeing something totally new. This was an unprecedented moment in my life. It was the first time that I was seeing quality anime on the big screen*. If my being an anime nerd wasn't already carved in stone at that point then that night is the chisel and the mallet that made it happen.

There are masterpieces and there are masterpieces and then there is Ghost in the Shell. This ultra-violent spectacle has a Blade Runner boner and it doesn't skimp on the atmosphere at all. The animation is top notch with great attention lavished on lighting and shadows. Kenji Kawai's score is haunting. The guy scored Ringu and over a hundred other kickass films so yeah; you're in expert hands here. The only misstep I can find in this flick is the writing. There's a lot of cheese and techno-babble info-dumping in the dialog but you probably won't care. I know I don't!

One of the most astonishing things about this film is how it slows down and chills. When there is a moment where we can just pause and appreciate the beauty of a world overrun by technology, Ghost in the Shell never wastes it. In another film, these quiet moments might be filler or time-wasting animator showoff nonsense but this isn't over 2 hours; it's a lean 83 minutes. There are even long, philosophical conversations between cyborgs about what it means to be (formerly) human! Director Oshii had already done a brilliant job with Patlabor 2, a gorgeous mecha movie that clocks in at 113 minutes. That 1993 effort is a fine film (that I hope to be covering this month) but it pales in comparison to this. Mad props to veteran editor Shuichi Kakesu for knowing where to trim and where to just let it ride.

Something that is a recurring phenomenon in anime of from this part of the decade is the daft English dubbing. Right now, I feel that voice actors who dub anime are a fairly respectable lot. Since anime is such a big industry, it seems to foster talented people and great performances. Well, Ghost in the Shell came out in 1995 which means the dubbing is going to be a crap shoot (emphasis on the crap). To be fair there are a few excellent voice actors in this movie and the rest are either directed to be hammy or are just overacting because no one told them to cut that shit out. How much of this is just corny dialog in the script and folks just trying to make the best of it? Honestly, I don't know.

I'm thinking that a lot of the technology and ideas expressed in this movie will seem trite or old fashioned one day (or maybe they they feel that way now) but the care and artistic flourishes in every minute of this film will never go out of style. For folks who have trouble getting into anime, Ghost in the Shell is an excellent place to start. I also recommend the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It is a solid show and very entertaining.

As a final note, I just noticed that instead of making something new and awesome, Mamoru Oshii decided to make Ghost in the Shell 2.0 with some CG moments and flourishes. This version is terrible and pretty much an abomination of the saddest variety. The CG is extremely invasive and the transitions between the original film and the new animation are jarring. Avoid it at all costs.

*Ah ha! I just caught myself falsely remembering Ghost in the Shell as the first anime I ever saw on the big screen but that is not true. Technically, the first anime I saw on the big screen was Transformers: The Movie but that was an American-Korean-Japanese co-production so it kind of doesn't count. Anyway, the first real anime I ever saw (at that very same shithole theater) was Wicked City (the original anime (not the far superior live action HK classic)) with a baffled and uncomfortable crowd a few years earlier.


  1. Wicked City on the big screen would be a very uncomfortable thing to watch, especially after the tentacle thing.

  2. @Ron - It was pretty hot. And by "hot" I mean "humiliating for everyone in attendance".