Sunday, September 11, 2011

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

I've never seen this movie before actually (as some people have probably guessed, I'm a relatively new-er anime fan and didn't have any older fans around me to make me watch all the classics, I'm the one making my friends watch them) which seems a little ironic considering how much science fiction I was reading this summer and this is a classic sci-fi film for sure. I don't think the movie needs much of an introduction, I will note that I saw the original 1995 version, not the remaster since I heard that they made some dumb changes to how the film looked and I got it off of Netflix streaming.

Ghost in the Shell

Summary: Not far into the future the world is still much the same as it is today but robots and cyborgs are much more common and are part of many people's ordinary lives. Major Kusanagi is a cyborg who works for Section Nine, a covert operations department in the Japanese National Public Safety Commission who are currently trying to track down "The Puppet Master," a genius hacker who hacks into the ghosts of people with no known motive. 

The Good: So when I read Brainjack apparently I was expecting to get this movie instead of, that, so I was quite happy to see that this movie lived up to everything I had heard about it over the years. It feels a lot like old school science fiction, a view of the future that is neither positive nor negative, plenty of technology that looks cool even though it comes off as slightly dated and philosophical musing about what this technology means plus a fairly strong, if a bit strange, plot*. The action scenes and the quieter ones are nicely balanced, the pacing in general is strong, the plot is interesting without being overly complicated and I really want to try out the tv series now.

The Bad: Another similarity many classic science fiction stories hold in common is having a really strange, journey to the center of the mind/generally trippy ending and GitS has elements of that as well. My problem with this trope is that, even if the characters have deep, philosophical moments earlier in the story, everything that happens and all the actions they make are grounded in reality and what actually exists, it makes for a rather jarring transition and generally an unsatisfactory ending to me. GitS didn't bother me as much as it has in the past, and there is a second film I haven't seen yet, but that did bother me a bit. That and the fact that while the fact that one of the (male) minor villains gets a cool, thermal deflecting camouflage coat the Major (female) is either wearing nothing at all or a skintight body suit, it's really strange fanservice that contradicts the logic present in the movie and it just irked me^.

The Audio: Since this was streaming on Netflix I saw the English dub and I thought it was a pretty strong dub (it's the original dub so the Puppet Master has a male voice, I agree that changing the voice to a woman's defeats the purpose a bit). There are several times when the lip flaps don't match up perfectly with the actors speaking (and it probably happened even more when I was looking away) but the flow and the tones sounded natural so I'm happy that went that route instead of matching up the flaps more and making everything sound stiffer. The music in the movie is a bit unusual since, instead of the traditional techno music used in cyberpunk films, it features more instrumental pieces and it's most memorable piece is a distinctive, haunting choral song, one that just seems to match the film's more philosophical feel in places very well.

The Visuals: The film is from 1995 and it shows, everything is hand drawn, the aspect ratio is a little different and the colors seem a bit muted and the whole picture a bit fuzzy. The film struck me as one I would love to see a remaster of so I could see it in it's full glory, an ironic thought since the Ghost in the Shell 2.0 rerelease from 2008 instead of simply restoring the film added in a lot of CGI that many fans didn't like (although it sounds like there is a straight up remaster on one of the blu-rays). Those details aside, the film looks fine with highly detailed backgrounds, a level of detail you just don't see as much in more modern films and amazing looking fight sequences. 

Strangeness of the ending aside (and let me say, before people jump on me, it wasn't as weird as it could have been and hasn't been as weird as I've seen, see the footnote below, but that trope is still one I don't really like) I absolutely loved this film and am now trying to figure out how to get the "good" version of the remaster, if not I'll just get a DVD of the old release some day. I don't know when I'll get around to the second movie or the tv series but they're both on my to-watch list now, yay for good sci-fi!

*the movie actually reminded me a lot of a book I read most of a few years back, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. Lots of similar elements, didn't read it all the way through since I peeked ahead at the ending and it seemed to end with an orgy that lead to a higher level of existence, nothing too strange for sci-fi in general but too strange for me.
^that and I'm recommending this movie to my dad, the guy who got me reading strange science fiction like the above example, and I feel really weird telling him there's robot nudity in there and I really don't want that to turn him off from watching a really good movie.


  1. Good review! I first saw this one back when it came out, so my view is skewed by my memory of it, and my feelings about it as an 18-year-old. It's really interesting to see reviews in a 2011 context about movies that were made awhile back.

    As an aside, The Diamond Age is probably my favorite book (I've read it probably 10 or 12 times), and I recommend giving it a second chance. Taken out of context, the end doesn't make sense, and you really need the details of Hackworth and Nell's journeys to put it in the proper perspective. It's hard to explain without getting into a lot of details.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  2. I've actually been thinking for a while now that I want to give The Diamond Age another try (if nothing else I loved the level of world buliding in that book), now I'll be sure to try it, erm, hopefully sometime in the next few months when I have time to do a lot of reading again.