Adapted from the manga by Masamune Shirow, Mamoru Oshii’s
landmark feature Ghost in the Shell
(1995) largely defined the cyberpunk genre–and influenced the Matrix films in the US. Although often
stunningly beautiful, the sequel Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) failed
to recapture the compelling vision of a corrupt, dystopic future.
Writer-director Kenji Kamiyama, who would go on make the
excellent Eden of the East, took over
the property for the popular TV series Ghost
in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (2004). Kamiyama didn’t
have the resources to continue the extravagant mixture of drawn and computer
animation in the original film (which reportedly cost about $6 million—a very
large budget at the time). But he created intriguing new stories that suited
the characters and the setting.
The star of the original film, Major Motoko Kusanagi, suggested
a cross between the Terminator and a Playboy centerfold. The Kusanagi of the TV
series kept more of her clothes on, but retained her formidable fighting
ability in both the real and cyber worlds. Her friendship with Batou, her cyborg
second-in-command, allowed the filmmakers to explore her character in greater
Ghost in the Shell:
The New Movie (2015) looks and feels
more like the Stand Alone Complex
series than Oshii’s extravagant feature. The characters have been redesigned
and simplified, with less attention paid to Major Kusanagi’s pneumatic figure.
But Major Kusanagi (voice by Elizabeth Maxwell) remains
Major Kusanagi. The film opens with a hostage situation that requires her to
swing into action, ably seconded by Batou (Christopher R. Sabat) and her usual
crew of deadly misfits. She refers to the members of her squad as “Parts,” a backhanded
compliment that suggests how well they function together.
This time, the Major and her team are working independently
of Chief Aramaki, her usual boss: She’s receiving special funds from the son of
the prime minister. The hostage crisis, followed by the assassination of the prime
minister, yanks Kusanagi and company into a increasingly complex web of plots
and counter-plots involving the manufacturers of a new generation of prosthetics
and cyber-parts, the Major’s childhood in a strange hospital/orphanage and a
corrupt American businessman. These criminals–and the terrorists they deploy–have
assembled around a doppelganger of Major Kusanagi, the physical form of the computer
The plot of The New
Movie feels needlessly complicated, yet curiously lacking in suspense,
despite the many gun battles, explosions and CG dives into cyberspace.
Directors Kazuchika Kise and Kazuya Nomura and screenwriter Tow Ubukata simply don’t
have enough time in 100 minutes to bring together all the diverse elements in
the their story. Characters and subplots come and go with little sense of
urgency. Even the showdown between Major Kusanagi and Fire-Starter fails to
generate the excitement it should.
The filmmakers also leave too many threads hanging: Have the
bad guys found the bodies of Major Makoto’s parents? What is their
significance? Does the purely data realm of the Third World actually exist? And
if it does, does it offer cyborgs an afterlife?
Despite its flaws, Ghost
In the Shell: The New Movie will probably
please many of the fans who’ve made the property so popular. However, the
upcoming live action version of Ghost In the
Shell starring Scarlett Johansonn has already become the subject of
Major news outlets have published complaints from Asian actors
about the inappropriateness of a Caucasian actress playing a Japanese character.
Although many anime characters may not look Japanese to Western audiences, they
are Japanese to Japanese audiences and the artists who created them. To many
Japanese viewers (and anime purists), Johansonn as Major Kusanagi must sound as
incongruous as Keanu Reeves in The Tale of the 47 Ronin.
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie Funimation: $34.98 2 discs, Blu-ray and DVD