Friday, September 28, 2012

Shell Shocked: "Ghost in the Shell" (1996)

This film has everything a viewer has come to expect from Japanese anime: ultraviolence, gore, and a little nudity. Of course, all anime seems to deliver this now, and I have noticed this is not the big different genre it used to be.

I lived in Okinawa, Japan for four years in the seventies, so I grew up watching this type of stuff. "Ghost in the Shell" delivers the eyecandy, but it tries too hard to provoke thoughtful dialogue.

The hard to follow plot has Kusanagi (voiced by Mimi Woods), a super cyborg who works for a government agency with her partners cyborg Bateau (Richard George) and human Togusa (Christopher Joyce). The group is tracking a sentient being known as the Puppet Master (Abe Lesser), an intelligence who can transfer its "ghost" through other cyborgs. In the film, cyborgs' ghosts are their souls, and shells are their bodies. In this futuristic Japan, half ghost/half humans also exist, and the Puppet Master is getting these and other beings to do its bidding by implanting false memories into their heads- a great idea that never pans out.

Kusanagi has memories of her own, being created by a corporation that also creates a new shell for the Puppet Master. The cybersoldiers track this new shell, and Kusanagi is injured in the process. In the finale, the Puppet Master makes Kusanagi an offer that she cannot refuse- merging into a new supercyborg.

The animation has an incredible film look. The director uses angles that you would normally see in live action films. The artificial world created looks a little too much like "Blade Runner," but it still works. The characters are good, different, and easy to tell apart (compared to other anime efforts).

My biggest qualm is the stuff in between the guns and explosions. The cyborgs talk about what makes a human, isn't DNA actually a program, etc. These long scenes play like a bad Philip K. Dick story, and they bring the proceedings to a screeching halt. The ending is also a letdown, as the film opens the door for a sequel without wrapping up the first film well. I would compare this to the climax of "The Matrix" without Neo realizing he is the "one." Also, there are way too many point of view shots from the cyborg, directly lifted from "RoboCop."

While the plot and dialogue disappointed, the incredible action sequences more than make up for them. I do recommend "Ghost in the Shell," but with the aforementioned reservations. (* * * *) out of five stars.