GHOST IN THE SHELL: THE NEW MOVIE Review
Directors: Kazuchika Kise and Kazuya Nomura
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
GHOST IN THE SHELL: THE NEW MOVIE is the unfortunately titled conclusion to the GHOST IN THE SHELL: ARISE TV miniseries, as well as a direct prequel to the 1995 cult hit anime feature, GHOST IN THE SHELL. Though it hit Japanese theaters back in June, THE NEW MOVIE has finally arrived in the States, courtesy of Funimation. For those not versed in anime, the GHOST IN THE SHELL franchise is kind of a big deal. The original movie is a landmark in the cyberpunk genre, inspiring countless sci-fi films, from THE MATRIX to the upcoming American adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson. Thus, to say that THE NEW MOVIE is filling some rather big shoes would be quite an understatement. So how does it compare to the original?
The story takes place in Newport City, Japan, in the year 2027. It’s been a year since the end of World War IV, and Major Motoko Kusanagi, a retired soldier and full body cyborg, has just secured funding for her counterterrorism unit, Section 9, when a group of disgruntled veterans seize control of a government building and take hostages. Section 9 storms the building and rescues the captives after a brutal gunfight, but the takeover was only a ruse, as the Japanese Prime Minister is assassinated on the other side of town during the commotion. It’s then up to the Major and Section 9 to discover who orchestrated the attacks and why the perpetrators are using a mysterious computer virus that can control victims’ cyberbrains.
Though she also finds time to try out the new Oculus Rift
Frustratingly, THE NEW MOVIE assumes that you have already watched the entirety of ARISE (the first three installments are available on Netflix). Characters and concepts from the series are featured throughout the film without explanation and despite the fairly standalone nature of THE NEW MOVIE’s conflict, it’s still all but unapproachable for new audiences. Even for those who have watched ARISE, this is still a GHOST IN THE SHELL movie, and the convoluted plot will leave most struggling to catch up. Where the original GHOST IN THE SHELL was more of an existential thriller following the mostly mechanical Major’s struggle to accept her humanity, THE NEW MOVIE is decidedly a police procedural concerning geopolitical machinations, under the table arms trade, and shady resource deals. There are so many red herrings and double crosses that it’s a miracle the Major doesn’t forget exactly what it is that she’s looking for. That said, THE NEW MOVIE builds on the formula of ARISE by offering plenty of visual cues to help the viewer through some of the lengthy dialogue sequences.
The Major isn’t all talk, though. THE NEW MOVIE makes use of its 100 minute screen time to pack in more than enough fight scenes to last a DIE HARD movie or two. Since this GHOST IN THE SHELL’s forte is clearly the gunplay, the abundance of action is a welcome change of pace from a show that aspires to be the anime equivalent of THE WIRE. The initial rescue mission, the explosive finale, and every shootout in between are all brilliantly animated. The fact that nearly all the characters are cyborgs means that THE NEW MOVIE can get away with some really impressive “gore” without slowing down the action. The main cast are constantly losing limbs throughout, making me wonder why they don’t just replace their frail bodies with something more durable.
Something like a Ford Fiesta
Anime will be anime, and as much as THE NEW MOVIE tries to be a stern noir, the tropes of its medium do appear. Section 9 gets around on talking robot tanks called Logicomas, and whichever general that saw fit to sign off on these war machines also made sure they were voiced by squeaky, prepubescent schoolgirls, with personalities to match. Usually, hardened anime veterans can overlook this kind of thing as a cultural quirk, but when a severely wounded military veteran is sharing his story of how the government cut off his benefits only for an oversized roomba to butt in and cheerfully inquire if he is dead, it’s more than jarring. The annoying thing is that scenes like this aren’t even played for comedic effect, rather just taken awkwardly in stride. Having said that, THE NEW MOVIE does manage to avoid other chief offenders of the genre. There’s no fanservice of the Major in this iteration (a massive improvement over the original GHOST IN THE SHELL, where she had to strip naked in nearly every scene for one reason or another). Even the Major’s distinctive blue hair makes sense in the context of the film, fitting in with the rest of her artificial body. As with its predecessor, no one will accuse you of being a weeaboo if you watch THE NEW MOVIE.
GHOST IN THE SHELL: THE NEW MOVIE is not by any means bad. It’s thoroughly entertaining, but also a niche flick. Viewers of ARISE will love to see a feature that finally wraps up the open ending left by that show and fans of the earlier film will appreciate the homage paid to it. For anyone else, however, it is simply too inaccessible, and one would be remiss to unconditionally suggest it.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend