A New Breath in Ghost in the Shell

One of the posters for Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.

One of the posters for Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.

I’m not sure what I’d do with a cybernetic body except spend hours upon hours watching anime and being lazy, which isn’t too different from my current life.

When people talk about the science fiction genre, I feel the franchises that often come to mind are either Star Trek or Star Wars. Granted, since the 2000s there’s been a large influx of reimagined science fiction properties such as Stargate SG-1 or Battlestar Galatica. However, it still seems as though the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction often gets overlooked. Yes, in the late 1990s and early 2000s the Matrix film series brought a new generation to the subgenre, but it was short lived. Over the years, though, the anime production company Production I.G has been adding to their critically acclaimed cyberpunk franchise, Ghost in the Shell. With the franchise having celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2015, the company decided to explore that world once again with the film Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijō-ban). Much like the Ghost in the Shell: Arise OVA (original video anime) series, the main focus of the film was the development of Public Security Agency Sector 9 into a well-oiled team. Yet, where the OVA series covered this in depth, the film displayed the fallout created within that series. This was achieved not only by creating a clash of philosophies between the characters, but also through an interesting and multilayered murder mystery. These two aspects were by far the strength of the film, but it was through the wonderful pacing that the story truly came to life.

Before Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie was released in theaters, a handful of broadcast companies aired the Ghost in the Shell: Arise series on television. However, there wasn’t enough content within the series to fill out a twelve or thirteen episode series. Thus, two episodes were created specifically for the TV series and another two for the purpose of introducing the film and the franchise as a whole to the audience. I mention this because the retrospective of the franchise was outstanding and much needed. Yes, the time allotted to airing the series made it such that only the basics of the franchise were covered, but it was interesting how as the franchise progressed, the creators seemed to explore facets of the characters’ past rather than advancing their narrative. While not an uncommon practice in any medium, it can be confusing for those who aren’t familiar with a franchise. Though I’m not too familiar with the Ghost in the Shell franchise, I felt the Arise series was a good place to start compared to any other series or films in the franchise.

I say this because it was a good introduction to the characters and the overarching concepts of the franchise, while also showing the need for a department like Public Security Agency Sector 9. More importantly, it gave the audience an understanding of how these characters had to work exceptionally hard to become the team they were in earlier installments of the franchise. We saw that development through the conflicts between the protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, and her collogue Batou in the early installments of the Arise OVA series, but also when they had the opportunity to prove their clout to their higher-ups, all the while solving some rather interesting cases and dealing with the idea of what it meant to be human.

Public Security Agency Section 9 preparing for an operation.

Public Security Agency Section 9 preparing for an operation.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie certainly focused on these aspects as well, but they played a lesser role than in the Arise series. That’s not to say there wasn’t any tension between the characters, but rather what took center stage was the clash of differing philosophies. This made the film far more interesting as it gave the characters something to mull over with each other, particularly whether or not a person’s ghost, or the remnants of person’s personality after any cyberization of the brain, could be a commercial product, how the divide between the real world and cyberworld was diminishing, thus creating the need for a hypothetical “third world,” and how Motoko saw her colleagues as disposable parts in her campaign against cyberterror. These aren’t terribly easy questions to answer, but I felt as though each character found their respective answer.

For example, about two-thirds into the film, the characters Batou, Borma, and Ishikawa were discussing their dissatisfaction with their squad leader, Motoko, citing how she viewed them as being disposable tools. It was reminiscent of the conversations between Alain de Soissons and his squad mates about Oscar François de Jarjayes in the manga series The Rose of Versailles in that while Batou and company disliked certain qualities of Motoko, Borma made the poignant observation that she actually never treated them as objects. I found this conversation remarkable if only because the three characters, Batou, Borma, and Ishikawa, were all partially cyberized, making them effectively parts to a certain degree, but with their consciousness still intact. Yet, to think of these characters as disposable parts is patently wrong. Granted, Batou also alluded to how people who were fully cyberized—that is people who were mostly comprised of mechanical parts and a large portion of their brain was replaced with artificial elements—particularly the three in question, needed to either be a part of an organization that could maintain their bodies or fall prey to degradation. Thus, in a certain respect this made these characters disposable tools. But, when considering the characters had a consciousness, their ghost, and how Motoko constantly told them to follow it, it’s certainly difficult to classify any of the characters as tools.

This begs the question of what happens when more people feel the need to cyberize their brains in this world. Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie approached this topic quite well, if not better than the example given above, as it was one supporting crux to the narrative. The screenwriter, Tow Ubukata, examined the idea from three different points of view: the real world, the cyberworld, and the hypothetical “third-world” in which a person’s ghost is another data point within cyberspace. What I gathered from the screenplay, making one’s ghost a data point would allow for consistent updates to a person’s desired physical body without risking damage to their cybernetic brain. Though this description is uninteresting to read, in the film it worked quite well considering there were a number of visual cues that helped viewers understand the concept. Without delving too deeply into the details, one way this was presented was by having multiple cyborgs controlled remotely by one ghost, making it possible for a person to inhabit the cyberworld as data, but also have a physical presence in the real world. However, I felt Motoko described it the best in the first few minutes of the film when she told her former superior officer, Kurtz, that doing so was a commercialization of a person’s ghost, thus that person lacked any freedom. This, in and of itself, was an interesting conflict of philosophies and I was glad it was the main focus of the narrative rather than the development of Public Security Agency Section 9 into a well-oiled team.

Yet, without a solid structure to work off of, the film would have lacked the depth it needed to present the multiple philosophies. While there is no set formula for exploring different concepts—seeing as how even Bruce Lee made an action film, Enter the Dragon, that explored his thoughts on martial arts—in Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie they were presented through the lens of a murder mystery. To put it simply, the Prime Minster of Japan was murdered during a secret meeting while the Japanese National Diet Building was under siege by former members of the Japanese military. Though it seems as though these two incidents had little in common with each other, like any good mystery, there was a complex web of deception the characters had to navigate. Yet, in this web we saw the same ideas mentioned above intricately woven into an overarching mystery. On the surface this may seem like it complicated the narrative of the film, yet by adding another layer it gave viewers the chance to parse out and ponder the case while examining the concepts the production team presented.

The infamous Motoko Kusanagi fall.

The infamous Motoko Kusanagi fall.

The first third of the film did this in quite a deceptive way when Motoko had each member of Section 9 investigate different facets of the Prime Minister’s murder and the siege of the Diet Building. The most captivating part of the members’ search was Batou and Togusa gathering information about the former military members who had captured the Diet Building. It’s no more than the two interrogating a military officer who handled the wills of deceased military personnel. Yet, through the conversation we learned about those involved in the siege as well as what it meant to have a fully cybernetic body. At first this seemed as though it was the natural progression of the conversation, but in actuality it was a subtle way for Tow Ubukata to instill the idea that fully cybernetic humans had very few options available to them once they underwent the procedure. Thus, this reinforced the importance of the conversation Motoko had with Kurtz at the beginning of the film and the major ideas being presented in it.

Yet, for how well the ideas and mysteries were presented, had Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie lacked proper pacing none of this would have been realized. The film has a runtime of one hundred minutes, so the timing for each scene was key to retaining the attention of the audience as well as presenting the rather complicated philosophies and mystery. This was achieved by having four excellent action scenes strewn about the narrative meat. For instance, the film started off strongly by presenting the audience with the siege on the Japanese National Diet Building. Yet, once the action had settled, it quickly segued into the information gathering in the first act. As more information was revealed, we were privy to another thrilling action sequence in which more questions were raised than answered. This cycle repeated itself during the film and kept the flow of information constant throughout the film’s runtime. More importantly, though, the long portions of the narrative separated by a large action set piece kept the audience from being overwhelmed by grand concepts. In this manner the precise nature of the pacing complemented the other facets of the film.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie is certainly an interesting film to say the least. Speaking only for myself, there were some moments in the film when I was lost in the jargon of fictional technology speak and the different political offices, but not enough to have the major concepts of the film pass me by. Admittedly, the murder mystery that propelled the narrative forward was rather benign, but through the layers of the cyberpunk it was masterfully executed. However, it was the clash of thought-provoking philosophies—especially Motoko’s ideas about freedom, Kurtz’s ideas of adapting ghosts to a changing world, and the idea of the “third-world”—interwoven into the mystery that kept the narrative fascinating. Though I feel some will be thoroughly lost in the concepts Tow Ubukata presented, fans of the Ghost in the Shell franchise will certainly love it. As a minor aside, one doesn’t need to watch the Ghost in the Shell: Arise OVA series of the franchise to fully appreciate Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie. Thus, if you were worried about this, you needn’t fret, as it’s easy to understand each of the major characters and the broad concepts of this particular film in the franchise.

Work Info
Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (攻殻機動隊 新劇場版 Kōkaku Kidōtai Shin Gekijō-ban)
Under: Production I.G
Official Site: http://www.kokaku-a.com/
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_Shell:_The_New_Movie


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