Thursday, 13 April 2017

TBT - Ghost in the Shell (1995)

I'm super late getting this post up today because I basically fell asleep as soon as I got home from work today. I've basically been fighting to stay awake since about 5pm and I totally forgot it was Thursday. Still, better late than never, right? After watching the remake of Ghost in the Shell last week it seemed only fair to watch the classic 1995 anime for my TBT post. As we saw with Beauty and the Beast last week, the problem with remaking films that are pretty much perfect is that you just remind people of all the great things about the original. The scenes that the newer version lifted directly from the anime just made me want to watch that instead. I understand that the budget and approach were different but it still felt too similar. It's not that the new films are bad it's just that they are too tied to what has come before. It's the thing that made the Ghostbusters reboot so frustrating: it could have been so great but it was too preoccupied with making references to the first film. We almost need these franchises to do what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek and just start completely from scratch. Reset the clock and try again a different way. The only thing these half-arsed reboots are going to do is make the original films all the more popular.

After all, the 1995 anime based on the Manga series is still regarded as one of the best anime films ever made. Now I won't admit to being vastly knowledgeable about anime but I've seen enough to know that Ghost in the Shell is special. Maybe 2029 seemed a long way off in 1995 but we are now ridiculously close to getting to that point. It is also looking increasing more plausible with the continue advances in technology. James Cameron once called the film "a stunning work of speculative fiction" but I, in 2017, speculative doesn't just cut it anymore. Terrorism is happening virtually and countries are under threat of hacking. This is a future where data and communication are the lifeblood and must be handled with increased care. Hmmm... familiar.

Thankfully, forces exist to keep this information from falling into the wrong hands. One of those forces, Section 9, is headed up by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who as it happens is actually a human brain inside a robotic body. The Ghost in the Shell of the title. This is a world where human beings are enhancing themselves with technology to improve themselves. Major is able to plug herself into the data-stream using her body and find information with relative ease. Which helps in her search for the illusive hacker The Puppet Master, a terrorist who is able to hack into the ghosts of ordinary citizens to force them to carry out cyber crimes for him.

Over the course of the narrative, Kusanagi delves deeper into the question of what it is to be human. This is a very existential film that spends as much time discussing memory and the human soul as it does kick ass. How can Kusanagi be sure that the ghost that lingers inside her mechanical body is actually really her or just a false version implanted by into it? More than the recent version, the Major is a complex character who fights bad guys and her inner demons. The story doesn't simplify itself or pander to its audience. It is complicated and asks genuine questions about humanity. The opening sequence shows Kusanagi's transformation in her new body and is presented as a form a birth. It's a haunting sequence that proves, in this new world, even reproduction has become a mechanical and not a human process. This is a serious film wrapped up in anime action sequences.

But that's not to say the action sequences are not important. The animation here is fantastic and there are some incredible chases and fight scenes to see. It is a beautifully crafted film that, even without the budget or the technology of the 2017 film, still manages to offer a veritable feast for the eyes. And, unlike the new film, the 1995 version isn't afraid to keep things melancholic. Where the Scarlett Johannson version craved emotional resolution, this films offers no comfort. There are serious questions on display here and there are no easy answers. The animation goes even further to isolate Kusanagi and show the ultimate emptiness of the world she inhabits. It's a fantastic film that, no matter what you think of the new film, everyone should watch.

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