Tuesday 10 April 2018

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Shell Be Back

Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Japan/UK 1995
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Manga Entertainment Blu Ray Zone B

So here we go again. I loved the live action US ‘adaptation’ of Ghost In The Shell, from last year (and reviewed by me here) so much that I wanted to give the original anime adaptation a go. Luckily for me, the Blu Ray has been released and it’s fairly cheap at the moment although, if I’d have known it contains absolutely no extras on it at all, then I would probably have waited a while longer for the price to drop even more. I’m going to be comparing this one to the live action version quite a bit here because, in all honesty, I was a little disappointed with this movie when the two are looked at in close proximity to each other. It just proved to me that I find most of the few anime I have watched vaguely unsatisfying, for the most part.

The film starts off with a title sequence of ‘computer code’ from which the voice cast and crew emerge and it’s very much a product of the period in which this cartoon was made or, in all honesty, a decade or two before it was made... which seems a little strange for a movie set in the year 2029. Intercut with this, we follow the process of the shell with the title ‘ghost’ in it being manufactured... or at least re-shelled, maybe... and it’s at this point I noticed the first big difference between the movie and  the anime/manga (presumably it’s based on one) which came before it. That difference being that the shell actually has nipples on it and the body is airbrushed in all the right colours (nipples included) to make it less easier to identify it as a shell. So, really, I am now extremely annoyed that the Scarlett Johansson version didn’t have her going through the film naked and executing all those killer combat moves... it makes me very angry that the new version didn’t even try to get this right (just as it made me angry when the characters in the John Carter movie from a few years ago were all wearing clothes, for some reason... that’s not how things were in the books).

However, on the whole, there’s not a lot of things that the anime does better than the live action version, I reckon. For instance, the opening sequence where Major drops from the top of the building etc is still more or less, there as it was in the recent movie but... it’s not the prelude to a long and drawn out action sequence like the new version and neither does it include those amazingly scary geisha killbots that were so brilliantly unsettling in that last one.

And that seems to be the modus operandi for a lot of the film, to be honest... the latest one seems to do so much more than this original. Now one of the reasons for that, I am told, is that the new movie takes stuff from later Ghost In The Shell productions and uses those too... like those geisha killbots, for example. That means the whole quest for Major to find out about her previous identity and those moving scenes of her meeting her mother are themes not present in this version of the story and certain other elements are missing here too. There’s also, amazingly, less action in this version... which was a surprise considering that it doesn’t cost any extra for a cartoon. There is some gory violence and it’s way more over-the-top than the recent version but, that being said, there’s hardly any of it in it.

The story line is a slow build and it does have a certain atmosphere to it. I can see why this must have been popular in its day. That being said, many of the scenes that do originate here... like the fight in the water, the diving into another shell scene, the boat scene and so on... seem to be a lot less emotional or lack the gravitas of the live action edition and I was truly stunned to find this to be the case. Even the external architecture of Tokyo here misses the exquisite detail and chaotic hustle bustle of the lived in, “Blade Runner on steroids” sensibility which seems to have informed the later work.

I have to admit here, my reaction to this ‘template’ is very much tainted by my seeing the new version first and I wonder how much of the stylistic look of this anime evolved into something more graceful for later anime movies and TV shows in the Ghost In The Shell franchise... which may, in turn, have informed the latest incarnation more than this particular version, at least stylistically. I’m usually very good at distancing myself from other versions of a work and judging something within the confines of its historical context but, in the case of this series, I’m having a lot of trouble doing that, it has to be said.

It’s not a complete write off as an anime, though, and it’s better than what I remember of, say, Akira, for example. It’s also nice to see the vision of ‘the net’ that this film projects and the way that our interpretation of cyberspace has not really altered over the years as we, presumably, have begun to understand that it’s a slightly less baffling beast. However, for me, this was a bit of a dull movie in comparison to last year’s release.

Certainly a good movie to watch if you’re into animation and anime in general, though, I would have thought. The cartoon seems to be made of much stronger stuff, like the violence and sexual content but, because there’s so little of it in comparison to the new film, it just doesn’t seem to be able to match the perceived excesses of the newest beast on the block and... well... that’s all there is to it.

I don’t know the history of this original film in terms of how the project got started but something which did seem a little strange was the fact that, after I’d watched the first ten minutes or so in Japanese with English subtitles, as I had imagined the best case scenario to be, I realised that the lip movements in the film in no way match up to the Japanese vocal track. So I started the film off again, this time with the English dub and... well the result was certainly interesting because the English vocal track perfectly lip synched to the cartoon. So I wonder if this movie was maybe made for an English speaking audience first and foremost, perhaps?

Either way, Ghost In The Shell, or at least this 1995 version, didn’t really do all that much for me, I’m afraid. However, it is one of the better anime that I’ve seen over the years so I suspect this one must be fairly well loved by those fans around the world and, as such, would recommend this to anyone who is into this kind of animated style. Other than that, though, I’d still heavily recommend the new Hollywood version of Ghost In The Shell over this one... even if Scarlett’s nipples aren’t properly visible like the original character’s.

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