Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 100 minutes approx.
The expansion of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost In The Shell universe shows no signs of slowing down, with this film marking the 20th anniversary of the release of the first movie in Japan. If The New Movie sounds a lazy title, it’s because it originally shared the same title as the 1995 classic hence this suffix to avoid any confusion.
In terms of the GITS timeline the events of this film, directed by Kazuya Nomura, is set after the ARISE/Alternate Architecture set of OVAs – so knowledge of these storylines is essential – concluding the telling of how Major Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9 come together whilst providing a bridge between this timeline and the one in the first film.
The year is now 2029 and the Major’s team have been given carte blanche by the Prime Minister to deal with a hostage situation involving a group of ex-cyborg soldiers protesting against changes to the military. Just as the Major and crew begin to gain control, the Fire Starter virus – which rewrites a person’s ghost with fake memories – returns to create further chaos.
As this is happening the Prime Minister is assassinated by a terrorist bomb during a secret meeting, which also took the life of the Major’s childhood friend and former commander Kurtz. The investigation reveals a number of shady business deals involving members of Section 501, whose cyber memories all mention a “Third World”, making this personal for the Major.
Written by Tow Ubukata, who scripted the ARISE series as well as GITS influenced shows Mardock Scramble and Psycho Pass 2, there are a lot of loose ends tied up while setting the scene for what is to come. If you are already familiar with Ubukata’s work then you know to expect a dense multi-thread sci-fi ramblings around which we are treated to some high-octane futuristic bullet laden action.
The film opens with a dialogue free montage looking into the Major’s past at an orphanage for cyborgs, where she first met Kurtz (Kurutsu in the subtitles), followed by concurrent scenes showing the different paths the two women have now taken, ending with Kurtz’s death.
Finding the culprit and figuring out the motives is hindered by the various political cover-ups looking to derail the Major’s investigation and further distractions caused by the Fire Starter virus and other acts of cyber terrorism. But, the deeper into the web they go the less things seem to make sense.
In keeping with Shirow’s original vision, the central conundrum of what it mean to be human remains a vital part of the plot and in exploring the various relationships within the Major’s maverick rag tag squad. Unlike Shirow, Ubukata is less concerned with deep philosophical ruminations of this issue which in the past has been a handicap in enjoying other GITS outings (Innocence I’m looking at you).
Again this manifests itself through the Major with her irrepressible hacking skills which sees her discover many things in the minds of others, but Ubukata takes it step further by exploring the physical cost of cybernetic technology. One new trait he has introduced is the ability for cyborgs to literally swap their faces for another; a valuable informant Batou visits has a whole wall of alternate faces at his disposal, posing the question what is/was his real face?
This further challenge to the question of identity therefore plays into the hands of the hacker’s use of the Fire Starter virus, having pawns at their disposal which are now able to adopt any number physical appearances. A supplementary discussion looks at how the technological advances of cybernetics has created a new breed of criminal, with physical and spatial barriers no longer a problem for international terrorism.
Of course this is where the group we now know as Section 9 come into play but here they are still in their nascent stages, and because the setting is further back in time the inherent frostiness of learning to work together is still in effect. Sole human member, Togusa, is teased by his part-cyborg teammates while the Major somewhat clinically and almost dismissively refers to everyone as “parts” of a weapon.
By the end of the mission though, the rationale of this interesting metaphor is clarified to the point of being a compliment, when the Major admits her boys are parts she’d “rather not have to replace”. Awww. But don’t be fooled, she is still the same tough cookie she ever was and refuses to suffer fools gladly (or at all), as Aramaki is often the one to find out the hard way!
In between the procedural investigation breakdown and existentialist banter there are some prime action scenes to enjoy, the opening clash at the hostage situation is a barnstorming way to kick off. A midway clash is replete with some gruesome violence while the final act features the typically destructive knock-drown-drag-out affair we’ve come to expect from this franchise.
Production IG once again rise to the occasion with their flawless handling of the presentation, and while the aesthetic is in keeping with the ARISE model, the artwork remains impeccably detailed and bristling with vitality. The CGI blends in smoothly with the 2D art, adding much to both the backgrounds and the action scenes.
One gimmick too far however is the constant self-referential moments relating to the original film. Just like in every other subsequent GITS outing we get another recreation of the Major’s famous dive from the first film while other notable scenes are also riffed on here too, the precursor timeline of this film making the 1995 one feel like the homage instead.
The GITS franchise is certainly a rich and profitable one, and Masamune Shirow has created quite a legacy with what is arguably the patriarch of cyberpunk anime. Intelligent, action packed and historically congruent The New Movie might feel like the wheel being reinvented in places but its spot within the GITS canon is without question.
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Inside The World Of Ghost In The Shell Part 2
Special: “Arise Explained In 25 Minutes” (Extended Director’s Cut)
Special: “25 Years Reviewed In 25 Minutes” (Extended Director’s Cut)
Rating – ****
Man In Black