Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Classic cyberpunk thriller, probably one of the most famous anime movies of all time. Now, last time I've watched one of the most famous anime movies of all time, it was Akira and I was severely dissapointed. Ghost in the Shell on the other hand... well, I liked a good deal better than that, that's for sure, but it still didn't exactly win me over.
GitS follows the members of a specialized SWAT team, mainly its Major Motoko Kusanagi, investigating a mysterious hacker called Puppetmaster. Unlike Akira, it's certainly very much a post Gibson, post Internet approach to Cyberpunk that had some genuine grasp on then current technological developments. It's also a much more cerebral affair, having only a tiny fraction of Akira's non stop overwhelming action. It's just that I feel it might be a bit too cerebral for its own good, if I'm being honest.
See, by now I've seen a share of Mamoru Oshii productions. By no means all of them, but quite a few. And I still think that by far his best work was Red Spectacles, which, while being a work with easily recognizable political undertones and social commentary, didn't feel the need to elaborate on them to an extent that would distract from its free spirited comedy. Looking at Oshii's more serious works, I feel he has an unfortunate habit of lecturing instead of telling. Not too long before GitS I've watched Jin-Roh, another movie he wrote the script for, and I had most of the same complaints with it, even though it's overall a movie I liked a good bit more. When Oshii wants to make a point, he really goes on about it. If he had written Blade Runner, the Tears in Rain monologue would have lasted five minutes.
Don't get me wrong, there is a place for philosophical contemplation, but there is a delicate balance for just how much of your dialogue should consist on it. There was a point in the movie where a character was asked a fairly straight forward, conversational question, and she replied to it with this flowery existentialist ramble... I'm just not a fan of this approach to writing dialogue. It doesn't work for me, it takes away from the actual emotion.
I don't like ragging on Oshii, as I know for a matter of fact that he has made and worked on good stuff. And for what it's worth he seems like a cool guy. But Ghost in the Shell never really came together for me. I am aware that it's probably a weird order to go about this, but I've seen most of the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex before I saw the movie and I feel like it managed to explore better ideas in a more evocative way in some of its one off 20 minutes episode than the movie did in 80 minutes. And, you know, it actually made me care about it's characters, which just didn't properly come alive in the movie.
You know, matter of fact, I feel like you could have probably cut down the movie to a 20 minutes episode of the show and it might very well have improved it. It's not that the plot, much less the rather gorgeous art and direction, are bad, though I also don't think it's as smart as it thinks it is. I just think that its individual elements are very... disproportionate, is probably the best way to phrase it. Some elements would have desperately needed to be cut down, others to be expanded upon.
Unlike with Akira, I think Ghost in the Shell does have its virtues aside from animation and visual design, I just don't think it properly capitalizes on them. I suppose at the time it was one of very few watchable Cyberpunk movies, much less ones that try to engage with the emerging information age. Which is why I can also see why it caught on. Well, that and the copious amounts of female nudity, about half of which can get away with insisting it's artistic. But in a Post Lain world it just feels a bit... mid.
I would probably be more generous with it, if I hadn't seen the same source material handled a lot better in Stand Alone Complex. Visuals, sound design and direction hold up and the plot is fine, but the moment to moment writing just drags it down more than it would have needed to. Before seeing it I thought I'd probably watch GitS: Innocence right after, but now I think I'm good just sticking to SAC. And, I guess, have a look at some other Cyberpunk anime. Armitage III is probably next.