Review: Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015)

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015) is the feature-length follow-up to Ghost in the Shell ARISE, the third animated iteration of the Ghost in the Shell franchiseTheatrical roadshow poster (after the original films and the Stand Alone Complex era of the early 2000s). In Japanese, it’s called Shin Gekijōban’, which is akin to ‘the new movie based on an anime or television series’. This explains both the clumsy English language title and the reliance on characters and plot elements from ARISE that, enjoyable or not, prevents it from excelling as a standalone experience.

As a not-quite-prequel to either the original films or SAC, it follows the Major and her team trying to hunt down a dangerous hacker known as “Firestarter” who has a designed a virus that can implant false memories and manipulate how people act, i.e. spinning out a whole story based on the plot device in the original Ghost in the Shell of the garbage truck driver who gets manipulated into hacking on behalf of the Puppet Master.

Making progress from ARISE, they’re still not in Section 9, under Aramaki, but getting close. The setting is mildly perplexing too: the original films were in pseudo-Hong Kong, SAC was explicitly in Japan but in a new capital after Tokyo is destroyed in WW3, and this takes place in “New Port City” and seems like it’s probably Japan. However, I’m not actually sure any non-fictional country names are ever given (for example, there’s an “East Asian Federation” that has an embassy or trade mission in New Port City, and Qhardistan is a war-torn country mentioned throughout ARISE) and even though there’s lots of discussion about the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister, I can’t swear they say it’s Japan.

ghost_in_the_shell_new_movie_section_9
Clockwise from centre: Kusanagi, Batou, Saitou, Bouma, Paz, Ishikawa, & Togusa. The gang’s all here.

In many ways this film – and the ARISE project in general – builds on Stand Alone Complex rather than the original theatrical films. The animation isn’t terrible by any stretch – and of course those other movies have dated – but it isn’t on par with other theatrical anime. Tonally, it also shares Stand Alone Complex’s obsession with exploring science fiction ideas in a more serialized, TV-oriented way. It doesn’t have the original, almost mythic scope or depth of philosophy found in Ghost in the Shell or Innocence; the original films asked questions like, can a cyborg know that they were originally human? Can an AI have a soul or ‘ghost’? Can a consciousness exist without a body? The questions ARISE and The New Movie ask are more pragmatic: can the government or the military own a prosthetic body, instead of individuals having bodily autonomy? What happens when technology moves and isn’t backwards compatible, stranding older cyborgs with decaying hardware that can’t be upgraded?

As a big fan of cyberpunk science fiction, I love all this minutiae, but there’s no denying it’s less accessible than the other films. On top of that, I’m not sure how much sense it would make without watching the four ARISE: Borders OVAs or the restructured, 10-episode series Alternative Architecture. Certainly the character of Kurutsu (or Kurtz, depending on the translation), the Major’s former commanding officer, gets little introduction in the movie despite being a prominent figure in the preceding series. Firestarter, the hacker-slash-eponymously-titled-virus, is similarly presented as something you’re just expected to already know about.

On the other hand, the movie does have some impressive action sequences, with the standouts being an assault on a spy vessel defended by troops and tanks with thermoptic camouflage, and a last ditch defense by the Major’s squad against a huge number of hacked soldiers. Pretty much every member of the team – including Bouma, who often gets short-shrifted even in Stand Alone Complex – gets something to do, with the Logicoma once again stealing every scene they’re in.

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「ハロー!」

I’d love to see a new Ghost in the Shell movie with a full theatrical budget for the animation, but in the absence of that, The New Movie is nevertheless well-worth checking out for any fan of the franchise – especially any fans of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex who might not have given ARISE a shot yet. It suffers from the same overly complicated storytelling that slightly hobbles every Ghost in the Shell project, but it pokes around at enough interesting ideas and concepts to sweep my complaints aside. Throw in some satisfying cyborg-on-cyborg combat, adorable think-tanks, and you have Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.

It all closes with a nice nod to the original film, yet with modern animation, that works far, far better than the ghastly Ghost in the Shell 2.0 release from a few years back. It’s ripe for continuation. With Kusanagi and her team together, and the plot threads of ARISE all tied up, I hope this isn’t the last we see of this version of the franchise.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie / 攻殻機動隊 新劇場版

Director: Kazuya Nomura

Japanese Release Date: 20th June 2015

Version Watched: 100 min, Manga Entertainment Blu-Ray

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