ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 7th August 2016, by Andrew Osmond

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie

Cyborg agent, hacker and warrior Motoko Kusanagi, leader of her own six-man fighting unit, has burnished her name through her past operations. With government funding, Kusanagi’s team takes on a hostage crisis. They’re apparently successful... but it’s a smokescreen for the murder of the Prime Minister. Now the unit has a tangled case to break, which involves their virus-happy adversary known as Fire Starter, as well as Kusanagi’s former comrades at Unit 501.

Manga Entertainment must be giving fervent thanks for lucky timing. The release of Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie comes as the GITS franchise spikes in the news and launches fresh flamewars, thanks to the first photo of Scarlett Johansson from next year’s film and the return of that controversy. Angry about whitewashing? Screw Hollywood, here’s an all-Japanese Kusanagi!

More cynically, this release may benefit from a sneakily misleading name. Many buyers may reasonably assume that The New Movie is a reboot of the franchise (rebooted twice already), or some kind of companion to the first film from 1995. Or, as Jonathan Clements pointed out in NEO 147, the title may be a ploy for next year, when buyers could confuse it with the Johansson film.

Actually, The New Movie should be called Ghost in the Shell Arise: The Movie, as that’s what it is. It follows on from the earlier Arises (available on two volumes from Manga), with the same designs, voice-cast and writer (Tow Ubukata). Kazuya Nomura is credited as “Director,” replacing Kazuchika Kise from the earlier Arise episodes. That might have been interesting. Nomura has few director credits, but he helmed the eccentric but likable Robotics; Notes and the intriguing new spy show Joker Game, both by the GITS studio, Production I.G.

However Kise, who redesigned the characters for the Arise reboot, is credited as “General Director” on the new film, which feels very similar to the previous episodes. It’s handsome without being especially well-presented; its gratuitously tangled story feels like an assemblage of parts that fans will recognise, but without much interesting storytelling. In short, it’s disappointing.

Given the moniker, it feels especially mean that The New Movie assumes you’ve seen the past Arise episodes. A big part of the plot deals with Kusanagi’s old employers, Unit 501, and several of her old acquaintances return. If you’ve seen (and remember) the first Arise episode, then you’ll be okay, but otherwise you’ll really be lost by some developments. It’s especially silly as all the info could have been dropped into the script in a few lines.

Assuming that you have seen Arise, then one of the film’s virtues – to a point – is that it rounds off previous episodes. We see Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa and the others operating slickly as a team, with a high level of professional trust, even if Kusanagi deliberately purges the personal, referring to her men as “parts.” The sniper Saito is still kill-happy, while Togusa has a newbie complex. Kusanagi still refuses to work for Aramaki, her commander in other versions of GITS, yet the not-so-old man is shown taking satisfaction, even pride, in her achievements. Meanwhile Kusanagi must confront her old comrades at 501, in what becomes a final reckoning.

That much is clear. The bad news is that much of the rest of the film is terribly confusing, even on repeat viewing. The multiple factions and double-crosses are murder to follow; even if they do make sense, the level of pointless convolution swamps interesting ideas. There are references to post-traumatic disorder, with the eerie image of suicidal soldiers leaving their last words to an anonymous clerk. There’s also the suggestion that GITS’ cyber-world is subject to the bugbears of today’s tech; incompatibility (“computer says no upgrade”) and obsolescence. When it’s your computer that’s obsolete, it’s annoying. When it’s your prosthetic body that’s obsolete, it’s death.

These are good ideas, but the film doesn’t develop them beyond a few interesting scenes. The final story revelations are terribly half-baked, not to mention old-hat for GITS. It’s hard to make sense, even retrospectively, of the actions of Kusanagi’s adversary, whose modus operandi feels like a story cheat (like using identical twins in a whodunit). And through The New Movie, plotlines and characters spring up gracelessly to move things along; several of these elements feel recycled from earlier versions of GITS.

The action sequences are adequate but often rather standard GITS fare, and it’s occasionally hard to read the action (as with a bit in the first fight when Kusanagi jumps up on an enemy soldier). The last big battle, though, is an honourable exception; it’s very enjoyable and satisfying, with gratifying levels of fire and firepower. At such moments, you feel the Arise characters truly rise; for all this film’s disappointments, it would be sad if they had no more adventures before the next reboot. The New Movie ends with a cheeky reprise of a famed GITS moment which feels deservedly earned by the now seasoned heroes – though not by the disappointing film.

Despite some decent ideas and character development, this film is disappointing, let down by a frustratingly convoluted, second-hand story.
SCORE: 3/5
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