Posts Tagged ‘Ghost In the Shell’

on the indeterminacy of identity and perpetual violence (a mini-review of The Sky Crawlers)

July 31, 2009

A few weeks ago I watched a fantastic film, the latest (if I am not mistaken) from famed anime director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell). Here are just a few reflections on the film… and a strong recommendation to watch it, because it’s fantastic! [THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. I HAVE REVEALED VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE PLOT, AND MADE EVERY ATTEMPT TO BE VAGUE AND AMBIGUOUS, SO FEEL FREE TO READ ON EVEN IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WATCH THE FILM FOR THE FIRST TIME.]

The premise: perpetual war. Protracted regional conflict is fought by corporate proxies who solely employ children to carry out deadly aerial combat. It becomes clear later on that these children are not typical mercenaries, in that they essentially have no choice but to fight. It’s never clear what the motivating factors behind the war actually are for the parties in conflict (in a way it’s not clear who those parties are – the regional powers at war are scarcely identified, the corporations are obscured by their distance and lack of personal involvement in the conflict, and the children fighting are – well, children, with no discernable ideological stance toward the political situation), but the societal effects are clear: the war is essentially the never-ending subject of media attention, and the squadrons of pilots are like so many sports teams, with adoring fans spread out throughout the countries they ostensibly represent in the “theater” of war.

So why was this film so good? Well firstly, like Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawler felt like a depiction of real space. Much of the time I felt like I was looking at real scenery, real locations – and having been made 12 years after Ghost in the Shell, the realistic quality of the art, while rendered in a somewhat stylized way, is extremely impressive. The art is incredible. Apparently Oshii believes strongly in going “on location” when he produces anime films (for Ghost in the Shell his crew scouted locations in Hong Kong), and in my view this admittedly somewhat unusual approach pays off. The setting of the film has a certain resonance; it’s fictional, but it’s a compelling fiction, one that invites you in, that feels weighty. The animation sequences are compelling, and whereas some reviews I’ve seen of it critiqued the film for being overly slow and at its most engaging during the aerial combat sequences (which admittedly are very well done), my assessment is quite the opposite. The entire pacing of the film is very well thought-out. It’s not an action film, and isn’t driven by combat scenes or technology-based sequences (these do play a part, although the technology in question here is primarily anachronistic-looking twin-engine aircraft). I would say, however, that it is a plot-driven film, and the story is really The Sky Crawlers’ greatest strength.

However, I was deeply impressed by the animation and sound design (and the sound design is extremely high-caliber, with absolutely incredible music), which are both very well integrated into the unfolding of an unusually complex and somewhat ambiguous storyline. This is a movie that after watching (assuming you like it), you will have to see again. It’s a complete story, but doesn’t render a feeling of “closure” at the end. I think there’s a sense of resolution fundamentally lacking throughout, despite the movie being exceptionally well crafted. I don’t think this is a drawback – in fact for me, it was part of what made the movie interesting – but I’m guessing it could be the reason some anime fans were put off by the film. Like Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers constructs a narrative through simple enough premises and developments, but there is feeling of openendedness throughout, leading to a sense of not knowing. As the viewer, I don’t understand the characters, I don’t understand who they are, I don’t understand their motivations – but not in the sense of being confused about what’s happening in the progression of the story, which in a sense is very straightforward. It’s more that ambiguity is sort of an integral part of the story, which ultimately starts to feel like a slightly subversive attempt to incite viewers to question their own social realities and the nature of identity.

And ultimately – perhaps what I found most striking about the film – as hidden, enigmatic aspects of the story are revealed, the stability of who the characters seem to be is undermined, and we are forced to rethink our entire relationship with the film’s premises, the characters and their experiences (and perhaps too with ourselves). And best of all (in my opinion), there is really no easy way to do this. The film invites us to imagine the world the characters inhabit, without really giving us any shortcuts for doing so, but at the same time reminds us that we too live in a world where war is fought not only for profit but for spectacle, where nationalism is dangerously close to rooting for the team you like and where all of us, in some sense, fight manufactured wars interminably without ever really thinking that there is any alternative whatsoever (and – Oshii seems to want to ask us – is there?).

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yes, anime.

June 17, 2009
Laughing Man logo (see Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Laughing Man logo (see Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)

OK, here we go. A list (I’m going to try to be comprehensive here) of all the anime I have seen, am currently somewhere in the process of viewing, or wish to see in the future (that last one will probably be the trickiest). If you like anime but aren’t sure where to go, maybe you’ll find something listed here that sounds interesting.

Oh, and if you don’t like anime…well, all I can say is that you don’t know what you’re missing. You probably think what you’re missing is something it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. Hmm…that’s for another time.

And on a related note, if you don’t recognize the above image, well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t watching the right television shows.

ANIME I’VE SEEN AND RECOMMEND (sort of roughly ranked in the order of how much I liked them)

series

  • Serial Experiments Lain – couldn’t not put this first on the list. 13 episodes in all. You should watch this.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – two seasons. You might have thought the movie was great and that the series wouldn’t be. You were wrong. (Besides, don’t you want to know where that logo comes from?)
  • Cowboy Bebop – all my favorite bounty hunters in a single series…how is that even possible? This show promises nothing but pure enjoyment. Recommended for the anime non-viewer.
  • Noir – funny, come to think of it probably my all-time favorite assassin is a character on this show. She practically defines the word stealth. One great thing about Chloe is her wardrobe lets you know how badass she is. Not to give too much away, but in any case, you know she’s not playing because of the way she dresses. Here’s what she likes to wear:

Chloe character sketch from NOIR

Like, every day. She never doesn’t wear this outfit. In fact, her closet is filled with this. She’s a great character. By the way, lots of people seem not to know about this show. Check it out…not necessarily what you might expect. The opening episode is killer…it pulls you right into the storyline. Props to my friends Ryan and Starr for turning me on to this.

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion – anything I should add? Oh yeah, I guess I’ll just mention that this show was voted the best TV show…ever. Weird – I thought it was The Wire, or maybe Twin Peaks (Definitely one of those two).
  • Gunslinger Girl – an Italian government agency adopts abandoned or seriously ill young girls from hospitals under the guise of a beneficent charity, then brainwashes them, pairs them with handlers and trains them to be assassins! Sounds a bit preposterous but this show’s worth checking out…it’s a strong production with really high-quality drawings and animation. I’ve only seen the first season. The second is being produced by a different studio, and I’m not sure it’s even gotten a U.S. release yet (frankly it doesn’t look as good as the first season).
  • I can’t leave out BLAME! This mini-anime is freaking weird. I love the art, though. Thank you Ryan for sending this to me in the mail. I should try to find the manga…

I’m sure I’m leaving something out here, but since I can’t think what it is at the moment I’ll move on to…

films

  • Ghost in the Shell – not much I can say here. All I can say is I will never not want to watch this movie again. Sheer brilliance.
  • Akira – everytime I see this film I am struck by the level of detail and thinking that went into its production. It proves conclusively that anime has unique potential as an art form (can you imagine Akira as live-action production?), a fact that few seem to understand to the degree that Otomo has. Must see.
  • I recently watched Memories – a film divided into three parts, each by a different director, but overseen as an entire project by Otomo. This is worth checking out. Unconventional, and brilliant.
  • Spirited Away – this is actually the only Miyazaki film I’ve seen. I need to check out some of the others…
  • how could I have forgotten Appleseed? This film is awesome! Don’t sleep.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – some people bad-mouth this movie. It’s pretty different from the first film, both stylistically and in terms of narrative. I would consider Innocence to be the most abstract production in the Ghost in the Shell “canon,” as it were. I have to see it again to form my opinion more completely. If you have seen the original but not this, give it a shot. If you haven’t seen the original you know what to do…
  • Cowboy Bebop: The Movie – When I first watched this I hadn’t seen the series all the way through. I need to see this one again.
  • Paprika – Mixed feelings about this one. Stylistically and artistically, it was excellent, yet I felt it was over-the-top to a degree that took away from character development and other aspects, resulting in a less-than-completely enjoyable experience. Yet the execution of some artistic elements was so impressive that I would most likely recommend it anyway. I like the dream machine.
  • The Evangelion movies…not even sure what to say about them, other than, if you’ve seen the show, watch them. Come on, don’t you want to know what happens to SEELE?

Again, can’t think what I’m leaving out, though I’m surely leaving out something. I’ll tell you

WHAT I’VE BEEN WATCHING LATELY:

  • mainly, a series called Last Exile. I really like this one. It’s pretty unique, lacking a lot of the familiar anime tropes any critical anime viewer might be on the lookout for. The setting seems to be an anachronistic, somewhat dystopian future that seems reminiscent of medieval Europe, perhaps post-apocalyptic. The plot focuses on two young pilots of a vehicle known as a vanship. You should check it out…
  • And also, from the same studio (GONZO) I’m planning to watch the rest of Blue Submarine No. 6. A story with four half-hour episodes, it was also released as a film. I’ve seen only the first episode and don’t feel qualified to comment, other than to say that the art is awesome.

And what does the future hold?

ANIME I’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE:

films

  • I’ve actually never watched Vampire Hunter D all the way through. Someday soon…
  • Pretty much everything by Miyazaki, but I’m told Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is really great.
  • I’d also like to see Perfect Blue…never heard of it until recently, but sounds like a classic.

series

As I was writing, I started watching the preview on Netflix for a series called Paranoia Agent. From the director of Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon) and the character designer of Spirited Away, this series about a bat-wielding killer on rollerblades looks pretty great.

  • Madlax…from the director of NOIR, looks like this might be worth checking out…
  • I want to check out Ergo Proxy. Don’t really know what it’s about but I’ve heard good things about it.

Not sure what else for the moment, but I’m getting tired. Did I leave out something crucial? Or was my assessment of some anime classic completely misguided and wrong? If you have responses, questions or criticism, you know what to do.

Oh and by the way, this blog entry might give you the impression that I am a huge anime nerd. In fact, I didn’t really start watching it much until the last couple of years. Props go out to Cary for this. Anyway, notwithstanding the fact that I lifted my alias <megatech> from a certain anime cult classic, I’m not actually really too much in the know about this. So feel free to leave suggestions below. Peace..