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Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)

by on 2011/05/03

“What? You’ve lost me! What the hell are you talking about?”

* * *

I learned what I believed was an important lesson with Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil: always go for the director’s cut straight away. Call it Welles’ Law. So it was when I decided finally to see Ghost in the Shell, I chose the new “2.0” version. A 2008 update of 1995’s original, it is essentially the same basic movie, with recreated visuals, audio, and other assorted tweaks.

Like Akira, it’s a widely lauded classic of popular Japanese anime I have always intended to see, but never got around to. The Matrix series is an especial benefactor, adopting its themes and aesthetics without carrying on the confusion.

Agents of Section 9 are searching for an elusive hacker called the Puppet Master. In the course of their investigation, they encounter a robotic assassin, a mysterious conspiracy about a Project 2501, as well as a rival group called Section 6.

Which is about all I can really say for sure. Even if I ventured into spoiler territory, nothing would counter the fact that Ghost is an overcomplicated approach to an oversimple story. It’s an unusual tangle of styles: science fiction, police procedural, political thriller, and . . . philosophical meditation? Yes, it’s a Zen koan and paradox both, as mind numbingly boring as baroque.

The placement of sudden quietudes within the action scenes is effective, but the extensive downtime between those scenes is not. This motion picture felt more like a motion comic at points, with an odd surfeit of conversation and a preponderance of talking heads. Add to it the characters’ mental telepathy, and you may as well be watching a dramatized slide show.

The heavy exposition might not bother me as much if the philosophy soliloquies weren’t overbose, pedantic, and as clumsily delivered as written. Is the translation to blame? Or a style I haven’t quite sussed out as yet? Possibly, but I’m not ready to chalk things up to a cultural disconnect. I didn’t have these issues at the outset of Gatchaman, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai 7, or the Japanese games I have played.

As frustrating as I found the experience, however, there were moments of wry recognition. I found strands The Matrix drew upon: acupuncture, acrobatics, cybernetic augmentation, gunplay, hacking, slow motion navigation, virtual spaces, and viruses. Shared themes include memories, identity, intelligence evolving to exceed its own constraints, and the quest for individual rights and freedoms. They’re all interesting ideas, and interesting approaches, although they rarely worked well together here in Ghost.

Similarly or appropriately, the animation itself was plagued by an instability, the clash of old and new. The uneasy coexistence of traditional animation and computer generated imagery frequently derailed my near-involvement. As in several recent screenings — including Dragonlance, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Tron — the jump between vintage and new effects was disruptive enough to annoy.

Speaking of Star Wars, perhaps I should have ignored Welles’ Law in favour of Lucas’ Law: if you’re going to judge a recent cut, then compare it with latter-day peers. Since the first Ghost, the 2.0 version has already been trumped, ironically, by another student of the original, The Matrix.

In closing, I’d like to make an aside. Writing reviews can help me to remember things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. With Ghost in the Shell 2.0, I suspect it still won’t help. I have a vague sense I saw something . . . but was it more than interesting? I don’t know. Almost. I just never made a connection. Suddenly, improbably, I long for a focus group’s cut.

* * *

Rated 14A for language, nudity, and violence

83 minutes (2.0 version)

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