Archive for June 11, 2008

Ghost in the Shell

Posted in movie on June 11, 2008 by Philonous

Over the weekend, Le Fox and I, beckonned on by the Manga exhibition at Urbis (which led to the Guerilla Gardening post) decided to watch the first two Ghost in the Shell films. They’re Japanese animated films with the usual futuristic distopia filled with crazed cyborgs and corrupt corporations. Widely cited as major inspiration for The Matrix, it tells the story of two crime fighting cyborgs in a bionic society infused with chips and circuits as they try to track down the mysterious Puppet Master who constantly hacks into things. Surfing the internet is plugging your brain directly into the system – vulgar interfaces are rarely used. I must admit to cringing from time to time however at the pseudo-philosophical pronouncements about being and self. There were certainly times when dialogue gave way to a long and drawn out soliloquy tossed from character to character…

Puppet Master: It can also be argued that DNA is nothing more than a program designed to preserve itself. Life has become more complex in the overwhelming sea of information. And life, when organized into species, relies upon genes to be its memory system. So man is an individual only because of his intentional memory. But memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind. he advent of computers and the subsequent accumulation of uncalculable data has given rise to a new system of memory and thought, parallel to your own. Humanity has underestimated the consequences of computerization.
Nakamura: Nonsense! This is no proof at all that you’re a living, thinking life form.
Puppet Master: And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you? When neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is.

All of this said, I did actually quite enjoy it. One of the marvels of this film is that it is based on a 1989 Manga: it really is incredibly forward thinking in terms of its predictions for technology in society. Alas, the copy of the first film we had was dubbed into a collection of terrible American accents which seemed to jar significantly with the Japanese aesthetic (which was magnificient). Having slated dubbing, Archie pointed out that perhaps I was suffering from what his hero Edward Said would have called Orientophilia. Indeed, perhaps the dialogue in Japanese was just as stilted, and intentionally so – the eyes of all the cyborgs in the film are intentionally unblinking.

Our copy of the second film, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence was nicely subtitled which certainly added to the experience. This time, the cyborg police investigate a series of murders perpetrated by a new line of sexually enabled robots.
Made in 2004, the visual effects were an age ahead of those in the first Ghost in the Shell. Clearly conscious of its legacy in The Matrix, this film seemed much more overtly philosophical quoting Confuscious every other sentence with some scenes made up entirely of one character sending forth a line from Paradise Lost, the other promptly riposting with Psalm 113. Again, toward the end dialogue gave way to a game of ‘catch the bludgeoning moral soliloquy’. By far the most interesting parts of the film were the aesthetic mastery – there is an astounding parade at one point which took my breath away, the music – which was specially composed and based on Hungarian chant, and the creators’ vision for the integration of technology into every day life.

Both of these films are definitely worth watching – perhaps you are less cynical than me and can rise above the cringeworthy moments. Here are a couple of particularly visually stunning scenes, one from the first and one from the second (I know, youtube hardly does them justice):