See It Instead: Ghost in the Shell
With the arrival of the somewhat controversial remake of Ghost in the Shell at our door, we provide some alternatives so you don’t have to “Shell” out the extra cash. No, the jokes don’t get any better.
Sometimes a movie comes along… you know what? It’s a new year, let’s try a new catchphrase. Here on See It Instead, we give you all the news you can use on the movies you might want to peruse, so you can choose to excuse yourself from a mainstream flick that’s making you snooze. This time around: the blockbuster remake of Ghost in the Shell!
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Scarlett Johansson takes up the mantle of Major Motoko Kusanagi (renamed simply The Major). She’s a cyborg operative at Section 9, a special anti terrorism division. Cool and ruthless, the Major uses cutting edge technology and good old fashion kung fu to dispatch any threat. When the truth of her creation starts creeping back into the Majors mind, the line between enemy and friend begins to blur.
The film was already in hot water when ScarJo was announced to play a traditionally Japanese lead character. That one of the major thrusts of the film has been changed from the broader philosophical question of what it means to be “alive” to a narrower existential question about the Major’s genesis was another strike with fans. I checked IMDB, and no one is listed as playing or voicing the antagonist (and actual “Ghost in the Shell”) Puppet Master from the anime. That’s strike three folks, so let’s see what else we can watch to whet our Sci Fi whistles.
The Obvious Pick: Ghost in the Shell (1995)
If you liked the trailers for GitS 2017, have I got good news for you: you can save yourself the money and just watch the original animated movie! Every action scene on display, from the “water fight” to the Noh theatre assassins are lifted directly from the original.
Directed by Mamoru Oshii (Patlabor, Gatchaman), GitS was one of the finest science fiction animes in a time when anime was knocking deeply philosophical sci fi out of the park. Equal parts action and reverie, GitS was slick and stunning, a Matrix level movie before the Matrix. Actually, just imagine the Major as a “good guy Agent Smith” and the Puppet Master as a “bad guy Neo” and you pretty much have Ghost in the Shell. GitS has many animated sequels and remakes (GitS 2, Standalone Complex, Arise) that tackle different topics that range from philosophy to character study, but if the 2017 version has your interest piqued, the original 1995 anime is sure to please.
The OMG WTF am I watching pick: Akira (1998)
In the oroboros that is western and eastern science fiction, the late 80’s and early 90’s was Japan’s time to give the gift of good sci fi back to western audiences. Akira was the first salvo in the Japanese invasion, and boy was it a doozy. A tale of friendship, rivalry and the ramifications of technology run amok, Akira was dazzling. The vistas of Neo Tokyo were breathtaking; it’s like Metropolis and Blade Runner had a child and then put it on a diet of cocaine and steroids. The artwork was polished and fluid, with bike chases and techno-organic monstrosities that boggled the mind.
At the heart of it all, however, is an emotional tale of two friends/rivals/enemies/bromance candidates. While Akira is best known for introducing high-tech dystopia to a new generation of science fiction fans, Akira also started the time-honored anime tradition of frenemies, which reached its logical conclusion (900 episodes later) with Naruto and Sasuke.
The Cerebral Pick: Serial Experiments LAIN (1998)
Alice’s adventures in Wonderland has been a fertile ground of inspiration for many science fiction properties. SE: LAIN is probably one of my favorite iterations on those premises. The story is that of a shy, withdrawn girl Lain, who retreats further and further into “The Wired”, an internet community that imagines BBS/Reddit merging with virtual reality.
Equally charming and disturbing, the series explores interpersonal connections, sanity, and the lines between identity and persona. We soar alongside Lain as she goes from a neophyte user to an internet God, only to come crashing back down as distrust and petty net politics undo the acceptance Lain had found on the web. The juxtaposition of high-tech philosophy and adolescent tribalism drive a deep narrative, creating both wonder and empathy. The artwork is clean and evocative. The dialogue is filtered through a child’s perspective which makes difficult topics approachable.
LAIN is one of my most cherished DVD’s. I can count the number of titles that were good enough to compel ownership on one hand. If you want to follow the rabbit down its hole, I highly recommend Serial Experiments LAIN.