Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie ★★★★½

I don't like this quite as much as the first, direct-to-video (OVA) film in the Arise series, (letterboxd.com/nottheacademy/film/ghost-in-the-shell-arise-border-1-ghost-pain/), but I have to give it credit for pulling off a really tough task. This simultaneously ties up all the loose ends from that series, stands alone as a film you could enjoy without watching Arise, and leaves things open enough for future sequels to build on.

Everything I said in that review about Production I.G.'s origin tale for "the Major", full-cyborg Motoko Kusanagi, holds true here. Letterboxd lists the director from that series, Kazuchika Kise as a co-director here, but that's not how he's credited in the film. While this movie uses all the same character designs and aesthetics from his ARISE series, it's actually directed by a key animator at the studio, Kazuya Nomura. The animation clearly has a higher budget here too, adding more details and allowing for it to look better on the screen than the simplified OVA style of the ARISE mini-series.

The rest of the production team seems to have all returned though, with the same writer, cast, and even theme music. The real difference comes in the ability to tell a longer story in one go, and in the way Nomura decides to frame that story differently compared to Kise. In short, he uses a lot more Dutch angles and particular bravura dramatic shots that will be familiar to anime fans. It's a bit of a less grounded, less dense way to present the story, which honestly probably makes this feel more accessible to a wider audience. If anyone was watching the ARISE series and feeling overwhelmed by the story, this film gives you a bit of breathing room and a presentation that takes the time to highlight character moments a little longer. It'll probably seem easier to get into.

This has the effect of giving us a satisfying dramatic payoff to several long-running sub-plots of the ARISE series. But even if you didn't watch that, there is some clever writing here that keeps the story moving forward and involving while never making you feel you needed to have met Character X or learned Plot Point Y before this. To be honest, this seemed to me a bit inspired by Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and MI: Fallout, but I'm okay with that as they're some of the best movies in the series and a natural fit here. The action here is also on that scale, a big move up from the ARISE series, and it's nice to see each of the Section 9 team members getting their own turn to shine.

Tow Ubukata has been spinning the recent Ghost in the Shell tales, and his writing is a real highlight of the series in general, and this film in particular. More of a novelist really, he takes Masumune Shirow's ideas and makes all the philosophy and techno-babble easier to follow. It's also nice to have Motoko driving the story more rather than a bunch of guys talking ABOUT her and leering at the eye candy, as in much of Shirow's work. It still happens a bit, but she's given more agency in this series, and especially more depth in this film. This would pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, not something you can easily say about anime.

I will say that there are elements from the series which didn't quite get as much payoff here as I wanted. Some things seemed moved on from fairly quickly or glossed over easily. I don't want to spoil any of them, but it's worth a mention. All the political wrangling comes to a head in this film, and that may be quite dense to follow for nubes. The new element here of introducing a guy who essentially represents the Yakuza as one of the key antagonists seems (however realistic) like a bit of a copout in terms of placing blame for all the grand schemes in ARISE. Seems like no matter what big crimes are committed, the ones in charge are ultimately just a kind of criminal trying to make money. The earlier, lower-tier antagonists from ARISE were more compelling.

Overall however, this makes a fine wrap-up to the ARISE series, or a fine film to watch on its own. Calling it "The New Movie" is intentional, I'm sure, to try to get fans of the original back on board after they've felt so much inconsistency with different products over the years. Well, they really couldn't have asked for a better update on the character, as I think this is a film that will just get better on rewatches. There are layers to it that will probably only be revealed as you dive further into the world of Ghost in the Shell...

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