Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society – Review

Gitssacsolidstatesociety.mkv - 00007Naturally that’s a big concern of the movie: Establishing what has changed. If only the movie would lead to even more change…

Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: The Grandpa-Conspiracy – Review

And with this I end my retrospective for the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Both the Innocence-Movie and this one are kinda outliers whenever people talk about that franchise, so I figured I should talk about those. And it all connects neatly with the Arise-series, which sort-of tries to fulfil a dream of the SAC-franchise’s director Kamiyama by trying to turn Motoko into a bit of a moeblob. Who knows what Tow Ubakata will do as the new GitS-writer but considering where this franchise has been trying to go for the last decade or so, I don’t think, this will be the Ghost in the Shell you fell in love with when you watched Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.

The next review I want to write that has nothing to do with the current anime-season is a manga-review of Satoshi Kon’s Opus. I will write a review about that unfinished series and how it fits into Satoshi Kon’s oeuvre. Later I will review also the other (also unfinished) manga Seraphim: 266,613,336 Wings that Satoshi Kon created together with Oshii.

Overview:

Release-Date: 2006
Running Time: 105 minutes
Synopsis:

A.D. 2034. It has been two years since Motoko Kusanagi left Section 9. Togusa is now the new leader of the team, that has considerably increased its appointed personnel. The expanded new Section 9 confronts a rash of complicated incidents, and investigations reveal that an ultra-wizard hacker nicknamed the “Puppet Master” is behind the entire series of events.

-ANN

Gitssacsolidstatesociety.mkv - 00015Let’s face it: Even Ghost In The Shell didn’t know how to realistically portray hacking while also making it look entertaining. Statements like this one end up being completely meaningless because of that. After all, if the series fails to establish hacking as a compelling storytelling-device super-hackers will automatically lose in charisma-value as well.

There And Back Again: How the Ghost In The Shell Franchise Is Striving To Return To Its Roots

A new trailer has appeared on the Youtube-channel of Ghost in the Shell. Apparently a new GitS-movie will be coming out this summer in Japan with Tow Ubakata writing the damn thing. Production IG has finally decided to do something new again with the GitS-franchise (a prequel-series that heavily references the SAC-franchise and the Oshii-movies hardly counts as something new). More than Arise being a one-off-kinda-deal, they want to do more with this franchise again, it seems. But if you look at where the GitS-franchise started and where it is now, you can pretty much say it is about to return to its starting-point.

Naturally the actual starting-point has always been Shirow Masamune’s celebrated manga but he has been out of the picture even before the second Oshii-movie creatively speaking. Shirow Masamune’s ambitions were… let’s say, of a different sort. Instead the franchise continued with the two Oshii-movies which were VERY different from what Shirow Masamune had been doing in his manga-series. Oshii had taken the basic concepts of the GitS-series and turned it into an allegorical device for elaborate philosophical ramblings. And let’s be honest: It was Oshii’s work that made GitS the universally popular franchise it has grown to be. The first movie became a classic because of that (well, the animation and other things played a role as well, of course). The second time around the movie did end up being even more abstract and I can’t imagine anyone understanding Gits: Innocence after only having it seen once. That second movie has just been overwhelming in how challenging the whole thing ended up being. Add to that the shenanigans like a rather crucial prequel-LN only a couple people will even have read before watching that movie and you got a movie that’s the complete opposite of the breezy adventures with good ideas as a setup that had been Shirow Masamune’s take on it.

Around the time the second GitS-movie had been released, the Stand-Alone-Complex-series had already started production. Kenji Kamiyama, a student of Oshii, was supposed to turn SAC into a prequel for the upcoming Innocence-movie. In the end, SAC became its own thing. Mamoru Oshii said about SAC this when he had been asked about how it differs from his two movies: “I think that Stand Alone Complex . . . did not really have a philosophical plot. It has more of a realistic plot. All of the problems that the modern world is having or is facing right now are being explained or talked about . . . these kinds of stories can be more easily accepted by the TV audience than a complete fantasy or science-fictional story, which has no association to the real world.” There you have it, SAC is more easily digestible Sci-Fi-entertainment and the TV-audience is naturally dumber than the one who goes to the cinema. So, SAC went the route of sci-fi that wanted to talk about present-day-issues using a sci-fi-plot. And this movie is no exception to that ambition.

It’s a bit ironic that one of Kamiyama’s ambitions with this movie would end up being somewhat solved by Tow Ubakata. Kamiyama desperately tried to link the SAC-series to Shirow Masamune’s manga-series and this movie was his attempt to turn Motoko into a character that was more like Shirow Masamune’s version (In fact it was his second attempt as SAC’s second season didn’t offer him any creative openings for that transition either). You could certainly say that the Arise-series had similar ambitions – although the need for Motoko to become more like Shirow Masamune’s version has been updated and generalized to the point where she just needs to be more moe now. It has taken like two decades but with Two Ubakata’s Arise series the franchise has returned to its roots of straightforward cyberpunk-adventures with an amicable cast of various characters. Maybe that new movie will be good – as long as Tow Ubakata gives up the pretense of writing complex GitS-stories. In terms of challenging content Kamiyama’s SAC-series already has been a watered down version of what Oshii was going for and the Arise-series has been an even further watered down version of what Kamiyama had been doing. At this point, I really hope this new movie won’t have any of those unnecessary plot-shenanigans the Arise-series had because, if that series is any indication, Tow Ubakata has no idea how to implement those in a movie. But here’s the irony of the whole thing: Tow Ubakata’s absolutely watered down style of writing is perfect in revitalizing the more comedic sides of Section 9 that had been present in the Manga-series but ended up being buried by the overly serious Oshii-adaptations. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing but that’s certainly the direction this franchise is aiming for right now.

Review:

Gitssacsolidstatesociety.mkv - 00020That’s the best summary of this movie’s plot.

This movie has always been planned as a sequel to the two seasons. The reason for that was simple: Motoko. If you look at the plot of this movie the whole Solid-State-thingy might seem like the more dominant topic but looking closely Motoko is just as dominant in terms of presence. Even the scenes without Motoko often mention her and talk about her choice to leave Section 9 behind. It’s the ending, though, that cements the idea of this movie being actually about Motoko coming back to Section 9. Originally this whole Motoko-plot was supposed to be a rebirth but the movie falls short of that obviously. Although, to be honest, I have no idea how you would transform the SAC-Motoko into the Shirow-Masamune-Motoko. This whole thing is one side of the cookie.

The other side is the Solid-State-Society who’s involved in child-abductions. But the system gets abused by third parties and a mysterious super-hacker who calls himself the “Puppeteer” is using a virus to draw attention to that. Due to that, various sub-plots occur where said third parties become part of the story only to serve as stepping-stones for the whole thing.

So you have this clear-cut character-drama of Section 9 dealing with the loss of Motoko and Section 9 investigating various things while chasing the breadcrumbs left by the “Puppeteer”. Then Motoko reenters the picture and her conscience troubled as well as her curiosity awakened she starts to work with Section 9 again. There’s a lot going on in this movie and it’s rather hard to shake off the feeling that the whole experience doesn’t cohere. Despite all the scenes serving a purpose you can’t help but feel like the story is shooting into all directions at the same time and only manages at the very end to find a common purpose. It doesn’t help that the team around Togusa feels passive in how it essentially is just chasing the next hint left by the “Puppeteer”. Of course, there’s an explanation within the story why the “Puppeteer” has always been one step ahead of Section 9 but that doesn’t help while watching all these incidents whose connection seems frustratingly elusive until the finale.

The plot-structure as well feels fractured. While the movie tries to spin a cohesive narrative out of it, there just isn’t enough room to overcome the shortcomings of its heavily incidental structure. The four acts of the movie don’t really work so much together as just serve as stepping-stones with a lot of room between each one. That doesn’t mean there’s a lot of filler here or that the movie jumps around chronologically but rather that those acts feel isolated from each other. In the TV-series this kind of plot-structure was fine because you could stretch the whole thing over the course of two seasons but sitting through this plot-structure in a movie makes you aware of how the plot meanders through a mystery and then suddenly jolts forward because of some unexpected development. There isn’t a very organic feeling to how the plot develops in this movie.

Just take those two lengthy sequences for example where Section 9 is investigating the terrorist at the beginning and when later the sniper-duel happens: these two sequences, despite their length, are basically just red herrings. But because of all the attention those sequences get it’s hard not to think that there will be some sort of pay-off later on. This movie uses the misdirection of red herrings so often that it’s hard to connect to the actual story. The plot just jumps forward in fits and starts as red herrings and helpful leads get thrown at the audience without any immediate explanation to tell the difference. And along the way I simply lost interest in what was actually going on and just resigned myself to wait for the finale. There are SO many sort-of red herrings in this movie that it becomes impossible to discern what the actual investigation is supposed to be.

Such a labyrinthine plot-structure would be fine except the movie doesn’t have much else to offer its audience. In many regards this movie is the complete opposite of the Oshii’s Innocence. Kamiyama even mentioned in a interview how he had been looking at Innocence for inspiration while noting that both Solid State Society and Innocence deal with the kidnapping of children, but “although that was the theme of the movie, the story didn’t necessarily cover the actual kidnapping of real humans, but inclined toward telling the story of the “containers” they were dubbed into. I had my own ideas, I mean I felt it was about time to grow away from my mentor.” In Oshii’s Innocence the kidnapping-plot remains in the backseat and what defines the story are philosophical musings about why this is happening and what it says about mankind and society. Meanwhile, Solid State Society doesn’t muse about what’s what and the labyrinthine plot is always driving the story forward interrupted by action-scenes. One of Oshii’s kidnapping-plot in Innocence has actually been this lack of focus as the musings were more abstract than personal but Kamiyama’s kidnapping-plot doesn’t really focus on the human element. Though, instead of getting lost in the abstract, Kamiyama’s kidnapping-plot gets lost in its lacking ability to cohere. You’ve got Togusa and his family, the old people, Motoko, the “Puppeteer” and Batou: all ripe to tell their own story but with everybody trying to tell their story at the same time, the movie fails to focus on a particular topic.

The characters in this movie are all ripe with narrative. After all, this movie does the flash-forward “2 years later”-thingy as a setup for the movie’s story. Motoko has left, Togusa has taken her place and Batou has become a grumpy old dude. This movie has a lot to say about all three of them and sure enough the movie has some interesting things to say about Togusa juggling work and family, his need to prove himself as the new leader of Section 9, Batou’s growing pariah-status within Section 9 as he’s simply left alone to do whatever he wants and Motoko… well, she’s supposed to get “reborn” in this movie as I’ve mentioned. You have already this labyrinthine plot with the kidnappings that not only has a lot of red herrings to offer but also action-sequences. There isn’t a lot of room left to actually explore any of those three central characters. The movie succeeds what those three characters are like now that Motoko has left Section 9 but the movie doesn’t actually give them any sort of compelling character-arc. The only thing the movie has to offer in that respect is Togusa and Batou confronting each other as both figure out how to move on – which is a conflict rendered meaningless by the ending of the movie. Aside from that, the movie doesn’t have to offer any sort of good character-development.

Motoko is a special case, of course, because Kamiyama had the ambition to turn her into Shirow Masamune’s version of Motoko with this movie. More than that, Kamiyama actually had already wanted to use the second season of SAC to turn Motoko back into the cheerful version of Shirow Masamune’s series. But as he worked on the script he had to admit to himself: “But as I worked on the script, I found myself at the latter part of the story, with no more time left, and Motoko apparently still unwilling to decide to go back to Section 9.” Kamiyama is a bit oversentimental, I feel like, when he later claims that Motoko’s characterization is at fault here. First of all, I don’t even know how you could’ve made that work. There’s such a huge difference between the joyful original Motoko and the mature snarky version introduced by Oshii. Why that was even an idea Kamiyama wanted to pursue is probably best explained by something Yoshiki, one of the script-writers said: “In the S.A.C. TV series, the Tachikoma acted as comedy relief, so I could just insert a joke and reset the serious tone of the scene. That was easy, but not applicable again for this project. It was really difficult for me to keep that seriousness all through the series.” Shirow Masamune’s original manga is indeed jovial and pulpy at times and it’s only thanks to some good plot-work and some interesting ideas that the manga is entertaining. Oshii’s version is of course anything but jovial and pulpy. Still, it’s weird to look at the SAC-franchise and think “Here’s a guy trying and failing to build a bridge between Oshii’s philosophical seriousness and the pulpy joyfulness of Shirow Masamune.”

Gitssacsolidstatesociety.mkv - 00026At this point, this whole thing has already been reduced to a silly catchphrase. Nevermind that it originally was supposed to meant something more than just “How about I just follow my gut feeling.” And it’s great how this franchise has slowly developed into a direction where listening to your gut is better than listening to your brain, isn’t it?!

What this movie does with Motoko instead seems a bit tepid and anticlimactic. The movie opens with her having left Section 9 to do her own thing and it ends with her saying “Yeah, maybe I’ll join Section 9 again…”. Sure enough Motoko’s connection to the “Puppeteer” is a big thematic revelation in the finale but it’s not like it has any real consequences. The connection between the two characters gets established and explained – but that’s it. More than failing to get a “rebirth”-sequence for Motoko, the movie just fails to do anything with her character. I feel like Motoko didn’t even change after she had left Section 9. In contrast to Batou and Togusa, her dramatic conflict isn’t a conscious one but an unconscious one. The problem with that is how the movie fails to turn this unconscious conflict into something as dramatic as what Togusa and Batou had (and their drama barely amounted to a full arc). Motoko’s unconscious conflict is suddenly revealed to her and leads to nothing more than a change of opinion about a certain topic. That’s all there is to Motoko in this movie! We go through all these chases of the breadcrumbs the “Puppeteer” has left behind and all these action-sequences just so that Motoko could say “Yeah, maybe I was wrong to leave Section 9.”. As far as endings go, that’s way too anticlimactic.

In general, the ending is a mostly disappointing affair. It’s never a good sign when a finale consists of a character connecting all the dots for the audience and explaining what’s really going on. I mean, if you look back on the events of the movie, you realize that Section 9 barely did anything. They just followed the breadcrumbs left by the “Puppeteer” and after they had finally chased him down, he was there to explain everything to them. Essentially the movie is about old people organizing a system of kidnapping so that they could give all their money to those kids instead of the state – and then there are terrorists and politicians who have begun to exploit that system for their own ends. Where Oshii would make a point of pondering why these three groups are acting this way, Kamiyama just throws the whole thing as a given fact at the audience.

Gitssacsolidstatesociety.mkv - 00029Well, a bunch of old people thought of that name and this movie establishes that old people are all mean and very territorial… except when it comes to terrorists and right-wing-politicians, it seems.

The movie doesn’t reflect on the questions raised by those actions but rather makes jokes about how the “Solid-State-Society” isn’t that “solid-state” after all, since third parties have begun to exploit the society. I mean, turning old people into villains is such a ridiculous idea and the movie has these really hilarious scenes of Togusa being surrounded by old people who all stare menacingly at him like some sort of hivemind is controlling them. And then there’s the rotten ghoul who’s supposed to be an old person uselessly lunging at Togusa after he tried to save a boy. Why did anyone think that’s a good idea?! It’s old people for fuck’s sake! The problem with having a lot of old people in society isn’t that they all will turn into a monstrous cyber-hivemind! And if you look at the first and second season of SAC then you see how its sci-fi-plots always relied on having a sympathetic counterforce to what Section 9 was doing and in the end they would team-up in order to attack the real evil. You don’t have that here. In this movie the “Puppeteer” who serves that function remains largely faceless and it is only in the finale when his identity gets revealed. The story’s message just isn’t poignant enough to actually have much of an impact and without any compelling characters opposite of Section 9 the dramatic struggle doesn’t seem very compelling either.

All in all, it’s a weak movie that feels like a blueprint for what the Arise-series would do. The movie had a strong beginning and the “Two years later”-setup has a certain charm in how it gives Section 9 a new dramatic dynamic but after that the movie just meanders around while chasing red herrings and leads left by the “Puppeteer”. In the finale said “Puppeteer” is confronted and the truth gets revealed… without leading to a lot of consequences for Section 9. Whatever changes the movie presents at the end are trivial and after having failed to achieve his goal to get Motoko “reborn” in this movie, the goal Kamiyama settles for sounds more like a defeat than anything else: “And then, just seven minutes before the end title, I felt that I finally accomplished the goal I set out, i.e. to put Kusanagi and Section 9 back to almost where the first season started.” Great, so this movie manages to use all the developments of the two seasons and this movie to cycle around back to the beginning of the SAC-franchise… What a great way to end the SAC-franchise…

Rating: 6.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • The interview-series done by Production IG itself is very revealing in how this anime has been produced. Naturally you need to do a lot of “reading between the lines” but it’s still a very insightful little collection of interviews.
  • That doesn’t mean there aren’t some weird moments in these interviews…
  • For example, Shotaro Suga offered this revealing tidbit about why this movie pretty much only has Motoko as a female character: “This might be misleading to some extent, but men are easy to understand. For instance, take Batou. For him, Section 9 only exists with Motoko. But is he so very innocent and simple as to run up to support Motoko? Sadly, he is. (lol) On the other hand, he quite understands his role in the present Section 9 and knows what he has to do. He sort of sways between the two values.” Sure, Shotaro, it’s the women’s fault you can’t manage to write Motoko’s character well…! Also, don’t say something like “I shouldn’t say this…” but then continue to say it anyway – especially when you’re not in a private situation. At that point, you not only should know better, you DO know better as you’ve indicated with your words!
  • At the same time, whenever you’re interviewed you should watch out to not be fucked over by weird interpretations of your reactions: ” ‘When I was first contacted about S.S.S., I thought, are those guys really going to do that again? Don’t take me wrong. I was delighted, but I also knew how tough it was going to be. At the same time, it was a project I couldn’t pass up, so I was 50% thrilled with joy and 50% anxious.’ Suga is quite frank about telling this. He has a look of someone content with a job well done and also proud of S.S.S., which emerged as an intricate and multifaceted anime.” I don’t think the description of his reaction quite matches up with Suga’s sobering frankness here. His attitude sounds more like “Again…?! Aw, fuck it, let’s just get it over with!”.
  • Also, it’s always great to see staff-members react to the critical opinion like when Masayuki Yoshiharu is saying: “In the S.A.C. series you can find a solid portion of detective drama as well as a lot of everyday-life scenes. With respect to S.S.S., it is true that people talk about the abundance of action scenes in, but actually, you should not miss the great emphasis given to the everyday-life scenes.” I don’t think we two have seen the same movie because this movie has barely any everyday-life situations (maybe Togusa’s family stuff counts as everyday-life in that regard if you’re forgiving but even that bit gets dramatized). On the other hand, this movie DOES have a lot of action-scenes.

 

 

 

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on January 18, 2015, in Anime, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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