Tag Archives: Akio Ōtsuka

CAPSULE: GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (2004)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , , Naoto Takenaka; Richard Epcar, Crispin Freeman, Joey D’Auria (English dub)

PLOT: In a future increasingly dominated by half-human cyborgs, a pair of special agents investigate a series of murder/suicides committed by gynobots.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There’s some wild imagery and at least one mind-bending scene, but it’s essentially straight science fiction—though an accomplished example of the genre.

COMMENTS: Only slightly related to the original, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence actually exceeds its seminal cyberpunk namesake. The most obvious step forward is in the animation, apparent from the opening scene where futuristic helicopter approaches a glowing orange skyscraper, fluidly scaled by the camera (the massively vertical urban settings recall a brighter version of Blade Runner‘s world, a comparison heightened by the movie’s humanist theme). Appropriately assisted by computers, the visual onslaught never lets up, highlighted by a riotous midpoint parade sequence that, reportedly, took a year to animate. That pan-Asian smorgasbord features glittering pagodas, Buddhas and dragons, a carnival so detailed that you can follow every piece of flying confetti as it drifts to the street. The procedural plot is complex, but focused, and not as mystifying as the original. This one centers on Batou, the sidekick in the first movie; a protagonist who, again, has had most of his body and even his brain replaced with machinery, and who wonders about his remaining humanity. Although she is referenced and makes what is essentially a cameo appearance, we don’t miss the Major—it wasn’t her character we fell in love with in Shell anyway, but the setting.

As a genre, anime is often replete with characters who spew vague pseudo-philosophical dialogue (much as 50s sci-fi films would proffer pseudo-scientific explanations for their atomic monsters), usually to impart an air of mysticism. But the Shell series is the real deal, with apt quotations from everything from Rene Descartes to Buddhist parables. While it’s somewhat amusing to hear a couple of gumshoes on a case drop lines from Milton into casual conversation, the citations are always on point and never play as pretentious. These wired-up special agents can tap into world literature databases with a thought, after all.

Aside from the cyberdelic drawings, there isn’t much actual weirdness in Innocence, but the ability of characters to “hack” into each others’ cybernetic brains leads to at least one scene that will mess with your mind. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll notice it starting when the movie suddenly turns eerily quiet and slow. The film recovers from its bout of insanity, and despite its intricacy, the mystery at its core is resolved without lingering ambiguity. The bullet-flying action sequences and soundtrack (Akira-esque world music, and a closing ballad which puts lyrics to “Concierto de Aranjuez”) are also ace, leading to an overall package that flirts with “” status.

To cash in on the 2017 live-action version of Ghost in the Shell with , Funimation released a DVD/Blu-ray combo of Innocence in 2017. It features a commentary track by Oshii and animator Toshihiko Nishikubo along with a “making of” featurette (we’re not certain whether either of these features are exclusive to release).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…like an anime made by Bergman or Tarkovsky… pure, wordless cinema, existing in a realm too deliciously mysterious to pull down.”–Sci-Fi Movie Page

CAPSULE: GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Atsuko Tanaka, , Iemasa Kayumi (original Japanese); Mimi Woods, Richard George, Abe Lasser (English dub)

PLOT: In 2029, a government cyborg tracks down a terrorist hacker nicknamed “the Puppet Master,” who has the ability to “ghost-hack” to possess cyborgs and brainwash humans.

Still from Ghost in the Shell (1995)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The plot is so intricately confusing that it approaches the surreal, and the visionary animation occasionally verges on the hallucinatory; but once you really dive into it, you’ll find that at bottom Ghost is nothing especially weird: just good, hardcore science fiction. Director Oshii has done weirder.

COMMENTS: Ghost in the Shell begins with a political assassination of an accused terrorist hacker after police who have just stormed the building under the direction of a secretive government agency are held off by a diplomat asserting political asylum. The naked female cyborg dangling tumbling past the skyscraper window blasts his head off so good that we catch sight of the victim’s spinal cord sticking out of his headless body. That’s the kind of story we have here: a complex plot punctuated by bursts of graphic sex and violence. (Smooth Barbie-doll cyborg crotches get around Japanese taboos against depicting pubic hair or genitalia, although it’s never quite clear why female agents need to do so much of their jobs in the buff). The mix of fantasy and fanservice are très anime, although to its credit, Ghost is less exploitative and far more thoughtful than most of its kin. In between firefights and car chases, conflicted heroine Major Motoko Kusanagi delves into questions of what it means to be human—or cyborg; whether, for example, resigning from Section 9, which would involve decommissioning her titanium-reinforced skeleton and augmented brain, would change who she was, or return her to who she is.

The plot involves diplomatic intrigues between countries that don’t yet exist, turf wars between underground intelligence agencies we don’t know (“don’t forget, we’re Section 9” says one helpful Section 9 agent to another), and speculative cybernetic technology the viewer is largely required to figure out on his own. By design, the movie never directly explains the central concept of a “ghost” to us—is it a natural human brain, an “augmented” cybernetic brain, or a pure artificial intelligence? Or is it simply whatever inhabits and motivates a body (the “shell”)? Despite this obtuseness, the plot is ultimately comprehensible, with a couple of watch-throughs and a study of either the original manga (which contained thirty pages of footnotes explaining Ghost‘s sociopolitical and technological background) or an online wiki set up for this purpose.

Despite not explaining too much, Ghost keeps our attention. For some, it will simply be the beautifully drawn scenery, trippy Akira-inspired synthetic tribal soundtrack, and ample action breaks that enable them to float by without wholly grasping the plot. Others will be thrilled by the challenge to engage intellectually with the story and to deduce the nuances of a data-obsessed future setting that becomes more and more believable with each passing year. Regardless which camp you fall into, Ghost in the Shell is an invigorating animation for the mind and eye.

Ghost in the Shell has gone through numerous home video iterations, most of which failed to satisfy its picky fanbase. A “2.0” version released in 2008 updated some of the graphics and the soundtrack with the latest digital effects (and predictably alienated purists, which anime fans tend to be). The 2014 “25th Anniversary Edition” (questionable arithmetic there) Blu-ray release comes from Anchor Bay; the video remastering is praised, but there are naturally complaints about the complete lack of on-disc extras (it does contain a nice booklet with several essays). The 1998 Manga Video DVD release contained numerous extra features, but the picture was not as clear. Interested parties may want to shop around for the version that best meets their needs.

Dreamworks Studios has plans for a live-action adaptation of the original manga in the works, with Rupert (Snow White and the Huntsman) Sanders to direct.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for sheer mind-expanding sci-fi strangeness this is hard to beat.”–Tom Huddleston, Time Out London (2014 re-release)

82. PAPRIKA (2006)

“I think that within human nature, and within the human heart as well, there are a ton of absurd impulses and instincts. But you can’t express those things because society has created these rules that say that things can’t ‘warp’ like that. It’s a rule that maintains a sense of balance in the world. But when you’re restricted like that you tend to release these impulses within your dreams. Everything ‘warps.’ I think that in the past you were able to spontaneously experience such things within the framework of reality. I think religious ceremonies would be a good example of that. Now we don’t really have that. I think that if someone from prehistoric times saw Paprika they’d say, ‘That’s how it is!’ I think they’d be confused. ‘Why would you make a movie about such everyday occurrences?'”– on the Paprika DVD commentary (inspired by the scene where the balcony handrail spontaneously warps)

“I do feel regret that my weird visions and ability to draw things in minute detail will be lost, but that can’t be helped.”–from “Satoshi Kon’s Last Words

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Satoshi Kon

FEATURING: Voices of Megumi Hayashibara, , Tôru Furuya, , Katsunosuke Hori, Toru Emori

PLOT: A group of scientists invent a device called the DC-mini that allows the user to enter the dreams of those who wear it; they are experimenting with the invention on mental patients as an aid to psychotherapy.  A prototype of the machine is stolen, and the team discovers that it can be used to wreak terrible mischief when one of their number starts spouting incomprehensible babble and jumps out of a window while believing himself to be dreaming.  The situation reaches an apocalyptic peak when the thief uses the machine to absorb others’ dreams, and eventually discovers how to make dreams cross over into reality.

Still from Paprika (2006)


BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was based on a 1993 novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui; at the time of this writing, the original novel has never been translated into English.
  • Tsutsui personally chose animator/director Satoshi Kon to adapt his work.
  • Kon began his career as a manga illustrator.  He died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, having completed only four highly regarded animated feature films and the television series “Paranoia Agent.”  Although he was working on a new project at the time of his death, Paprika was his final completed film.
  • Kon finished the storyboards before the script adaptation was completed, then wrote the story to fit the images rather than the other way around.
  • Voice cameos: Kon and writer Yasutaka Tsutsui speak for the two mystical bartenders who appear in Paprika’s dreamspace saloon.
  • The film’s soundtrack was the first to be created using a Vocaloid: all singing voices are computer generated.
  • A live action remake is in development with an estimated completion date of 2013.  Director Wolfgang Peterson has promised to tone down the weirdness for a mainstream audience, aiming to create something more like The Matrix than a surreal exploration of dream states.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The dream parade, which features marching refrigerators, a Dixieland frog band, porcelain dolls, the Statue of Liberty, confetti falling from nowhere, and more.  This toylike promenade tramps through the film, through forests and movie theaters and the streets of Tokyo, growing larger and larger as it absorbs more and more dreams—and it’s as intense an accumulation of imagination as you’re ever likely to behold.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Near the end of Paprika, two characters turn to each other and stare in stunned, silent disbelief. They’ve just seen a giant naked girl grow to womanhood by inhaling an anthropomorphic smog monster. Watching Paprika‘s nonstop cavalcade of technicolor fever dreams should fix your expression into the same mask of bewildered disbelief long before that point.


English language trailer for Paprika

COMMENTS:  Having suddenly grown butterfly wings, Paprika finds herself pinned to a Continue reading 82. PAPRIKA (2006)