So last night, my roommate, a friend, and I watched Ghost in the Shell on Netflix after a crushing football defeat by the hands of Michigan State. My roommate had seen the film before, but neither of the other two of us had seen it. I'd seen isolated episodes of Stand Alone Complex, though the only things I took away from them are Batou and the tachikomas. Instead of summarizing the film, I'd rather just outline my thoughts and impressions. Those who haven't seen the film, this probably won't serve so much as a review and will be more akin to incomprehensible nonsense. I apologize.
The first thing that really struck me was how long they'd allow certain shots to simply linger. There's one I remember where Kusanagi is in her apartment, and it slowly allows her to get out of bed, open her blinds, and then open and shut her door. Multiple times, I was tricked into thinking the shot was going to end; this served as a good notation that the film was going to take its time.
It's a good thing, then, that the art style and design are so gorgeous, whether in action sequences or otherwise. I loved the sequences focused on simply showing different camera angles on the city. Few anime employ this technique, though Cowboy Bebop comes to mind. However, its characters are generally in each shot, while many shots from Ghost in the Shell were completely without motion. The opening theme is used for one of these sequences (there might actually only be the one, but I don't remember accurately) and I feel that it's far more appropriate for the city sequence. It definitely calls to me as a traditional song, and I do honestly wish they'd chosen a more appropriate song for the opening. In fact, swapping the very 90's cyber-punk ending theme and the traditional, evocative opening theme seems rather appropriate.
One unfortunate factor of the viewing choice of Netflix was choosing the English dub when the Japanese remastered version was available. While most of the English voice acting was rather good. Hearing Batou voiced by the man who currently voices Raiden in Mortal Kombat was a treat, and he does a much better job here. However, Kusanagi is NOT well-acted. She chews through her carefully crafted lines with no abandon, going so fast that I have to pay an absurd amount of attention to follow her dialogue. I can accept her lack of emotion; I think it's pretty clearly meant to draw parallels between her and the Puppet Master. But it becomes very difficult to parse her language combining the two factors.
This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if it were in character with the rest of the film. Ghost in the Shell pretty explicitly tells you its purpose, though it does not answer the questions within its context. The questions: "What is humanity?", "What is memory?", "Is humanity overreaching?", etc: they're mostly raised by the characters themselves, or very easy to gather from statements by the characters. This is not a bad thing, and occasionally it's refreshing to have the creator being explicit about the questions they're seeking to raise in the audience.
Ultimately, I think the film is brilliant; the story is lovably simple, and I do feel like I understand most of the film's subtexts from one viewing. Often, other existentialist/cyberpunk films such as Inception or Blade Runner require at LEAST two viewings to fully appreciate. As a result, I can know from one viewing that all future viewings will simply be for enjoyment, and I will enjoy another viewing.
However, tomorrow will be my first viewing of Spirited Away. After that, I might delve into the Stand Alone Complex series.