"What am I doing in New Jersey?!"

-- George Carlin

"The guys playing SimCity must've been drunk designing this place"

-- me

"Don't eat the blue pocky!"

Event report -- Ghost in the Shell Premiere
After months of anticipation and nearly an hour mobbed in line, finally being ever so non-chalantly flung into the Sony theater in groups of twenty from the hostile mob, Manga Entertainment's first 'Big Thing' was set to get underway. Ghost in the Shell, the new Mamoru Oshii directed feature based on the manga of Masamune Shirow was set to make its North American debut in the land of no left turns, East Brunswick, New Jersey, part of AnimeEast '95.

Five Hundred was the theater's seating capacity, tickets sold out within a few hours of going on sale at Manga's dealers table, however, it is a shame that the lobby of the theater seemed to have been designed to hold about two hundred. Nevertheless, the rainy weather and pre-show hype led everyone to squeeze in behind those tacky red ropes waiting for the droves of people to leave the theater from the most recent display of Jim Carrey flailing his limbs. Nevertheless, thru clever ruses and bribing of the crowd with free pocky and Lum stickers, our group slowly made it towards the 'front' of the teeming mass.

Once securing our seats, drawing straws to see who had to go face the crowds to get the popcorn, sitting thru endless insurance ads and george peppard retrospective quizzes on the screen, the movie finally started to roll...

I'll point out right off the bat that any and all of my feelings regarding GitS as a film come not from comparing it to the original manga, of which I know practically nil, but about how the film itself played out. First of all, the animation is indeed first-rate, Manga Entertainment, for whatever amount of money they spent in production, got all that money on the screen. In terms of asthetics, I have little complaints, as some others have had, about the character designs of GitS. 'It's not Shirow' or 'they're too Oshii' I've heard some say. Well, it's the director and producers prerogative of the look and feel of the film. Hayao Miyazaki may have different ideas on character design than Monkey Punch, for example, but it didn't distract from Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro (Castle of Cagliostro).

Action scenes and effects were well handled and impressive. The pursuit of the cloaked Puppet Master was for me perhaps the most satisfying sequence, in which Kusanagi, Bateau, et al, chased him down through crowds, highways, buildings, and waterways. Amazing how you can still animate 'invisible' objects, huh? The highly publicized use of computer imaging techniques is not wasted, with both the 'obvious' (screen displays, etc) and the 'invisible' (computer assisted film techniques, camera setups, etc) methods working seamlessly to achieve the highest possbile quality. The soundtrack was interesting, a little less than impressive though, compared to other recent Manga Entertainment titles, Macross Plus and Wings of Honneamise. There were however, a few points I felt harmed the film as a whole in my opinion.

Perhaps it was intentional, but one thing I felt was lacking in the feature while I was watching was a lack of sympathetic characters. Maybe this was an attempt to illustrate the way many of the main cast of characters had forsaken their humanity, in terms of cybernetic body part replacement, to further their efforts. Thinking back, it seems odd that the only sympathy I remember for any of the characters is for the simple garbage man that had had his whole life's memories erased and altered.

In a couple instances, 'Ghost' seemed very much like Mr. Oshii trying to remake Patlabor. The similiar threads of biblical allegory and 'the meaning of life' are standard film technique which the director has used almost exclusively in his recent works. This is and of itself is not a distraction from the film, but there are occasions that even visually, Mr. Oshii repeats scenes. One of his more recognizable styles is the use of an interlude of showing scenes of parts of the city with slow paced background, 'mood' music playing. It was something integral to a movie like Patlabor (1) where that part of town played a vital role in advancing the story, whereas in Ghost, it seemed merely a way to extend the movie another 2 minutes. In other words, padding.

Plot elements sometimes were left dangling for so long that often forgotten about before they were brought up again. The translator who was infiltrated by the Puppet Master near the beginning of the film was nearly erased from your mind before that plot point became clear late in the movie. By the time the connection is made between Project 501 and the programmer that was trying to be taken from the country in the opening scene, it had been put so far to the back of my mind, I had trouble trying to remember exactly who was supposed to be who in the sequence of events.

"..standard issue Big Gun"
Most of those whom I have discussed the film with feel production of the english version of the film suffered from trying to say too much where it was unnecessary. Casting of the voices was quite good, though a voice director more willing or able to trim down some of the dialogue sequences would have done the film a lot of good. Often times, so much dialogue was being forced upon the actors, a few of the scenes felt rushed and overly complicated, which may have been helped by some more script work to get the same points across with slightly less verbage.

When Ghost in the Shell begins its theatrical tour later this year, I do suggest spending the time and few bucks to go see it. Visually it is quite thrilling, and its 'cyber' story (I will never ever use the term 'cyberpunk' in anything but a mocking way), albeit stilted and confusing at times, is still leagues above most anything the subgenre has produced. I was a bit underwhelmed as a whole only because I had so many high expectations of the director going in. It is always an amazing thing to watch an anime film on film on the big screen, Ghost in the Shell pulls no punches in trying to succeed Akira as being the most popular anime film in america.

-- Ryan P. Gavigan