Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie picks up the thread spun in the standalone Arise episode ‘Pyrophoric Cult’, which saw the nascent Section 9 coming to blows with the memory altering computer virus, Fire-Starter. It posited that Fire-Starter was the natural next leap in mankind’s evolution, a step beyond the integration of technology with our own flesh. In order to refine itself, the virus was deliberately defeated by Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team of spec-ops. As they are inoculated against the mind-altering virus, allowing them to identify which memories are false, they’re the only ones who can quell the threat. The New Movie sees Fire-Starter spreading through the system, resulting in the assassination of Japan’s Prime Minister. It falls on Section 9 to discover the truth in amongst the constructs, and unfurl the puzzle box of government corruption.
Directors Kazuya Nomura and Kazuchika Kise – key animation supervisor on the 1995 Mamoru Oshii movie and character designer for Arise – play with the complexities of motion. The scenes have all the grace of choreographed dance, interspersing wide shots with a flurry of angles to frame the action. The slick, kinetic images leap off the screen, with the sound design imparting a realistic tang to the cybernetic crunches, bloops and splatters.
The art direction, likewise, balances both natural and artificial light, emphasising the artifice of the city and its inhabitants. The opening sequence, for example, is a three minute concoction of striking images and swift cuts. Coupled with the post-hardcore and shoegaze electronica of Cornelius’ soundtrack, it conjures something from a waking dream or a half finished thought, like Bakemonogatari or even Evangelion in its trippier moments. Curiously, Kise was also animation director and a key animator on Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone.
The animation, like Arise before it, has all the smooth coldness of silicon and plastic, revelling in the very inhuman aesthetic it’s presenting. Warmer hues are only used to colour explosions, gunshots and blood; even the romantically lit bar scene is a hologram, illustrating one of the core crises of the franchise. When the sun breaks through the cloudbank, (figuratively and metaphorically), it’s on scenes of industrial decay.
Its cyberpunk vision is at once familiar and dated, but kept relevant by refocusing the weighty themes of Masamune Shirow’s seminal manga, with more of an emphasis on economics and bureaucracy. It’s Ghost in the Shell not only re-imagined for a contemporary audience, but reflecting and re-evaluating Japan’s cultural identity, and its position on the world stage.
Arise has represented various shades of Motoko’s personality, and this time around she’s in full-on authoritative mode as she closes the gap between the effortless character first seen on screen in the mid-nineties. The New Movie might not have the structure, script or spectacle to carry the concept as a feature length, but it’s a triumphant and rewarding finish. Arise was a mixed bag at best, and some of its ideas left unfulfilled, but it proved the necessity of cyberpunk narratives in a world that increasingly resembles scenes from speculative fiction some twenty years past. Section 9 help us all.