Tag Archives: manga

Ghost in the Shell – Review

2 Apr

Back in 1989 a three volume manga series called Ghost in the Shell was released and told a story concerning a dystopian future where it becomes almost impossible to see where humanity ends and technology begins. This short manga series paved the way for an entire franchise to thrive and grow on. First, there was the mega hit anime film from 1995, which totally floored me the first time I watched it and only got better when I revisited it. There was also a very popular anime series titled Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, of which I have some experience with, but not as much as I’d like. There’s been a whole string of sequels and adaptations, and now Hollywood has thrown itself into the mix. Does it stand up with the original source material? Not quite, but it does work as engaging popcorn entertainment.

In the future, cybernetics have come so far that robotic upgrades to the human body has become something as normal as plastic surgery. The most extreme case of this blending of organic and artificial is Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), whose body is completely cybernetic but is controlled by a human brain. The Major, along with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and boss Chief Aramaki (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano), defend Section 9 again all sorts of criminals, but specialize in cyber terrorism. After an attack on a business meeting run by the powerful Hanka Industries, the Major and the rest of the Section 9 bureau go on the hunt for a new, powerful cyber terrorist who appears to be targeting scientists that worked on a specific project for Hanka. As the clues begin to add up, the Major is forced to take a good, hard look at herself and begins to learn about her past and the lies that she’s been being fed to keep her complacent.

When I first saw this version of Ghost in the Shell, I left the theater super excited. I was ready to go back in and watch the movie again, but as time has gone on, that excitement has sort of waned. Don’t misunderstand me, though, I still really enjoyed this movie. The over the top hype has just died down a little bit. Let me get the best part of this movie out of the way first. This is a stunning film to look at. There’s so much going on in most of the shots of this movie that I found my eyes darting around the screen just to take in all of the little bits that make up the breathtaking whole. This is an achievement of what practical and CGI special effects are capable of. Along with the gorgeous city wide shots and the not so glamorous streets and alleys comes action sequences that are impossible to forget. Director Rupert Sanders and cinematographer Jess Hall have a very strong grip on how to make an action sequence seem to burst from the screen. The compositions, use of slow motion, and even the minor visual tricks make the action in Ghost in the Shell some of the best I’ve seen in quite some time.

So the special effects and action sequences are all way above average and stand out as something truly remarkable. Unfortunately, the same can’t quite be said about the story. The story isn’t bad, but it didn’t really grab me as hard as it should have. The plot about the cyber terrorist was engaging and his design is great, but there were parts that didn’t really do it for me. Part of the story is the Major investigating her past to find out what really happened to her. Those scenes don’t have the emotional or mysterious resonance as they probably should, because we already know something is amiss from the beginning just because of how certain characters are acting. I had a pretty good idea about what was going on, and it really didn’t break any new ground like the 1995 anime film did. Granted, the story in that film took a back seat to the grand philosophical discussions about technology and humanity, which made it clear that that’s what that movie was about. This one has a story that takes a back seat to the action, but it also doesn’t have the thematic strength of the 1995 film either.

Any fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise will also have a good time picking out easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, but they will also appreciate some scenes that have been meticulously recreated for this live action blockbuster. This isn’t really an objective part of my review, but it was kind of thrilling seeing some of the iconic moments from the franchise brought to life with a super large budget. It also helped that the actors were largely committed to their roles. Johansson does a great just as the Major, and does a great job at bringing a human side to the character while also feeling mechanical. She has truly established herself as an action star for this generation. Another stand out is “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki, but that’s really no surprise. It’s always a joy to see Kitano in anything.

Ghost in the Shell isn’t going to be the next Blade Runner or Matrix movie, but for me to sit here and tell you that it doesn’t provide a really entertaining couple of hours would be a down right lie. The story could have been beefed up to be actually mysterious and it could have raised more questions in the way the 1995 film did. In terms of its action and its role as being a big budget extravaganza, it succeeds more than it fails. I can see how people new to the franchise may be a little confused or uninterested in parts of it, but as a fan of the original anime film and what I’ve seen of Stand Alone Complex, I thought this was a damn good adaptation.

Final Grade: B+

“Lone Wolf and Cub” Series – Review

1 Mar

Samurai movie are a real unique genre because they present a way of life that seems so distant and antiquated, it’s sometimes hard to believe that people once lived like this. Their sense of honor to the point that they would commit the act of seppuku for something pretty minor by today’s standards seems odd, but it’s unbelievably fascinating. The fun doesn’t stop there for the Lone Wolf and Cub series, a six movie saga that spanned from 1972 – 1974 and was based off a manga of the same name. These movies are entertaining, violent, often funny, and takes full advantage of showing off geysers of blood that clearly inspired film makers today, like Quentin Tarantino.

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Throughout these six films, the main plot goes as follows. Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is a shogun executioner during the Edo period of Japanese history. After the Yagyū clan conspire against him to claim his role as executioner, he changes his life and becomes an ronin assassin for hire with his young son, Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). Amidst his adventures, Ittō and his son have to deal with vengeful Yagyū clan warriors, shinobi ninjas, sadistic fighters donning strange weaponry, and murderous women. While the violence never ends, Ittō has one real goal: to restore honor to his family name and kill the leader of the patriarch of the Yagyū clan, Retsudo (Yunosuke Ito).

This is a pretty slim summary of everything that happens in this series. There’s so many awesome and memorable things that happen in these movies that I wish I thought of. The coolest thing out of all the movies is the baby cart that Ogami Ittō pushes around. At first, the cart seems to just be a crudely constructed cart made of wood, solely used to carry Daigoro around. Well, that couldn’t be farther from what it actually is. This is a super weapon that I would love to have on my side in any battle. The cart is built using an arsenal including a spear, hidden daggers activated by buttons, shields, and a strange chain gun like device that has the ability to take down many people in a span of a few seconds. Things like this that happen or is seen in these movies are so cool and make them as memorable as Kurosawa’s more classical samurai films, such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo.

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This would be a good opportunity to discuss the strange history of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies. The history of the movies themselves is nothing too crazy. Unfortunately, the manga wasn’t finished until 1976, and the last of these movies was made in 1974. That being said, don’t expect a very satisfying conclusion. But what I really want to mention are the Shogun Assassin movies. I knew about those movies before I knew anything about the Lone Wolf and Cub series, and it was surprising to figure out that they are pretty much the same movies. Shogun Assassin and its four sequels are made by editing down footage from the six Lone Wolf and Cub films and splicing them together. I was interested in seeing the Shogun Assassin movies, but when I heard what they actually were, I decided to move straight to the source material and I regret nothing.

The character of Ogami Ittō should be way more popular than he actually is. He’s skilled to the point of almost being superhuman, and the body count of these movies shows that. In the final film, White Heaven in Hell, Ittō holds the record of most body counts by one character at 150 kills onscreen. One of the most memorable scenes is from the first film, Sword of Vengeance, when Ittō cuts the head off of a Yagyū samurai in a duel, complete with a geyser of blood and a dramatic sunset in the background. These movies aren’t just fun and exciting, they’re very well made and look awesome.

The Lone Wolf and Cub series is a great collection of films that I guarantee will entertain you. The characters are memorable, the story is epic, and the history of the time period is really interesting. The films themselves aren’t that long, even though there are six of them, which is good because they don’t mess around. If you love classic samurai films or the history of Japan, but most importantly, if you love having fun, check out this film series.