Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society Review
Ghost in the Shell fans, rejoice for there is yet another worthwhile addition to the canon about to arrive on these shores. Following two hugely successful seasons of GitS television series Stand Alone Complex, a show noted for the ease with which it weaves complex plot lines through multiple seasons, the creative team behind the show decided to take a run at a single, theatrical length feature set in the SAC world. This has a pair of direct consequences to it. First, the television series and theatrical features have never followed the same timeline so those who only know the Mamoru Oshii directed films may find certain plot points confusing as they contradict events from the first film. Second, while it is not absolutely necessary to know the television shows intimately this film does pick up the story two years following the conclusion of the second series and makes full use of a broad range of characters so a basic understanding of the characters and scenarios will certainly help get you up to speed.
It is a conflicted time in Section Nine. On the one hand the group now occupies a more prominent and publicly acknowledged space than it ever has before, funding is good and the staff greatly expanded. On the other hand Major Kusanagi is no longer part of the team, Batou has become apathetic and only works cases he finds interesting, leaving a newly augmented Togusa running the unit as squad leader. But while the personal situation within the group is in flux the need for them remains constant.
We enter the story in the midst of a hostage situation, a known terrorist leader holding a young woman hostage in a busy airport. Section Nine takes control of the situation easily but rather than turn himself in the gunman turns his weapon on himself, the latest in a long series of suicides within these particular group. What's happening? Is the group self destructing? Are they somehow being controlled and manipulated into killing themselves? Or, most frighteningly, are the suicides a trigger signal in some larger plot? And who is this Puppeteer that rumors are circulating about, and what is his relationship to Major Kusanagi, who has been seen flitting about the outskirts of these events? What is the Solid State Society that the Section has been warned away from and what is the linkage between the automated nursing system that cares for the nation's elderly and the apparent kidnappings -- mysteriously unreported -- of tens of thousands of young children?
One thing is certain from the very outset of Solid State Society: the franchise has lost none of its love for complex plotting. One of the great charms of the GitS series, in all of its incarnations, is that it is a smart show that knows it is smart and assumes that its audience is likewise smart enough to keep up. Things move at a rapid clip and you must focus to avoid missing things, seemingly minor details early on providing vital clues to unwrapping the mystery further down the line and formulating your own opinions on things since, as is often the case with these stories, the creators choose to leave the ending ambiguous enough to be read several ways. This is very certainly a film that will reward repeated viewings with newly found nuggets of information.
The other great charm of GitS is the interaction between the characters, in particular Major Kusanagi (forever trying to lay firm hold on whatever it is that makes her human despite her heavily modified body), Batou (the hard man hopelessly devoted, on a number of levels, to the Major), and Togusa (the family man brought into the unit specifically for the degree of humanity he brings to the group) and that triangle again proves a potent one, with the bulk of the key moments falling to Togusa, a stellar character who has been largely relegated to support bits in the other feature events but here steps firmly into the lead.
There are always difficulties inherent in taking a television show -- particularly one that works in a twenty to minute format -- and expanding it to feature length and in the early going that appears to be the case here, the film feeling more like an extended TV episode than a true feature. As it progresses, however, the rapid pacing and quick answers that short form TV demand give way to some more subtle character work and a healthy amount of social commentary, writer-director Kenji Kamiyama belonging very firmly to the school of thought that believes science fiction is the best possible medium to explore current political and social issues. His attempts to weave issues such as terrorism, the treatment of the elderly, our failure to protect the young, and politicized racism into the core GitS world of technology versus humanity is not entirely successful but yields some potent material in its high moments, which are frequent.
The new North American DVD release is simply stellar. It comes as a three disc set, packaged in a lovely Steelbook case, by far the best mass production packaging opotion in the DVD world today. Disc one contains the film itself in an anamorphic widescreen transfer -- no obvious problems on my screen at all -- with both the English dub and original Japanese audio with optional subtitles. A very nice option on this disc -- one that I'd like to see on more animation -- allows you to watch the entire feature with the original storyboards overlaid over the bottom right corner so you can compare the original drawings with the finished work. Disc two includes a half hour featurette on the process of making the film including interviews with all of the key personnel, a seventeen minute documentary on the man who produced a working robotic model of a Tachikoma, a short feature (glorified product placement) on the relationship between Nissan and Production IG on this project, interviews with the English language cast, an interview with the head of Production IG on the genesis of the film, and trailers. Disc three is a CD of Yoko Kanno's complete soundtrack.