Movie Report: Ninja Scroll (1993) / Ghost in the Shell (1995)

After watching a couple of martial-arts / Eastern-produced movies (The Forbidden Kingdom and Jade Warrior and Blind Fist of Bruce) and having my fill of them for the nonce, I took Ninja Scroll out of the cabinet and saw mention of Ghost in the Shell. Which I also had in the cabinet. I picked both of them up at garage sales before I started tracking film purchases on the blog here, but I am pretty sure it was in the Casinoport or Old Tree days when I thought I’d familiarize myself with anime since the young people (then) were into it. I can’t help but note that the young people with whom I work now–people in their early 30s, so teens or so when I acquired these videocassettes, don’t seem to be into anime–it’s for people ten or twenty years older than they are (but not me, as we’ll get to by-and-by).

Book coverWhen I popped in this videocassette, I thought it would be a short, maybe 30- or 60-minute cartoon, perhaps like an episode of Robotech, one of which I actually watched with my boys sometime after readingRobotech: Genesis/Battle Cry/Homecoming (my young boys were underwhelmed with the story and/or animation). But, no, this is a full length movie. I then noted that its animation was about what you would have seen in imported Japanese cartoons that appeared on television in the late 1970 like Battle of the Planets before the American toy-based cartoons like G.I. Joe, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Transformers took over in the middle 1980s. And I have to admit that, when I was a lad watching cartoons after school, I probably never thought, “You know what this cartoon needs? Gore, nudity, and sex!” Because this film has them.

In it, a mercenary ninja is hired by a wizened old Tokugawa government spy to help learn the fate of a village that died after an apparent plague arrived there. Meanwhile, a local clan leader sends a ninja team also to investigate, and they, too, are killed, except for one woman who reports back to the clan leader. She is sent back, where she encounters a devil who tries to rape her, only to have the mercenary ninja save her. Together, the trio uncover a plan by another clan to overthrow the government and they must face eight ninja with supernatural abilities to do so.

So it’s laden with intrigue and gore and nudity and whatnot. It was okay, I suppose.

Book coverAfter watching Ninja Scroll, I (re-) discovered this film in the library, and I figured I might as well watch it right away whilst my brief interest in anime was at its peak.

In it, a cybernetic government agent and her team (and directorate) investigate “ghost” hacking incidents where humans are “hacked” through maniuplated emotions to do actual hacking on behalf of a shadowy figure known as the “Puppetmaster.” She and her team discover that it might be a computer program another directorate created who has become sentient and wants to procreate.

The film dwells on some heavier themes than Ninja Scroll, including the nature of consciousness, the soul (the “ghost” in the “shell” of a physical body). Not too heavily–man, I am reading a particularly talky book that touches on Great Themes–but enough to maybe make you think.

This film has a different look than Ninja Scroll–the animators have a more Japanese traditional art influence (more straight lines and strokes) as well as the scene selection to animate was heavily influenced by traditional noir scenes. So more interesting to look at at times, but to be honest, I was a little lost on a main plot point when one pivotal character looked a lot like an earlier character who was unrelated–I got confused and just rolled with it, but better discernment on my part would have made a bit of it more comprehensible. Although I suppose with more experience and exposure to anime, I could get better at it.

But, no. I would have enjoyed these films more as actual films with actors and stuff, maybe, but I’m too old to be watching a lot of cartoons. And I’m not in my teens or early twenties, latching onto this particular “art” form to differentiate myself from the rest of mass consumer middle-brow taste at the end of the period that actually had mass consumer middle-brow taste.

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