Review: Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society

Director: Kenji Kamiyama
Writers: Kenji Kamiyama, Shotaro Suga, Yoshiki Sakurai
Producers: Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Tomohiko Ishii, Shigeru Watanabe
Starring: Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Richard Epcar, Crispin Freeman
Distributor: Bandai Entertainment, Manga Entertainment

By 2006, after a steady run with the Ghost in the Shell franchise, coming off the two-season run of its acclaimed television series, Stand Alone Complex, both in Japan and here in the US on Adult Swim, things were starting to slow down for the series. Shirow Masamune had all but ceased writing new manga adaptations, and talks of a full-on feature film were nearly a decade away, but there was something left in the tank to leave people with. To cap of the serialized story of Stand Alone Complex, a feature finale was produced to serve as one final blowout, and that’s what we’ll be talking about this week. For the third installment of this retrospective, let’s take a look at Solid State Society.

It has been two years after Section 9’s case of the “Individual Eleven” came to an end, and during that time, Major Motoko Kusanagi (Mary McGlynn) has since resigned from her duties within Public Security. Now lead by Togusa (Crispin Freeman), there’s a new case worth looking into, surrounding a mysterious hacker known only as the Puppeteer, a figure in the forefront of some mysterious and conspicuous terrorist acts, kidnapping, and suicides. But that doesn’t mean the Major has been away from the investigation, quite the contrary; she’s gathering leads of her own, and offering Batou (Richard Epcar) a sage piece of advice, during a chance meeting: “Don’t go anywhere near the Solid State, or you’ll end up killing yourself the way they did.” The mystery of the identity of the Puppeteer, of who or what it might be, is only growing larger and deeper with each passing day, so it’s all up to Section 9 – and one lone, rogue Major – to put an end to this scandal. Because of my preference toward Stand Alone Complex, I’m in the camp of people who like Ghost in the Shell more when it’s playing out as a police serial, and not so much when it’s waxing philosophical and serving as a platform for Mamoru Oshii to spout off his views about the notion of existence itself. And luckily for me, and people like me, Solid State Society is well within the notion of a police serial. Here on our side of the world, we have shows like NCIS and Blue Bloods, which are substantially strong ratings draws, but I’ve never really gotten into all these cop procedural shows; clearly, it’s the lack of sentient tanks with childlike voices and the occasional bit of sex appeal here and there.

But being serious here, I really liked the mystery angle and element of suspense that built throughout the movie; a red herring is thrown in, at the start of the second act, with an implication of the Major being the Puppeteer, and even though such an idea couldn’t be bought, it does add a deeper layer to the mystery, and more to uncover, both about the Puppeteer and the motives lurking beneath, thus stretching the suspense and mystery out a bit further. Let it be known, when it comes to this series, there’s always something larger that’s waiting to be uncovered. And of course, there’s a sprinkling of political commentary to be found here, much like there was in Stand Alone Complex, and at the risk of sounding cliché, the big bad political villain of this film is very… Trump-ian. Conservative nationalism, collusions with foreign affairs, hungry for money, you can figure out what all of that means. The story as a whole is fairly simple and, dare I say, a bit stock, with some callbacks to the original movie and Innocence in a few choice scenes, but if I’m being honest, the ending falls a bit flat. I won’t give away any vital spoilers, but I will say that if the Puppeteer were something a bit grander, like the Laughing Man was, instead of what we got of it in this movie, there would have been more of an impact toward the climax and in the denouement, instead of playing out a callback to the original film. It’s not quite a perfect story, from start to finish, but it’s palatable and serves as a strong entry of the larger Stand Alone Complex section of the Ghost in the Shell universe.

The art style and direction, as expected, is on the level of the television series, so you don’t have to worry about there being any Oshii-esque long shots or any prolonged shifts in focus, which makes it a very accessible film for fans of the franchise that want something a bit more, in a way, “meat and potatoes.” But don’t expect the production quality to be on par with, say, Innocence. At 108 minutes in length, though, this is not a quick flick to watch, but if you’re used to the structure of Stand Alone Complex, you’ll get into the film a lot easier. Think of it as an extended-length episode of the series, or four episodes in one. As opposed to the Kenji Kawai scores that the first two films had, this one has the incomparable Yoko Kanno at the helm, supplying more of the great work she suppled for the TV series in this film, with a blend of electronica and rock tracks, as well as a brilliant opening theme with the late, great Origa supplying her beautiful vocals to the song. And lastly, the acting – on the English side, at least – is incredibly superb and very much on par with the TV series. This will be my only chance to do so, so I’m just going to gush and become a total fanboy for a moment: I absolutely LOVE Mary McGlynn’s performance as Major Kusanagi, as well as her acting in general, and her voice directing – she did the ADR for Cowboy Bebop, she’s earned her clout and praise several times over. And with all due respect to Mimi Woods and her performance in the original film, Mary McGlynn adds an extra level of nuance to the role that was very much needed before, a level of nuance that could never be replicated or duplicated by anyone else. In my mind, Mary McGlynn IS the Major, and nobody else could ever top her performances in this great role.

Produced on a budget of ¥360 million (roughly $4 million), the film was made with a combination of the 2D digital animation used for the TV series, as well as 3D layouts and CG, and everything does look incredibly well-crafted from start to finish. That’s the thing with Production I.G., they have one of the best track records I could ever run through of any Japanese animation production company, and they’ve built up a level of quality that, generally speaking, they can make good on. Just as long as it’s their own frontline production, anyway. Unlike the original film and Innocence, Solid State Society was not released in theaters in Japan, instead premiering on the SKY PerfecTV! satellite broadcasting platform. Stateside, though, the film would make its first premiere at the 2007 New York Comic-Con, before getting its television debut later that summer, only not on Adult Swim, where it had aired both seasons of Stand Alone Complex. No, instead, this film made its one and only American television broadcast on the (then-called) SciFi channel, to kick off their Ani-Monday anime block. And that’s a story for another time. Of course, the film was released on DVD in the states in 2008, and again on Blu-ray in 2011, courtesy of Bandai Entertainment and Manga Entertainment, and it’s still in print thanks to the latter of the two. Interestingly enough, though, the film was rereleased in Japan in 2011 on 3D Blu-ray; the only downside of that is that 3D Blu-ray never really took off, so for the 5 people who own a copy of it, I hope it looked great. Especially with the sniper rifle scene, at the 60-minute mark; seeing two bullets fly past one another, being shot upward and shown in stereoscopic 3D? Wicked.

In a way, the universe of Stand Alone Complex is a much more accessible entry into Ghost in the Shell, and it’s not, in any way, a bad thing. Who knows, maybe sometime soon, I’ll talk more about the TV series, but if you’re interested, it’s on Toonami every Saturday night, at the tail end at 3am Eastern. The series is fantastic, and this movie serves as an excellent extension and conclusion to the series; if I were to pick an entry point into the franchise that wasn’t the original movie, I’d say start with the Laughing Man storyline episodes of Stand Alone Complex and then check out this movie. The only somewhat negative point I’d make, along with the rather flat ending, is that if images of suicide attempts are something you’re not comfortable with, this might not be the film for you. But that’s all for now, we’ve got two movies left of this trek through this franchise, and I can tell you right now, at least one of them will be serviceable.

Verdict: Find a copy on the cheap, after you’re done with Stand Alone Complex.
Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Bandai Entertainment & Manga Entertainment/Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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