Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 18th 2007
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society
Two years after the Major left Section 9, an investigation by former comrades Togusa and Batou into a series of suicides leads once more to a crossing of their paths. The suicides all claimed that a person named the Puppeteer is forcing them to kill themselves, and the circumstances of Batou's first encounter with the Major unfortunately indicate that she's responsible. But of course, nothing is ever as simple as that. The truth is mixed up in the intersection of the suicides with a mysterious entity called the Solid State, the kidnapping of potentially 20,000 children, and the complex politics of their futuristic era. And it's up to Section 9 to unravel it all, hopefully without racking the body count up too high.
It's hard to watch the Stand Alone Complex without mentally measuring it against Mamoru Oshii's epoch-making original (and its frustrating sequel)—even more so now that the franchise's TV branch has its own feature-length film. However, the mind's habit of making mountains out of molehills of minutiae aside, they are probably best treated as simply two different takes on the same material. Where Oshii's films were philosophical ruminations wrapped in action-movie skins, SAC director Kenji Kamiyama's film is a police procedural with overtones of Byzantine politics and a whiff of cyberpunk mindgames. To allow an extremely nerdy analogy, SAC is Manhunter to Oshii's Silence of the Lambs.
Once Kamiyama squirmed out from under Oshii's shadow after season one, establishing a separate identity for his action series, how the two versions measured up to one another became far less of an issue. That said, SAC is probably the lesser of the two, being as it is without Oshii's prodigious skills as a visual stylist. It lacks Oshii's eye for visual poetry and deft touch with action, and also his timely intellectual ambitions. But first and foremost, SAC is a police procedural. As such, it is actually better suited to Kamiyama's talents. Animation studio Production IG's work on the film is beautifully fluid and detailed, and is used by Kamiyama with a straightforward, almost gritty sense of style that is quite effective, if occasionally rather forced. His tale jets from one aspect of the crime-fighting machine to the next as its cogs mesh and turn, never pausing long enough to completely bog down in a narcissistic appreciation of its own cleverness (take that Innocence!). It hops quickly from one discovery to the next, more concerned with how its protagonists get at the truth, and with what that truth is, than with action fireworks or increasingly tiresome philosophical conundrums.
It does move a little too quickly at times. The dialogue piles up as characters endlessly explain the details of their investigations, the cast crowds each other for screen-time, and past conflicts and events are horned into an already overcrowded storyline. And then all of the numbing politics and references to the TV series fall to the wayside—along with most of the peripheral characters—while the meat of the investigation gets underway. As Section 9 tries to puzzle out who or what the Solid State Society and the Puppeteer are, the movie becomes a reasonably exciting police thriller laced with surprisingly powerful scenes (Togusa's visit to the hospital with his daughter being particularly harrowing) and solid action. Who knew that the Tachikomas could make such effective action heroes? As a bonus, the concepts behind both the Solid State Society and the Puppeteer are intriguing enough that the time spent explicating them doesn't feel wasted, while also being brief enough that the intellectual undertones don't get overbearing.
The series may be called the Stand Alone Complex, but this film isn't a stand alone work. While the vast reams of dialogue can get confusing even with two seasons of the TV series under the belt, it's far worse for neophytes. The movie casually bandies about names, agencies, countries, and events from the earlier installments of the franchise, and without access to that information, the first half of the movie is a senseless jumble—especially with the number of characters that the film throws at its audience.
Yoko Kanno's eclectic mix of haunting female vocals, pulsing electronica, and hip-hop-flavored rock is the perfect complement for the content—modern, exciting, energetic, and capable of delicate lyricism. It's flawlessly utilized during the action scenes and never imposes her will on the film or draws unnecessary attention to itself. She's a very gifted composer, so one has to admire her ability to resist branding a series as her own or drowning it in her musical talent.
The film features a model dub. It's easy to nit-pick some of the supporting performances though they are solid most of the time, but the main cast is excellent. Motoko and Aramaki are spot-on, and Batou is simply uncanny—right down to his speech mannerisms. The script adaptation maintains the rapid-fire nature of the original, often using the subtitle script word-for-word, and has an obvious respect for the content as well as the flow of the original Japanese. Ultimately, the English version may be preferable even for those who usually opt for subtitles, since it's easier to keep up with all the jawing in one's native tongue.
The storyboard subtitle option in the extras is exactly the kind of thing enthusiastic aficionados will appreciate while casual viewers completely ignore it. The Uchikomatic Days short, a humorous tale detailing an imaginary rivalry between the Tachikomas and their think-tank replacements the Uchikomas, will likely have broader appeal. There are also English and Japanese trailers for the feature and a rather poorly composed but moderately informative feature on the making of the English version, featuring interviews with various members of the dub team.
There's a temptation to over-praise the Stand Alone Complex for its maturity and intelligence. Its strengths do indeed lie in the intelligence and thoroughness of its plotting, but it wouldn't do to overlook its faults. There's an off-putting coldness and distance to its characterization; it's often terribly wordy—a problem exacerbated by the feature-film timeframe—and visually it is occasionally crude (the unnecessary visual quotes from the original film being a prime example). However, for a detail-oriented crime series, one could certainly do worse, and this film, with its boost in production values, is no exception.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Swift-moving futuristic crime film with some clever science-fiction twists and solid action.
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