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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society
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by Jay Seaver

"'Complex' is right; 'Stand Alone', maybe not so much."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Cyberpunk's not quite dead, but it's been on life support for a while. Once everybody started using the internet, it became difficult to make computer-oriented stories seem futuristic and cool without also making them arcane at best and incomprehensible at worst. It's a problem which vexes the latest entry in the "Ghost in the Shell" franchise, although I imagine that those who have been following the "Stand Alone Complex" television series will be in much more familiar territory.

As the film opens, Japan's top counterterrorism squad, Section 9, is responding to a hostage crisis at the airport. It ends with the hostage-taker committing suicide, afraid of someone called "The Puppeteer", and he's not the first - other officials of the defunct Seok Republic have also taken their own lives, leading Section 9 to suspect some sort of systematic corruption of their cybernetic implants. Lead detective Togusa and his team investigate, and while veteran team-member Batou is following a lead, he runs into Major Motoko Kusanagi, the former head of the team who resigned two years earlier and is now investigating mysteries that conventional government organizations are ill-equipped to solve, and she's found links to both a seeming plague of missing children and the computer system devoted to the care of Japan's senior citizens.

There's a lot going on here that at least those of us not familiar with Stand Alone Complex - I suspect that storylines about the Seok Republic, the infighting among various agencies, and certain members of the Diet worrying about the influx of refugees' effect on Japan's ethnic makeup are carryovers from the previous series. Director Kenji Kamiyama and his collaborators mostly assume that the audience is up to date, both on continuity and jargon, so if all you've seen before is Mamoru Oshii's theatrical features (if that), I'd recommend being very attentive as you watch, because the details about the world and the specific story can fly past you otherwise.

In fact, I'm not sure I completely understand how the plot that drives this film's action really works. It doesn't seem to be something as straightforward as downloading the minds of the elderly into children's brains, but I'm not sure what the villains are really looking to accomplish. There are a couple of reasons why I might be willing to let this slide a little: If it's something that picks up from the television series, or makes sense in a Japanese cultural context, that's probably okay; it just means that I am in one way or another not the film's target audience. If it's because I'm too future-shocked to understand what's going on, that's something else. A certain amount of future shock is good and necessary in a science fiction film, and Solid State Society does a good job of immersing the audience in a way that we can understand a lot of the tech and situation. Somewhere along the way, though, either I missed something or the film failed to explain something, and I don't know which it is.

Still, I did get the important stuff - that stepping into Major Kusanagi's role was putting a lot of stress on Togusa, and it would be worse except that Chief Aramaki is shielding him from the politics of it. I get how important this case becomes to Togusa because he's a father and there are kids involved. I get that the unit in general, and Kusanagi's partner Batou in particular, haven't been the same since she resigned; I get that Kusanagi is preternaturally skilled in cyberspace even in a world where cybernetic brain implants are relatively common and she's drifting further from humanity. If characterization is far more important than plot, Solid State Society isn't it bad shape - it's not terribly intense that way, but it does all right.

Technically, Solid State Society looks pretty good for what I believe is a direct-to-video production. There's a little bit of dodgy CGI toward the beginning as the virtual camera flies around Kusanagi, but for the most part the animation is sharp, integrating some digital work in with the cel-style art. There's plenty of detail and background motion - not always a guarantee with animation done for the small screen - and the action is pretty exciting.

There's enough good work here that fans of "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" can probably safely ignore my ambivalence. If you're not already a fan, you'll be coming in fifty-two half-hour episodes behind, which is far from ideal.

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originally posted: 07/28/07 11:28:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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