Friday’s Feature: 3 Lessons To Be Learned From Bleach Movie Adaptation

Netflix Live Action Bleach

While it was less than a week ago that I watched this movie for the first time, despite having an incredibly hectic work week I forced a second watching. For a movie I wasn’t dreading the release of, but was fairly nervous about how it would end up looking, the Bleach live action movie that landed on Netflix certainly managed to get my attention. My review a few days ago was fairly glowing and I’m standing by that review even after a second watch through.

While I will admit the movie is hardly a modern masterpiece and a lot of the enjoyment came from being a fan of the franchise, what has been delivered by Bleach is perhaps the surest sign that writers and directors are starting to learn from the many failed adaptations of the past (or maybe they just lucked out this time). However, while there are certainly negative reviews to be found if you look for them, the majority of posts I’ve read covering this movie have been surprised in tone and largely positive of the choices made in adapting it.

I’m normally not one for scoring shows or movies, but I was curious how this was playing out on popular sites like IMBD and Rotten Tomatoes so decided to take a quick peek at the scores Bleach had compared to other recent adaptations.

The break-down looked more or less like this:

Bleach: IMBD = 6.8 Rotten Tomatoes = 84% liked it

Full Metal Alchemist: IMBD = 5.9  Rotten Tomatoes = 75% liked it

Death Note: IMBD = 4.6  Rotten Tomatoes = 24%

Death Note Live Action Movie

Now it may not be fair to compare them given audience expectations, fans of the franchise, and all the other factors that are going to play into the end result that really have nothing to do with the quality of the movie at all, but it seems like at least most people agree that the Bleach movie is all right and likewise most people seem to agree the Death Note movie missed its mark as an adaptation (I still think it is perfectly fine as a movie in its own right – not great but fine – however it isn’t Death Note as anyone knows it or wanted it).

So I started wondering what Bleach did that seemed to work in its favour as a live action adaptation compared to some other adaptations that have fared less well and I came up with a few points that worked in Bleach’s favour.

01: The amount of content chosen wasn’t too ambitious.

We get that when adapting an anime or manga into a movie the time is getting cut down. A lot of things have to go. And it is tempting to try to adapt a lot of content. It makes perfect sense. Fans want to see such and such a scene and will be disappointed if X gets cut out. Cram it in and just keep cramming. You have to appeal to everyone.

Well, no, you don’t. You have to make a decent movie. One with pacing and a clear narrative in its own right. You don’t have time to shove every single plot point that might ever exist into your story and you certainly don’t have time to give the vast cast that probably exists all their shining moment.

Where Bleach worked beautifully was it chose one arc to tell in its movie. A simple story with a beginning and an ending. Then it cut almost every superfluous point from the source material that didn’t help that arc progress out.

Bleach live action movie - Orihime
I’m fairly certain that people who have never read the source or watched the anime probably have no idea that Orihime is actually supposed to be important.

I say almost every point because there are certainly characters and ideas that exist only for the sake of allowing a sequel to be made and to make sense. But these are minimised and given the barest of attentions. Fans of Orihime or Chad will probably be appalled at the way the characters were side-lined and there are certainly entire swathes of characters who were just completely ditched from the story altogether. And Kon? Gone entirely and who can tell if that is ultimately a good choice or not because the idea of a live action plush lion wandering around with a perverted attitude kind of amuses me but somehow I’m just not sure it would have added anything of value to the movie here.

02: They weren’t slaves to the source material.

I actually argued in a feature I wrote after the Death Note movie that the biggest issue with it wasn’t that it changed the source material. No, the bigger issue was they didn’t commit to changing the source material and made changes but wouldn’t cut out particular points making a movie that ended up as an unsatisfying compromise between a new vision for Death Note and a slave to fan expectations.

In my Full Metal Alchemist review I pointed out that while the costume design was gloriously similar to the anime (and I assume the manga) the end result was a not-so-real feeling like the world was inhabited by very sophisticated cosplayers.

Fullmetal Alchemist Live Action - Edward

In both of these cases the movies were bogged down by trying to reproduce source material in a different medium and they didn’t pull it off. Ghost in the Shell also suffered from the need to recreate sequences that didn’t fit into the new context and while fans of the original may have squealed with delight at these overall they don’t make for a better movie unless they are well integrated.

Bleach didn’t suffer from this. As with the content selection where ruthless and sensible cuts and changes were made, with character designs and the world they undeniably created Bleach in a way that fans could recognise it but at the same time they weren’t laboriously simply trying to bring drawings to life. They seemed to really think about how to make the characters come to life without losing the sense of who they were. For the most part they largely succeeded with both character and world design.

03: They understood what makes Bleach popular.

I think this is where Death Note really lost its viewers. The anime is a slow build with some interesting mind games between two intelligent human beings who both like to keep their hands hidden until the last moment. The movie abandoned this atmosphere making Light far less intelligent and more brazen in his need to gather attention and L far less patient and contemplative. The end result was that a lot of fans felt like the core of what made Death Note had been ripped out and trampled on.

Bleach is a long running series (not the longest but certainly one where the episode count becomes daunting to newcomers) and it blends some fairly stupid slap-stick humour with some intense drama and action. The first season introduced Ichigo to a world of Hollows and Soul Reapers and a lot of it is spent balancing Ichigo’s everyday high school life with the new responsibilities thrust on him. That balance of normal and supernatural, some moments of light hearted humour, and some moments of life threatening danger is what draws a lot of fans into the world that is Bleach (okay, the soundtrack as well but the movie can’t have everything) and as much as later seasons of the show become increasingly bloated and filled with overly long fight sequences, season one is where the show’s heart is and where the core of the story is crafted.

Bleach Movie Training.jpg

The movie did an excellent job of replicating the supernatural side and that turmoil in Ichigo’s life as he’s forced from high schooler who can see ghosts into the role of a shinigami and there was enough humour and light hearted moments between Ichigo and Rukia during training montages for it not to become too much of a drama. The fight sequences were intense and there was definitely a sense of danger in them and while we missed out on Ichigo’s normally copious buckets of blood pouring from wounds, the movie once again favoured some sort of realism over staying slavishly true to the source.

Wrapping It Up

So, great choices in content, in how to adapt characters and settings, as well as capturing the spirit of the story even while making necessary changes seem to be helping Bleach stay a little ahead of the pack of recent anime movie adaptations. Does that mean Bleach made no mistakes? Of course not. There’s plenty that could still be improved upon. Still, I kind of feel like Bleach is my light at the end of the tunnel and the possibility that I won’t be defending anime movies with the ‘it could be worse’ statement into the future.

That said, my inquiring minds question that I’m answering tomorrow also focuses on Live Action adaptations so I’d love to know your thoughts on them and if you’ve seen the Bleach movie, what did you think?


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Karandi James

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Nendoroid Bleach - Ichigo Kurosaki

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Bleach Live Action Movie Review: I Loved The Anime But What About This?

Bleach Live Action

There’s always some trepidation when hearing about a live action adaptation of a beloved anime. It’s a feeling that I might try to push to the side because I want to give something a go on its own merit rather than lumping it in with predecessors that may have failed to leave much of a positive impression. But just like with video game adaptations, while there are certainly a fair share of truly dreadful ones to be found there are also adaptations that have worked and given a fairly satisfying watch. So the question becomes whether or not Bleach survived this adaptation? There’s no way I’m not comparing as I go given how much I love Bleach but hopefully you’ll join me as I look at this movie.

Review:

I’ll get to the point fairly quickly and then explain my reasoning, but I found myself incredibly engrossed in this movie while watching it. I pressed play with that same sinking feeling of trepidation, wondering if I should put it off and wait until more reviews were out and wondering if I should possibly just forget it was even available rather than risk the feeling of disappointment that would come from a poor movie. I didn’t want much from this film, but what I absolutely needed it to do was to be fun to watch.

Netflix Live Action Bleach

Bleach was my ultimate pop-corn viewing anime that swept me up in its grandiose (albeit overly stretched out and bloated) story and cast and just its sheer brazen silliness at times. In short, it seemed the kind of thing that absolutely would not translate very well to real actors because anime fans have kind of learned to cope with the hero losing more litres of blood than that human body holds and still managing to stand up whereas when it happens on screen it kind of makes you wonder what is wrong with the writer.

However, Bleach actually managed to defy my expectations in a lot of ways as I watched this live action unfold on Netflix. The characters were not attempting to copy exactly the look of the anime (or if they did they clearly gave up for practicality’s sake). As a result Ichigo and Rukia look pretty awesome in their roles (and thank-you for someone having enough sense not to put that stupid fringe down the middle of Rukia’s face). Orihime and Chad are likewise altered so that while they retain some of what makes them distinct in the anime they come across looking fairly much like the belong in the setting rather then looking like they escaped a cosplay convention. My only real disappointment with Orihime was the look of her hair-clip which seems like it is missing a few petals which kind of means they are going to have to do some modification later on with how her power works, assuming of course they go there at all (which they definitely should).

Actually, the only character who really came across poorly in appearance was Urahara. Possibly I’m just being overly critical because I really like Urahara’s look in the anime, but to be honest I found his human counterpart here to be the only character who just looked out of place and garishly cosplay like rather than a real character. Even Renji’s hair came out fairly believably (at least within the context of the movie) so I was a little disappointed with Urahara.

Netflix Bleach Live Action

Outside of their appearances, I really liked the way these characters interacted. Again, they weren’t identical to how they behaved in the anime. None of Orihime’s silliness is on display nor does she get countless scenes eating bizarre foods. Karen, Ichigo’s sister, is certainly toned down and while I appreciate the need for that from a time point of view I kind of missed the spunky anime Karen. But these changes all make sense and with the plot having a much tighter focus on Ichigo and Rukia the changes are necessary.

And that was probably my favourite part of this adaptation. Scenes from the anime were merged and pushed together or deleted entirely for the sake of having a coherent story that felt like it was well paced in the time given. We meet Ichigo and very rapidly move to his meeting with Rukia and the transfer of her power to him. However, we then rapidly move on to Ishida confronting Ichigo at school (so no Chad and bird story, no Orihime and her dead brother, and no random encountering Hollows) and we see the Hollow bait getting used. This doesn’t spark a full on fight in its own right though as they combine this conflict with a later one and we see Ichigo and Rukia being confronted by Renji.

The upshot of this is we are dealing pretty much entirely with Rukia’s transgression and need to get her power back with other events that are crucial for introducing characters for later occurring but in a way that feeds into this main plot. Anyone who has watched the anime of Bleach will know how regularly the main plot gets kind of put on hold while the characters run around and do other things or get diverted by other issues, or just how long some of those fight sequences last as you deal with each and every person involved. This movie is well aware of its time limitations and maximises what it can show us through some fairly deliberate modification of the narrative.

However, if you think I’m just going to sing the praises of this movie I’m about to turn this around. There are two points that really stop this from being the truly excellent experience it was pretty close to becoming.

The first is the ending. We get to essentially the end of the first season where Rukia returns to Soul Society and that is a great place for the movie to end. But the fight sequence against the Grand Fisher is… well I hesitate to call it bloated given compared to most of the fight scenes in the Bleach anime it is pretty succinct. Yet, we have Ichigo running from the Hollow through crowded streets (wasn’t he just in a graveyard) and fighting the Grand Fisher in a fairly public space.

Bleach Netflix Live Action

I get that partly this is because they combining events from the fight in the park in the anime where Ishida and Ichigo team up, with the Grand Fisher fight, and then they are transitioning to the fight against Renji, so there were going to need to be some fairly major adjustments to this sequence to make it work. However, it doesn’t fit with Ichigo’s character to lead a Hollow into a public space where others might be put at risk. It also shows off the CG Hollow for far too long. Its first appearance in the graveyard is pretty amazing and in short bursts it could have looked exceptional and had real impact. But, because of the length of the screen time, it ends up looking pretty cheap by the end.

I’ll also point out through the whole chase sequence I was just reminded of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the totally unnecessary dragon chase across the rooftops that ate screen time, wasn’t in the book, and totally wasn’t needed. Yes, we get your wind effects look cool and you are damaging a lot of buildings. We’re at the climax so big boom. And yet, this scene could have been so much tighter and had so much more impact.

The second complaint I’ll raise is the music. Bleach has one of the best soundtracks ever – I’m totally not biased. Every single OP is amazing – again, not biased. The fight music that accompanies Ichigo as he gets geared up to take down anything is unforgettably cool – alright, fine, I’m totally and completely biased when it comes to Bleach music. I’m not going to say the soundtrack to this movie is actually bad… it’s just kind of forgettable. There isn’t one track which just made me sit up and take notice or drew me into a scene. And that was probably my biggest disappointment about this entire movie. The music.

Right, objectively the acting isn’t amazing though it certainly isn’t dreadful. The script is fairly average with dialogue serving its purpose but not doing a lot more. I’m not entirely sure how caught up in events non-Bleach fans will be because I can only watch this film from the perspective of a major fan of the series.

But, this movie was fun to watch. At no point did I feel bored or like I was wasting my time. I didn’t have a single moment where I considered stopping it (Full Metal Alchemist on the other hand I had several moments where I wondered if I should cut my losses and move on).

Do I recommend this movie? Certainly. If you are a Bleach fan but open to necessary changes to accompany the changed format, you’ll have a great time. If you’ve never watched Bleach, this movie will give you a good taste of the plot of season 1 though I’d still recommend watching the anime. That said, if you already jumped in and watched the movie, I’d love to know what you thought of it so leave me a comment.


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Karandi James

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Bleach Original Soundtrack

Erased Live Action Series Review: A Decent Ride

Overview:

Satoru is an unsuccessful manga writer working in a pizza shop and really just going through the motions of life. He has one strange ability where sometimes he will go back in time and it always happens after something has gone wrong and sometimes he can help to avoid it. However, when his mother dies, Satoru finds himself 15 years in the past as the chain of events leading to her death is quite complex and caught up in a series of mysterious abductions and murders from when he was a child.

Review:

While I already discussed my initial impressions of this series having completed viewing it I’m now going to review the entire show. To be honest, I was fairly impressed by the end of this. While it isn’t a master piece by any means the story is well paced, the characters for the most part play their roles well, and the climax is dramatic enough to make it feel worth the wait.

That isn’t to say that I changed my mind about Airi. She really does seem to be the weak link in the performances as she just doesn’t sit right in any scene and I’m still feeling like she was a little too unnerving or creepy in the early episodes. However, the rest of the cast all deliver a decent performance and it is easy to get swept up in their story (though I do think the person who designed the fake beard probably needs to start over).

Outside of the acting, the story itself was well executed. None of the scenes seemed to linger overly long but the plot didn’t feel rushed. The reveals made sense and were well timed and even knowing who the villain was didn’t take away from the experience of seeing it revealed. The climax has a few minor issues in that I think we’re supposed to believe they are in danger but it just doesn’t quite come across that way, but it is dramatic and it brings the story nicely to a close.

In terms of the scenes themselves there is very little risk taken in this series. Shot types and cuts are all pretty standard which makes them unobtrusive but also means they aren’t really adding anything to the story. Likewise, the music and sound works, but are mostly unremarkable.

Still, this was a great way to spend a few hours and the story is compelling enough on its own. The pacing is probably where this series shines and all in all, it was a pretty good version of the story.

Now, for those who have watched the anime there are differences. Mostly these are cosmetic but the climax has a scene change (and actually makes a great deal more sense) in this version and the one major improvement on the anime adaptation is the villain’s back story. So much better here and given that was a definite weak link in the anime it is something I really appreciated. There’s a few other minor changes but this is basically the same story so if you loved the anime there may not be a lot of point in watching this version.

I’d love to know your final thoughts on the series so leave me a comment below.


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First Impressions of Netflix’s Erased

A live action adaptation of any anime is something of an occasion as it brings out the usual arguments about whether something follows source material, whether the characters ‘look’ right (though why any real human would want to look like an anime character is a bit beyond me), whether it can live up to the anime version and so on and so forth. Usually there’s quite a bit of pessimism in the community with some cautious optimism. Erased wasn’t all that different and I must admit I was kind of trying to avoid having any kind of expectation for the live action.

So a few days ago I had a chance to catch the first two episodes and now I’ve managed another handful taking me to the end of episode 5. What do I think? I’m actually pretty impressed.

One thing Erased had going for it when they were adapting it was that for the most part the story is a straight drama/mystery and it didn’t have too many over the top, that works only in anime moments to try to make work with real life. I’m sure they are probably actually adapting from a manga and not the anime but as I’ve never read it I have no opinion on that one.

Erased3

Viewing this as a separate entity, my biggest complaint in the first five episodes would be Airi. She just comes off too young and her smile and up-beat personality come off borderline creepy rather than supportive. Maybe they were going for that but to be honest she’s my least favourite character so far in this adaptation and she hasn’t had that much screen time. A smaller complaint would be directed at the younger version of Satoru as some of his expressions aren’t quite as nuanced as they might be but it isn’t terrible. For a child actor he’s not doing too bad a job holding up the tone of the show so his less stellar moments are fairly understandable and aren’t really all that bad.

On the other hand, Satoru’s mother and Kayo have so far been pretty solid in their performances and the cast as a whole has been working fairly well.

Erased4

In terms of the story I’ve come to realise how much I will forgive in an anime over live action. There’s one encounter in the story where a character says something to Satoru with a ‘don’t tell anyone’ but all I could think was why would anyone say that in the first place. Given the situation it was a massive breach of confidentiality and Satoru was a child. Why on earth would you reveal that kind of information to them? It is amazing how when two anime characters have a fairly similar conversation I don’t get the same ‘no way’ response to the scene.

Despite that, the first five episodes have been excellent in setting up the story and the mystery. It isn’t having quite the impact that the anime had on me but that’s probably because I’m now familiar with the story. Yet some scenes and sequences have been pretty brilliant such as viewing the night sky through the tree in winter and Airi’s apology to Satoru.

Erased2

I’ll definitely be finishing this series soon (hopefully later today) and I’ll try to write a review that isn’t a comparison to the anime. Still my first impressions are that this is an alright series. It isn’t going to change the world but it is quite engaging and watchable. As an adaptation of an anime I loved, it is also pretty good. Very little to complain about so far.


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Death Note 2017 Movie Review: That Was… Different?

Death Note Live Action Movie

Overview:

So Netflix decided to do a live action adaptation of Death Note and decided in the process to Americanise it. I could write a review where I tear this apart because it is genuinely nothing like the original and they’d have been better off just creating all new character names and just saying this was based on the story of Death Note, but that isn’t actually fair to this movie. Yeah, it is nothing like the original. Character personalities, motivations, relationships are all totally different and most could not be favourable compared to the original characters. The characters are Americans for the most part. The whole story here is told in 100 minutes with sequel bait at the end. Got that out of the way. Now I’m going to review the movie.That said, it will be impossible to review this when I am a fan of the original anime without reference to it.

Review:

I really expected going in that I was going to hate this movie. I hoped I wouldn’t, but kind of knew deep down that no matter what Netflix did, I was not going to see it particularly well. I love the original Death Note. I love the clever play between Light and L and how that builds over half a season. I’ve watched Death Note movies before and the short run time always, always hurts the tension and the story. So imagine my surprise when I actually liked this movie. Admittedly, the first watch through I didn’t. I was too busy declaring that none of it was ‘right’ or the way ‘it should be’ but you know, that isn’t exactly fair. So I chucked my preconceptions out the window and watched it again without any thought of what it was supposedly adapting. And you know, there’s actually an all right kind of story going on here. It just isn’t the story fans were hoping for.

DeathNote2

See, this isn’t a psychological thriller anymore. What this movie focusses on is the horror and fear of being given power, thinking your are in control, and then seeing it all spiral horribly out of control. And from that point of view it works beautifully. Yep, Light isn’t anywhere as smart as the Light most people know and love. This character would definitely have benefitted from just having a totally new name and just be another random guy that Ryuk dropped the note for. That doesn’t make him a bad character. He’s an American teenager who has issues with the notion of justice due to his mother’s death and what he perceives as his father’s failings. He’s also seen injustice in the school system with how bullying is dealt with (or not dealt with). When given a taste of power, he uses it and some of his uses are incredibly reckless and not particularly well thought out because he is impulsive.

What this gives us is a much faster plot line. One that doesn’t set up a slow rise in the popularity of a killer who the public give a name to that he then assumes. Light chooses his own name and promotes it through those he kills. He builds a following and he does so quickly and with efficiency that allows us to move right into the phase of Light being pursued by L.

DeathNote3

However, before I get into that I need to address Mia. Mia is both a blessing and a curse to this movie. She provides a fairly decent plot twist, she drives the story forward when it might otherwise stagnate, she allows Light to not inner-monologue because he has a partner in crime more or less from the beginning. However, her own motives, other than apparently she gets off on killing, are never explored. We know nothing of her back story, her history, or anything about her other than she’s a cheerleader and now she thinks she has found a purpose. Also, she makes Light seem incredibly stupid because he basically reveals the note and all its secrets to her because he literally just wants to impress the girl. It is a cheap plot move and while it works at moving us forward you really don’t feel like that was a satisfying way for the story to get kicked into gear.

Basically, this is Mia and Light’s story and how the power of the Death Note changes the both of them and ultimately changes their relationship throughout. The whole L and the police thing is a secondary concern to what is going on with Mia and Light. So if Mia had just been given some decent development, this movie could even be elevated from just all right to actually quite good and yet it never quite manages that because as much as this story wanted to take Death Note in a new direction, it couldn’t quite commit.

DeathNote4

So here is L. He isn’t L as you know him, anymore than Light is the character you know, but he is L. He is in hot pursuit of Kira and he leaves false trails and ruthlessly uses whoever he has to in order to track down the killer. But this is a far more emotive and unstable L (though I guess L was always a little unhinged) and by the end of the story the L we see has lost any ability to think clearly or logically. He is angry and grieving and his actions take on a rashness that we would never have accepted from the anime version, but here is works well because the story makes one fairly critical change early on.

When L goes on TV to goad Kira, Light doesn’t rise to the bait. Light’s core personality has been changed sufficiently that it makes sense for his character to not want to harm the innocent, even if they are calling him out (something this movie maintains throughout its entire run). Because of that change, there’s never really a cat and mouse game between the two. Sure, L is pursuing Kira and he figures out that Light is Kira, but Light’s issues are all around Ryuk, Mia and the morality of using the note itself. That’s where the story and the conflict are. L is basically side story material that may later get development should this ever get a sequel.

I have to say, while I don’t like any of these characters as much as the original cast, and the story is nowhere near as clever or interesting as the original, for a released on TV horror it works relatively well and can certainly keep you entertained for it’s fairly short run time. The deaths are at times an excessively gory and a few of the set ups will remind you of a Final Destination film, but basically everything comes together and the final confrontation and explanation is satisfying enough.

DeathNote5

When it comes to recommending this though, pretty much I recommend it to non-anime fans who like horror. If you’ve already watched Death Note, it is really likely that all this movie will do is annoy you. However, if you haven’t and you like the idea of guy finds book that can kill people, you’ll probably have an alright time with this. That said, given fans of the anime probably aren’t the best audience for this, the writers really should have just committed to new audience, new story and ditched the unnecessary remnants that just serve to clutter up an otherwise interesting plot. As an adaptation of Death Note, this is pretty terrible if you are after the tone or feel of either than manga or the anime. As an American teen horror movie with a bit of a supernatural edge to it, this isn’t dreadful and actually has some quite entertaining moments.

So, I’m surprisingly okay with this movie and wouldn’t mind a follow up. I just wish they hadn’t called it Death Note.


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Ghost in the Shell 2017 Movie Review

Overview:

Live action, Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell. Like most anime adaptations, expect fans to be annoyed regardless of what they do. In this case the white-washing argument dominated early reviews of the movie. Ignoring all of that, its a movie about a girl who is given an artifical body but finds out her memories are also artificial and then seeks out the truth.

Review:

A while ago, and I do mean a while ago given it was a few months now, I had the chance to spend a few days in a town with a cinema and took full advantage of it by pretty much spending each evening trying a different movie (its usually about six months in between cinema visits so yes, I over indulge when given the opportunity). One of the movies I watched last time was the Ghost in the Shell live action movie with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. I’m going to be clear in that while I have watched some of the anime franchise releases I am not a fan of the Ghost in the Shell anime. Mostly I found it to be a bit dull (and I just lost every fan of the anime right then and there). With that said, I actually wanted to see what Hollywood would do with this movie because the basic concept in the anime was kind of cool.

What this means is I didn’t go in wanting a faithful re-enactment of a source or a true Ghost in the Shell experience. I wanted to see a futuristic story play out in an interesting manner. From that point of view I actually wasn’t too disappointed even if some of the film leaves itself open for criticism. I also viewed this with someone who never watches anime. When I said I was interested in seeing the film they said they thought the trailer looked interesting. I pointed out it was based on an anime and they looked stunned. They showed me the trailer they had watched and yeah, no mention of the fact it was based on an anime. So I had the interesting experience of watching it with someone with no knowledge of the previous franchise and the discussion after about what was good or not about the film was fairly entertaining.

GITS1

Anyway, the reason for all of that is a lot of the reviews I read of this film prior to getting to see it were comparison based. They looked at the scenes that were essentially re-enactments of anime sequences and they looked at Johansson’s performance as the Major. Some gave it a nod, a lot tore it to pieces, and occasionally you even got to read a review that actually reviewed the movie as a stand alone piece of entertainment.

Let’s start with the positives about this film.

It has a great setting. Visually it is fun to look at and fairly reminiscent of Blade Runner or the Fifth Element, but mostly it just looks and feels like a real futuristic place. It looks lived in and used and feels like something that might eventuate for our cities the way things are going. As the characters move around in this setting there’s a lot of rich background detail which just adds to the overall feel of immersion in the world they are trying to create. Where the setting starts to fall down is when we spend time in the slums and the more isolated locations. That feeling of being a real location kind of falls apart once the characters are on their own in places that look more like set pieces. They needed to stick to the more populated areas because that is where the setting came alive.

The story itself of the Major finding out who she is/was/will be, whatever. Her identity crisis is handled pretty well. It isn’t earth shattering or something we haven’t seen done in sci-fi before but it is a story that works and the writing is good enough that it holds together well. Johansson also gives a decent enough performance as she becomes more who she is rather than who she is programmed to be.

Lastly, the action works in this film. If you want a sci-fi action this one will do the job. There’s some decent fight sequences and some decent gun play/explosions. Certainly this is watchable just from that point of view.

GITS2

What works less well in this film is the pacing, the support cast, the villain and the final fight sequence. That’s a lot of issues for it to overcome. Admittedly, none of these are deal breakers and you will have seen worse if you have spent any time watching Hollywood science fiction or action movies, but they do interrupt the enjoyment of the viewing and make this good enough but not good.

The pacing is hampered by a desire to throw those bones to the fans. The forced re-enactment of some scenes really does hinder the flow of this story. Admittedly, these aren’t the only pacing issues. The show goes from fast paced action to slow introspections and back and forth as the current scene demands and the end result is going from feeling slightly bored to over stimulated. The person I was viewing with wondered why some scenes existed at all and I pointed out it was a scene from the original and then she just wondered why they bothered to include it. Maybe fans received these moments better but for the casual viewer it really did just mess with the pacing and cohesion of this movie.

GITS3

Then there’s the support cast with their very hit and miss performances. Conversations go from zero to over the top drama school level anger in seconds and seemingly with little trigger. There’s a few of the support cast that just had me shaking my head as they delivered their lines with as much forced enthusiasm as you usually see in a children’s play. On the other hand, some of the support cast actually did a stellar job with the material they were given and their performances really help hold the reality of the story together.

When it comes to the actual villain of the story, he suffers from an incredibly shallow motivation and almost zero actual plan. When he calls for the spider tank at the end you just know that this guy exists only to be a jerk and he wouldn’t go astray as the villain in an early batman film.

Which leads us on to the final fight sequence against the spider tank. What? Why? We have a thoughtful and interesting science fiction concept about the human consciousness and blending with machines and the best you can do for a final fight sequence is send a tank that does not look like it is obeying the laws of physics to shoot at the main character? Really?

Okay, I actually did enjoy watching this movie. Then again, it was pretty much average Hollywood. Nothing really surprising about it and perfectly watchable with no understanding of the franchise. Would I recommend it? Only if you are pretty much up for anything sci-fi or action and aren’t too picky about the acting.


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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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