GITS SAC: Solid State Society

Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.—Solid State Society is the third movie since 1995’s Ghost in the Shell anime adaptation. This feature-length TV movie was broadcast on Skyperfect! in September 2006 and released on DVD by Bandai Visual in November of the same year. Fantasia 2007 treated the fans by screening this excellent cyberpunk anime on the big screen! Directed by Production I.G.’s Kenji Kamiyama, fans can enjoy yet another high-tech sci-fi story, which is set in 2034, Tokyo. The timeline is two years after the last TV series (2nd GIG), as Japan is still dealing with the Asian refugee problems. 

SolidStateSociety-image2Major Motoko Kusanagi left Section 9 — Japan’s elite anti-terrorist unit — and was missing for over two years. She left because she felt that by acting alone she could investigate more discreetly (using multiple cyber bodies), more freely (without the irritating political oversight) and therefore more efficiently. For Batou, the absence of Motoko leaves his work meaningless and he picks & chooses the case he’s working on, taking assignments only when he thinks it might bring him closer to her. With the Major’s departure and Batou refusing assignments, Togusa was forced to become the leader of the team as her successor. Togusa is, as usual, a man of justice. Married and having two children, he’s different from the other team members who are all single — including the aging Chief Aramaki who has been struggling to deal with the fact that Section 9 has to move on without the Major. Other members such as Saito and Ishikawa keep their positions as network expert or sniper. All Section 9’s characters are extremely honest and act with a sense of justice and responsibility. They’re all faithful to their convictions as they were in the TV series. 

SolidStateSociety-image1Section 9 hired 20 rookies, and their latest mission is to solve a case involving politically charged hostages. Somehow, one of the terrorist suspects committed suicide on the spot, leaving a strange message: “The Puppeteer is coming”. At the same time, many other mysterious cases keep taking place, including one where a huge amount of abused children seem to have been kidnapped by an organization of ultranationalist retirees. What links all those cases together? It seems to be the work of a super-intelligent hacker who has been manipulating all this, but to do what exactly, no one knows… 

SolidStateSociety-image4This movie is first class entertainment. Like the previous movies, it offers great music and superb animation. It has all the complex socio-political background of the previous TV series and maintains the series’ trademark cyberpunk feeling, but Director Kamiyama injected the storyline with so many themes — such as mass suicide, terrorism, biochemical weapons, kidnapping, old folks’ problems and child abuse — and subplots that the story gets confusing. It’s not easy to follow what’s happening in this extremely intricate movie. After the screening I was not quite sure of what I had just watched and who the Puppeteer really was! It’s one of those cases where you really need to purchase the DVD and watch the key scenes several time in order to be able to really enjoy the complexity of the movie. 

SolidStateSociety-image3In my humble opinion, I think that Director Kamiyama should have simplified and streamlined the storyline, maybe sticking with Togusa’s plot-line. I bet the viewers could have felt more empathy towards the movie if it was a little less complex. The animation itself has an overwhelming beauty, but, using all the great animation technology and talent of Production I.G., I think Director Kamiyama could have created a masterpiece, if he had just come up with a more coherent story. In the end, the true identity of the Puppeteer is still not very clear — but maybe Director Kamiyama kept it mysterious on purpose? 

—miyako

Kôkaku Kidôtai: Stand Alone Complex — Solid State Society. Japan, 2006, 109 min.; Dir.: Kenji Kamiyama; Scr.: Kenji Kamiyama, Shôtaro Suga, Yoshiki Sakurai; Phot.: Kôji Tanaka; Ed.: Junichi Uematsu; Art Dir.: Yusuke Takeda; Char. Des.: Hajime Shimomura, Takayuki Goto, Tetsuya Nishio; Mechan. Des.: Kenji Teraoka, Shinobu Tsuneki; Mus.: Yoko Kanno; Prod.: Production I.G.; Distr.: Bandai, Manga Entertainment; Cast: Atsuko Tanaka (Motoko Kusanagi), Akio Ohtsuka (Batou), Kouichi Yamadera (Togusa), Kazuya Tatekabe (Col. Tonoda), Masuo Amada (Col. Ka Gae-Ru), Osamu Saka (Daisuke Aramaki), Takashi Onozuka (Pazu), Tarô Yamaguchi (Boma), Toru Ohkawa (Saito), Yutaka Nakano (Ishikawa), Yuya Uchida (Takaaki Koshiki), Dai Sugiyama (Proto), Nana Yamauchi (Togusa’s daughter), Yoshiko Sakakibara (Prime Minister Kayabuki). Available on R2 Dvd in Japan (BCBA-2606, 109 min., ¥9800) and on R1 Dvd in North America (Bandai/Manga Entertainment, #25176, Bilingual Dvd, 109 min., $19.98 US [Limited edition: $39.98 US], rated 13+). stars-4-0

• • •

SolidStateSociety-covIn 2034, two years after the departure of Major Motoko Kusanagi (after the events of the TV series, Stand Alone Complex, which starts in 2030 and before the second movie, Innocence, set in 2032), Togusa is now in charge of Section 9, which has been expanded with the addition of several new recruits. Batou, frustrated to have been left behind by the Major, is still looking for her and therefore picks & chooses only the cases that seem related to his quest. A string of strange incidents — starting with a series of suicides, followed by the kidnapping of many children, and an economical conspiracy plotted by a group of old ultra-nationalists — seem to lead to a mysterious super-hacker nicknamed the “puppeteer.” The Major is carrying her own parallel investigation — which leads Batou to suspect her of being the puppeteer. In the end, the real identity of the perpetrator is the most surprising revelation of all. 

This movie is directed by Kenji Kamiyama, the same person who directed the Stand Alone Complex TV series. It is therefore not surprising to find here the same excellent quality of production, as much in the design as in the animation. However, if the director succeeded to masterfully tie up all the elements of the story in the TV series, he seems to have difficulty to do the same in a movie format. Solid State Society feels like a long TV episode where he tries to compress the storyline of an entire series. There are too many sub-plots and the different elements of the story are mixed together in such a complex way that it sometimes lacks coherence and the viewers get confused (it took me at least two viewings to understand the complexity of the plot and even then I am not sure I understood everything correctly). 

The timeline of the various series and movies seems confusing as well. The first movie is supposed to be set in 2029, while Solid State Society is set in 2034. It is not clear exactly when Major Kusanagi left Section 9. Also, they should have encountered the Puppet Master / Puppeteer before (in the first movie), but no mention is made of a prior encounter as if the first movie never happened. In fact, it feels like Solid State Society is a retelling of the encounter between the Major and the Puppeteer. 

Despite the complex socio-political themes and the beautiful animation, Solid State Society does not have the same depth than the previous movies (directed by Mamoru Oshii) and it certainly doesn’t have the same contemplative beauty. It is a very nice movie, but it is much more demanding to the viewers than the TV series and even the previous movies — which you all need to have seen to really appreciate and understand this movie — so I would recommend it mainly to the die-hard Ghost In The Shell fans. Nevertheless, Solid State Society (and GITS in general) is the epitome of intelligent SolidStateSociety-Dvd-ratingscyberpunk anime (a genre that, unfortunately, we don’t see often). Finally, I must add that the Limited Steelbook case edition (which contains three discs: one disc with the main feature, one disc full of extras, and the Solid State Society soundtrack CD) is totally awesome. 

—clodjee

Bandai / Manga Entertainment, #25176 (ISBN 978-1-59409-831-4), Bilingual Dvd, 109 min., $19.98 US (Limited Edition: $39.98 US), rated 13+ (Violence). See back cover.

You can also check the trailer from Youtube:

For more information you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonANNBiblio • GoogleIMDbProduction I.G.Wikipedia ]

Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex—Solid State Society ©2006-2007 Shirow Masamune • Production I.G. / Kodansha. 

Those articles were first published respectively in PA #94: 76 (November-December 2007) and PA #93: 83 (September-October 2007).

Please also check the following Ghost in the shell articles:

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Life at the time of the Corona

Or what to do when you’re stuck at home because of the COVID-19 social distancing mesures. 

There is not much we can do besides sleeping, taking walks in the park (while keeping our distance from other people), reading books, watching TV series or movies, or using the internet to virtually travel elsewhere. We took a little time to gather for you a few suggestions of places where you can find pleasurable distractions. Enjoy !

Reading

All libraries are closed but — if you don’t already have a good book collection at home or a nearby book store — you can always rely on digital books. Beside the obvious commercial options (Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Kobo), here are a few suggestions to find free digital books:

More precisely, if you want to read free manga online (see also a list on epubor), here a few suggestions:

Movies & music

There are plenty of free music streaming sites on the internet (Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, iHeartRadio, etc.) but personally I use mainly Internet Radio, Stingray, and TuneIn. 

However, beyond the commercial streaming sites (Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, etc.), the free movies streaming sites are less well-known. Here are a few suggestions:

Also, if you are interesting in Japan and Japanese culture, I suggest you stream shows from NHK World.

Virtual visits

You can find a lot of places to visit virtually on Google: Art & Culture, but here are a few suggestions:

Museums

Music

Nature

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Mortal Engines

Mortal-Engines-2018-movie-posterVisionary filmmaker Peter Jackson presents a startling new adventure unlike any you’ve seen before. Hundreds of years after our civilisation was destroyed, a new world has emerged. A mysterious young woman named Hester Shaw leads a band of outcasts in the fight to stop London — now a giant predator city on wheels — from devouring everything in its path.

[Promo text from the dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

In an improbable but quite beautiful steampunk future, cities made themselves mobile in order to gather more ressources and survive the man-made apocalypse. Not much of the technology displayed seems realistic. I doubt that putting the city of London on wheels would be physically possible as the mechanical parts of the engine would crumble under its own weight… Despite the very simple and unoriginal story (young rebels, full of love and thirsty for vengeance, trying to defeat evil and power hungry madmen) the superb background settings and great special effects make this movie very entertaining. Unfortunately, it seems that it was not enough for the audience as it failed at the box office and received low ratings from the critics (6.1 on IMDb, 27% / 49% on Rotten Tomatoes). Interesting facts, the movie is directed by Christian Rivers but has the marks of Peter Jackson all over it (as one of the script writers and producers, sfx by Weta). It is also based on a series of YA novels written by Philip Reeve.

Some critic called it a “steampunk Star Wars”. I see it more as an allegory alluding to western societies which consume (in both meaning of eating and destroying) everything in their path, as opposed to more peaceful and nature-friendly eastern societies. Mortal engines is an intriguing movie that will feed your imagination and provide great entertainment. It’s certainly worth seeing. stars-3-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonBiblioGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

Also, you can check the official trailer on Youtube:

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Capsules

Shaft

Shaft-2019-movie-posterJJ, aka John Shaft Jr (Usher), may be a cyber security expert with a degree from MIT, but to uncover the truth behind his best friend’s untimely death, he needs an education only his dad can provide. Absent throughout JJ’s youth, the legendary lock-and-loaded John Shaft (Jackson) agrees to help his progeny navigate Harlem’s heroin-infested underbelly. And while JJ’s own FBI analyst’s badge may clash with his dad’s trademark leather coat, there’s no denying family. Besides, Shaft’s got an agenda of his own, and a score to settle that’s professional and personal.

[Promotional text from the Dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher) is an FBI analyst. When his childhood friend Karim dies in strange circumstances, he decides to investigate despite his boss opposition. He has no choice but to ask the help of his estranged father, former NYPD detective and private investigator John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) — which greatly displeased his mother (Regina Hall). With the extra help of his girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp) and his grand-pa, John Shaft, Sr. (Richard Roundtree), they will attempt to solve the murder and avenge Karim’s death…

This is a funny movie with a high (very high) count of bullets and profanities. It offers a thin and rather unoriginal story wrapped in a series of very entertaining and quite violent action sequences. It is a sort of hommage to a classic blaxploitation legend (four previous movies — three in the 70s with Richard Roundtree [1971, 1972 and 1973] and a 2000 remake with Samuel L. Jackson — and a TV series). That’s it. The movie was not profitable and was scorched by the critics (32% on Rotten Tomatoes) but the viewers seem to have liked it (rated 6.4 on IMDb and audience score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes). Brainless comedy or outdated reboot, I found it entertaining. Check it out and be the judge — but watch it at your own risk, motherf**ker. stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonBiblioGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

Also, you can check the official trailer on Youtube:

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Capsules

Ad Astra (DVD)

Ad_Astra-dvdBrad Pitt gives a powerful performance in the “absolutely enthralling” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) sci-fi thriller set in space. When a mysterious life-threatening event strikes Earth, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) goes on a dangerous mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones) and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

[Promotional text from the Dvd sleeve]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

In a “near future”, astronaut Roy McBride is told that his father — Clifford McBride, lost in a failed intelligent life-seeking mission around Neptune and presumed death — could still be alive. Powerful particules’ flares are hitting Earth and causing dangerous power surges and the authorities think that his father could be creating the flares with the “Lima Project” ship propulsion system which is using dark matter (!). He is sent to Mars, via the Moon, to record a secret message for his father but discovers that the authorities intentions are far more nefarious than he was told. Despite the lack of trust on both side, he manages to board the Cepheus on its way to Neptune in order to find his father and resolve the situation…

The movie is very slow and has little action (mostly when he falls from the “tower” (space elevator?), when he is attacked by pirates on the Moon, when he boards the distressed Norwegian biomedical research space station and when he tries to escape the “Lima Project” ship). It is also filmed in a very theatrical way, with little dialogues as most of the movie is narrated in voice-over by the main character. Therefore it feels a lot like 2001: A Space Odyssey with some influences from Philip K. Dick (the use of mood altering drugs and the constant psych eval — like seen in Blade Runner 2049).

The director, James Gray, said that he wanted a movie with a “realistic depiction of space travel” but I think he was not very successful. The movements of the characters seemed sometime a little odd and often the laws of physics were broken: a twenty-day trip to Mars? Eighty days to Neptune? You can sure have ships with bigger acceleration but I doubt that human would be able to survive them (and they didn’t look like accelerating a lot in the movie). Also, no matter what kind of radio communication you are using (even with a laser beam) you are limited to the speed of light and transmitting a message to Neptune would take some time (certainly over three hours in each direction), therefore you cannot get an immediate response !

It is said that the movie is set in the “near future” and that also is doubtful. Space elevator, significant bases on the Moon, a base on Mars, all this cannot happen in a few decades. Maybe in a couple of centuries, considering how slow humanity has been doing space exploration lately. Also, the world in which the movie is set seems quite interesting — even if it is barely glimpsed at. Everything looks computer controlled, people are kept on a tight leash with constant psych eval and mood altering drugs to keep them “happy” and well behaved. It is maybe a 1984-style dictature? Everyone seems to have strong religious belief, so maybe a very conservative and fundamentalist world? The movie doesn’t offer enough clues to say so with certainty. Or maybe the Millenials / strawberry generation needed this level of protection and control to survived and feel safe in a “difficult” future?

However, despite its slow pace, technical flaws and lack of action, Ad Astra remains a beautiful movie, with great photography, excellent special effects, good actors and acting (Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland) and a very interesting subject (solitude, family bonds and commitment). The movie made a slim profit at the box office and was well-received by the critics (with a rating of 6.6 on IMDb and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes) but was not as well appreciated by the public (audience score of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes). People probably found it not as exciting as they were expecting because it feels more like a psychological drama than a sci-fi action movie. It is stimulating to the mind, but only mildly entertaining…

All in all, I found Ad Astra disappointing but still worth watching. Anyway, catch it on TV or on DVD (maybe from the library) and be the judge yourself. stars-2-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonBiblioGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipedia ]

Also, you can check the official trailer on Youtube:

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Capsules

Tolkien

TolkienPosterThis is a very good and touching biopic about the genesis of J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe (what he called his legendarium, set in the Middle-Earth, which includes novels like The Hobbit and Lord of the rings) without really talking about it. It is quite subtle and interesting. Very well done. Although, I am a little disappointed as I was under the impression that the movie was about the Inklings, a literary club that Tolkien (played by Nicholas Hoult) was a member of at Oxford along with C.S. Lewis. The movie is actually about another club, the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), where he pledged with his college friends Rob (Patrick Gibson), Geoffrey (Anthony Boyle) and Christopher (Tom Glynn-Carney)  to change the worlds through their art (literature, painting, music and poetry). His writing was greatly influenced by his experiences in World War I, his interest in philology (particularly in creating new languages) and in European mythologies (Norse, Germanic and Finnish), as well as by the love for his wife (Edith Bratt played by Lily Collins).

The movie was not endorsed by the Tolkien Estate (which considered it inaccurate) and received mixed reviews (it was rated 6.8 on IMDb and 50% / 73% on Rotten Tomatoes) but I nevertheless found it quite interesting. The movie is mostly criticized for lacking imagination, but I disagree: it has plenty, but it just requires a little effort from the viewers. While entertaining, it offers great (but subtle) insights on the life of Tolkien and his creation. Whether you’re a fan or not, Tolkien is worth watching. stars-3-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonGoogleIMDbOfficialWikipediaYoutube ]

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Capsules

Where I belong

Shabondama-posterAfter committing robbery, Shoto’s flight from the cops takes him to the mountains of Miyazaki in southern Japan where he helps an injured elderly woman. This serendipitous encounter will softly coax him into changing and set him on the path to redemption. The Japanese countryside comes to life through beautiful cinematography in this simple and unhurried reflection on what it means to have a place where to belong.

[ From Cinémathèque québécoise ]

A petty criminal (who was shaped by his environment or bad parenting) do something bad, escape to the countryside, feels guilty, meet with nice people, sees the error of his way and seeks redemption… I must say that Where I belong doesn’t feel very original as we’ve seen this type of movie often in Japanese cinema. However, it is still a nice feel-good movie. It offers a touching story, which is beautifully shot and with good acting. It’s an entertaining flick that offers a good time. Nothing more. The best part is probably that it is showcasing the nice landscapes of Miyazaki and giving us a glimpse at the Shiiba Heike Festival.

Where I belong (しゃぼん玉 / Shabondama / lit. “Soap bubble”): Japan, 2016, 108 mins; Dir./Scr.: Shinji Azuma (based on a novel by Asa Nonami); Phot.: Wataru Miyamoto; Ed.: Shinya Tadano; Music: Yuki Hara; Cast: Kazuyuki Aijima, Mina Fujii, Kento Hayashi. ©2016「しゃぼん玉」製作委員会. stars-3-0

For more information you can visit the following websites:

[ AsianWikiGoogleIMDbJFDBOfficialYoutube ]

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