Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Film Club On Tour

Only a few days ago, Film Club reconvened on the second leg of its world tour of Millbrook. The venue on Sunday was Frankenkeith's dwelling place beside the water's edge and a full assemblage of film clubbers was present, with the exception of Dong who was heading northwards to Wigan in order to ply his peculiar trade.

The flash on my old-faithful digital thingy can be a bit harsh sometimes, and this is one of those times - nevertheless here's Mrs The Millbrooker (looking very flashed-at, indeed), Slocombe, Frankenkeith and Shazzerooneypoos gathered together in Frankenkeith's lovely cosy sitting room for film club's first attempt at a Japanese manga animation.

So - "manga"; what and why? According to manga is "a Japanese genre consisting of comic books and graphic novels, typically black-and-white and featuring stylized characters with large, round eyes. Etymology: Jpn, random pictures." In this case it's a comic book in that style, animated for the big screen. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Mamoru Oshii's 1995 sci-fi film Ghost in the Shell was the choice of film for the evening, ordered from Cinema Paradiso on the strength of a couple of cracking reviews that welcomed its release on DVD.The premise of the film, set in 2029, is that the net has become so all-embracing that national boundaries, governmental responsibility and even human existence is in question. But this isn't a Terminator-like blockbuster about war between man and machine, but a treatise on the meaning of humanity within a highly technologically sophisticated world.

We are quickly dazzled by the technical brilliance of the artwork on the screen and equally quickly bewildered by the massive maelstrom of information that Oshii asks us to take in within a very short time span.

In what I believe is typical manga style, the theme is quite adult (although arguably it's a bit teenage-boy-fantasy "adult") and considering the quite large amounts of fairly gratuitous animated nudity and fetishistic imagery this isn't one to watch with smaller people about. The shot above is from the opening sequence in which Major Motoko Kusanagi is created in a cyborg "factory". Kusanagi is the principal character, a security cyborg with entirely human thought patterns and characteristics (and a very shapely animated backside), whose task it is to hunt down The Puppetmaster which is a sentient viral program rather than an actual entity.

The Puppetmaster is the nominal baddie; but the plot is very thick and takes numerous twists and side-alleys - so your attention has to be maintained throughout to work out if the goodie vs baddie situation is really as straightforward as you thought.

The film's really clever trick, though, is in its more philosophical moments as Kusanagi bemoans her lack of true humanity whilst, actually and unintentionally, revealing it in conversation with her cyborg-human hybrid sidekick Bato.

The soundtrack is another highlight, Kenji Kawai's choral works adding a soaring and epic eeriness to the strange cityscapes and the unexplained machinations of the society held within them.

Oshii also nods knowingly in the direction of many great films from the past: Metropolis gets a definite sidelong wink in the "making of cyborg" scenes; Tron and The Lawnmower Man are there in the action sequences. In turn this film evidently influenced The Matrix and its offspring with its complex plotting and nightmarish world view. Yep - Ghost in the Shell is something of a masterpiece, in my 'umble, and very well worth the price of admission.

The film club scale, though, might beg to differ from my thoughts: Shazzerooneypoos didn't make a single wuffling noise but neither particularly liked nor followed the film and moaned lots about its incomprehensibility (mind you, Little Lush Lewis got confused by The Matrix, too). Dong wasn't there so however many fag breaks he took whilst heading to Wigan has no bearing in the issue in hand at all; Frankenkeith wasn't all that keen. Slocombe's pithy quote (and the film wasn't really "his scene") was something about section six (one of the government agencies implicated in the vastly complicated plot) being not very nice. I'm slightly rescued in my seemingly lone admiration for this film by Mrs The Millbrooker who, whilst not as enthusiastic (not as teenage-boy-fantasist?) as me certainly enjoyed the stunning visuals, the philosophic content and soundtrack.

In fact the soundtrack was pretty much unanimously liked.

Here's the opening sequence and credits complete with Kenji Kawai's fabulous choral "Making of Cyborg (chant I)" soundtrack, culled from YouTube.

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