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What a joy it is to see the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex mythology capped off so exuberantly and intelligently—at least, for now. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society (which has easily the longest title of any release this year) is a fitting culmination for what was created by the two seasons of the Stand Alone Complex TV shows. It has enough plot to fill a whole season of TV, skillfully and efficiently condensed into a single two-hour movie, but it never loses sight of the pole stars in the GITS cosmology of ideas: the tension between the individual and society; the way our lives and worlds are technologized with unforeseen consequences; the way this technologization gives rise to new orders of existence within and without us. And it’s also a great movie, period: fast-moving, gorgeous to watch, loaded with things that improve on repeat viewings. I also couldn’t ignore multiple parallels—thematic and visual—between SSS and the very first Ghost in the Shell film, right down to the images in the final shot and Kusanagi’s prescient closing lines.
Solid State Society opens some time after the end of the second season of Stand Alone Complex, and features many of the same characters. Togusa, the family man and former greenhorn, is now the mature and determined field commander of Section 9, leading Bateau, Ishikawa, Boma, Pazu, and all the other members of that elite outfit while himself taking orders from “the old goat”, Aramaki (himself a right-hand man to Prime Minister Kayabuki as per the 2nd GiG plotline). As for Motoko Kusanagi herself, she resigned four years ago and has “gone off the grid” for reasons unknown, much to the chagrin of the rest of the crew. “Her talents were as rare as ESP,” Aramaki laments, although apparently just as difficult to predict. We also find out that Bateau was offered Togusa’s post and explicitly declined it, and as much as Bateau admires his former teammate’s prowess it’s also clear he’s biting back a great deal of jealousy for what could have been.
There’s an immense amount of plot to keep track of, so much so that it is almost beside the point, much as in the movie Syriana. What mattered was the sense that everything was interconnected, that cutting one wire breaks a dozen lifelines. The opening scenes feature a wave of elder statesmen apparently being compelled to commit suicide under the manipulations of someone called “the Puppeteer,” a hacker so fiercely powerful that even Section 9 is disturbed by what he’s capable of. The Puppeteer’s antics are tied into a whole galaxy of other happenings that are fired at us like fastballs from a pitching machine: a possible attempt to smuggle a micromachine-induced plague into Japan; a group of children who received prosthetics under mysterious circumstances; a set of back-channel political compromises involving a controversial refugee amnesty bill; an attempted hack of one of Section 9’s own men. You could lose track of it all—and many people probably will—but the script is sure-footed and confident enough that you never feel like the filmmakers themselves are lost as well.
While following a possible lead, Bateau runs into the last person he expected to see: Kusanagi herself, fending off an attack by a crazed man (one of the same aforementioned group, possibly targeted for death) tearing apart an entire building complex in a robot tank. Bateau helps save her neck, and in return she “borrows” his car and leaves him with a warning: “Stay away from the Solid State Society.” Bateau ends up hiding the details of the meeting from his comrades—possibly out of some misplaced sense of ongoing loyalty to her, especially since after her retirement she’s helped from the sidelines from time to time in her own silent way. But what’s going on now?
More threads tie together, slowly, in one strikingly-assembled sequence after another. In one of the best action set-pieces for the film, a sniper gives Saito (the sharpshooter of the gang) and Bateau a runaround—only to discover that the intended target may have simply been arranging to ice himself…or that something even more sinister and perverse might be happening. Then Togusa has a run-in of his own with a member of the “Solid State”—a senior citizen hooked up to an advanced life-support and nursing network for the aged. The network does more than just care for the infirm, however: it also abducts children and “recycles” them by erasing their memories and providing them to new parents.
When Togusa’s own daughter is abducted by a cyber-hacked Togusa himself, he is given a gruesome choice between letting his memory of his daughter being erased and simply killing himself. The way that scene plays out is guaranteed to leave everyone wiping their palms on their pants legs by the time it’s over, partly because there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t see one of the canon characters die for something that important. The last thirty minutes of the movie as a whole also unfold with the speed of an action movie and the complexity of the best fiction, and the way all these elements of the story are introduced and developed is right in line with how the Shell / Complex continuity has always dealt with the way human life, society and technology all intersect. What I’ve always admired most about the show was how the future it depicted was not unrecognizable: people still drove cars, ate food, worked at jobs, saved for their retirements, and committed crimes.
Solid State Society would not work nearly as well as it does if it didn’t take the time and energy to give us characters worth knowing and caring about. Consider Aramaki, someone who has been married to his duty for so long that devoting himself to anything outside of that seems faintly absurd. At one point an advisor wonders aloud why he hasn’t remarried, and his answer speaks volumes: “I decided long ago I would never own anything I couldn’t take to the grave with me.” Also Kusanagi, the Major herself, with her multiple prosthetic bodies and that Mona Lisa smile that we’ve all come to know and love. She returns to the story at a most unexpected moment, and it’s a toss-up on our part whether she chooses to confront the Puppeteer alone out of ego or because she’d rather not let him take the first crack at her former teammates. And then at the end the mask slips more than it has ever before, and we see that she has a vulnerability that only an elect few get to ever know about. Lucky us.
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New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind