Thursday, September 23, 2004

Anime noobs

For years after 'The Matrix' came out, people would comment to me about how mind blowing the plot was. Of course, as a veteran of many an anime production, the most I could muster was "Yea, it was something else". Not to say I didn't enjoy the film, or even that the film wasn't revolutionary in many aspects, but the plot was hardly something that hadn't been recycled ad naseum through Japan's animation industry.

Low and behold, it looks like old James Pinkerton over at TCS is itching to relate his story about how the latest 'Ghost in the Shell' movie made him wet his drawers. I won't get into the idiotic political aspects of his article, but I'll touch upon the ludicrous, Anime Noob fawning that he shovels onto this film. While discussing that Sky Captain movie he notes:

To repeat: such backward-facing is emblematic of decadent cultures. Instead of looking ahead, to new challenges, cultures in decline look behind, to past glories. And meanwhile, as Satchel Paige put it, someone else is always gaining.

In contrast to the retro-message being fed to Americans, the Japanese are producing, and consuming, a different message. "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" was a big hit in Japan, but it's the itty-bittiest pea under the mattress of US pop-cult consciousness; released here on the same day as "Sky Captain," "Ghost" took in just 1/50 as much money. Too bad for us.
Now I admit, I have not seen the new Ghost in the Shell, but I have seen the old one several times. It's fairly typical anime fare with absolutely gorgeous art and a plot and dialog that makes your finger attracted to the stop button on the DVD player. It's yet another take of same ol' "intelligent being evolving from the computer" bit. Even The Onion, which is usually full of lavish praise for non-American cinema, notes in their review of the latest 'Ghost' film that if you've seen the first film, you've seen this one. (As an FYI, It's known that the Wachowski brothers of 'The Matrix' fame, not only used the original 'Ghost in the Shell' to sell 'The Matrix', but they also culled some ideas from it for their creative design).

The major, in 'Ghost in the Shell'

Mr. Pinkerton feels free to knock around the Sky Captain movie as evidence of a backward looking decadence. I'd like to point out, though, that his blind fawning over foreign flick is emblematic of being an America hating turd burglar. To add further insult to injury, he praises 'Ghost in the Shell' while using the Terminator movies, which are more or less based around the same plot idea, to take another swipe at American cinema (or something, I was losing interest).

What's particularly irksome, though, is that Mr. Pinkerton seems to think the idea of angst surrounding intelligent machines is not only original, but also that it's unique to Asia. The fact that this plot idea is literally 50 years old is something I've been waiting to get off my chest for quite a while . In 1965, Arthur C. Clarke published his short story Dial "F" for Frankenstein. In it, he tells about how the interlinked phone system at the time 'comes to life'. Oooooooh! Technology! BE AFRAID!

Of course, Japan doesn't sell these plots as new. Mr. Pinkerton ignores many of the cultural reasons such films succeed in Asia and he's all to eager to label Asian countries as forward looking and America as backward looking. Now I'd love to say in return that maybe if they made a live action 'Ghost in the Shell', Americans might bite; but unfortunately, they've already made 'The Matrix'.

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