Saturday, April 23, 2005

Gratuitous Robot-on-Robot Sex

I rented the movie Ghost in the Shell by one Mamoru Oshî, which, if the title, director's name, and cover didn't give it away, is a work of Japanimation from the late nineties. The box even has a purple little "Japanimation" sticker on it. I've never been a fan of anime, or science fiction in genral, and it didn't take very long before the whole futuristic dystopia angle, drawn in dark, unsaturated hues and full of dialogue about "cybers" and "ghost hackers", became tiresome. Our present-day dystopia is much more agreeable, although the soundtrack kind of sucks. GitS (maybe we can come up with a better acroynm for it) has an amazing, hypnotic soundtrack that isolates the cyberworld from the action in the story, slows it down, and turns it towards introspection, as if you shouldn't get too caught up in the animated sex and violence to seriously ponder the issues of identity and humanity Oshî explores. It's the soundtrack that accompanies absinthe and Castaneda.

Problem is that science fiction and fantasy never really communicates what it means to communicate, sort of like a dissertation. Like there's this guy cyborg who wants to — and note the linguistic acrobatics here — "merge" with a female cyborg and the female worries about "losing her identity" by doing so. What does that even mean? No, really, what can that possibly mean? They're not alive so much as they're manufactured, so they have no more identity than a table or a coffee maker does.

And why would you even manufacture robots with specific genders? (I mean, aside from the obvious, perverse reason.) That's my biggest problem with the film: it hits these notes where they're obviously faking it. It's like something I would've written back in high school, detail for detail. There's the sophomoric pseudo-philosophy naively re-inventing the wheels G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, and John Searle already built. There's the gratuitious single white female nudity, the shame and fear of non-procreative sexuality keeping the characters from any real sex ("merging" only highlights the pussiness that went into the film design), going so far as to give the female leads men's faces as if Photoshop is more fun than masturbating. There's the violence and close-ups of big guns.

High-school-me, or present-day-me for that matter, could never have conceived of the stylization, which is where Oshî and his animators shine. The Postmodern Japan they present is always uncomfortable and intimidating, and technology creeps onto the scene even where it's not wanted. It's wet even when it's not raining. Wherever you are, the urban landscape is rotting and a sparkling crystal city hovers in the background, way out of reach. It's the one area where the film takes its hysterical realism seriously and the one area that really resonates.


Anonymous said...

weep for me jay- i was forced into taking a film class in order to graduate and i saw one entitled "japanese animation." "hurray! cartoons!" i thought, but as you now know, anime is nothing more than a descent into madness. 3 months of terrible films later im now writing a paper on Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (ironically this film has taken my precious innocence away from me). its horrible. horrible! so anyways, just thought it was topical that you had seen the film that i had seen and like stuff you know?

well take it easy and keep writing so that i may entertain myself with other people's stories.


Jay said...

Leave a paragraph in your paper about how anime reflects techno-centric Japan's fears of conflating Confucian tradition in the modern world. Professors just eat that kind of crap up.