Prepare for the live action Ghost in the Shell with these dark and beautiful anime classics
Last week, five ‘viral teasers’ were unleashed for the upcoming live-action adaptation of anime classic Ghost in the Shell. True to their name, the teasers razed the internet. People lost their shit. New trailers were cut together by fans with the original anime’s bleating soundtrack. The short clips were quickly dissected by film geeks everywhere. Every second painstakingly analysed. To now call Rupert Sanders’ version starring ScarJo as The Major highly anticipated would be an understatement.
Although the fanbase for the original anime is cautiously approaching the remake, there are still those who may be coming to these teasers without background knowledge of what they represent, kind of like those kids who wear The Smiths t-shirts and have no idea what “How Soon Is Now?” sounds like. Underneath anime’s surface layer of cheery Studio Ghibli lies a much, much darker side. For those casual fans just discovering the mature underbelly of anime via these new Ghost in the Shell teasers, here is a crash-course in X-rated, high production anime to adequately prepare yourself for the cyberpunk adaptation.
GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)
This should go without saying, but it would be criminal to see Sanders’ 2017 adaptation of Ghost in the Shell without seeing the 1995 original upon which it is based. The film so heavily influenced the Wachowskis while making The Matrix that they had to ask permission from the director to continue filming their era-defining sci-fi blockbuster.
Ghost in the Shell follows The Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind cyborg who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotics’ advancements in cyber technology. The opening credits sequence is widely considered to be one of the best of all time. The soundtrack – which employs an ancient Japanese wedding song to heighten the blistering drama – is so left-of-centre it’s a thrill to see it work in tandem with the animation it serves. It’s like the onion of anime: the many layers that make up the film mean that even after several watches there is still more to discover.
Akira – Katsuhiro Otomo’s magnum opus – is still held up as the best anime film of all time. In the late 80s, anime was considered a diversion for children and a predominantly lowbrow artform. Otomo changed that perception with Akira, a film set in 2019 neo-Tokyo. It follows Tetsuo Shima, a teenage biker who begins to realise he has psychic powers. The government, repped by a stern asshole called the Colonel, attempts to hospitalise and control him, but he is tortured by visiting espers.
With a massive budget of 1.1 billion yen, Akira was able to employ 68 animators who used an unprecedented 327 colours to animate the film. Another breakthrough lay in the dialogue, which was recorded prior to animation, meaning that mouths moved along with the voice actors – a landmark accomplishment at the time.
NINJA SCROLL (1993)
“Don’t let it cross your mind that I wouldn’t mind raping a dead girl,” is one of the choice lines uttered by a giant stone man in one of the more violent anime films on offer. Ninja Scroll is lauded for its beauty, but generally remembered for its unfettered brutality. The film is about a sell-sword named Jubei, who seeks a cure for a poison. He eventually comes across a group of demonic killers, the leader of which is a rival he thought he had already killed.
The one-and-a-half-hour run time is replete with blood-soaked violence, more than earning the film its 18+ rating. (Blood literally rains down in one scene.) Along with Akira and Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll rounds out the quasi-trilogy of mature-themed anime films that were successful in the west upon their release. Ironically, it was more successful in the US than in its native Japan.
Split into three distinct episodes, Memories is a sci-fi anthology executive produced by Katsuhiro Otomo, who directed the groundbreaking Akira seven years earlier. The film is set in 2092. The first of three installments, Magnetic Rose, is generally acknowledged to be the best. Four space travellers chance upon an abandoned ship, which houses an entire world created from one woman’s memories. Stink Bomb, the second, is about an exceedingly dumb lab assistant named Nobuo Tanaka who accidentally transforms himself into a biological weapon. And the third, Cannon Fodder – directed by Otomo – follows a young boy and his father whose livelihood depends on loading and firing cannons at an unknown enemy.
The film is influential because it was a polygamous marriage of first-rate talent at the time: Satoshi Kon (the man behind Perfect Blue and Paprika), Tensai Okamura (Jin-Roh, Wolf’s Rain), Kouji Morimoto (Mind Game, Akira), and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Metropolis). The film borrowed some sound effects from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). The animators used a 3D holo-layer technique – also used in Ghost in the Shell – never before seen in animation up until that point.
JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE (1999)
On the slower side of things, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade was directed by the key animator of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, Hiroyuki Okiura. It divided critics, plenty of whom weren’t pleased with its slow-burn, realist storytelling. This movie is dour, to say the least, but rife with gun porn for second-amendment diehards. A suicide bomber that policeman Fuse fails to kill before she blows herself up leads to his suspension. In an attempt to gather more information around the bomber, he speaks to her sister and the two become friends, causing unsurmountable tension between the police and counter-terrorism commando unit Jin-Roh.
Originally destined for a live-action film, Jin-Roh was siderailed to an animation due to budget constraints. However, that didn’t stop production from putting together a crack team that was accused by critics of using rotoscoping techniques (tracing over live-action footage to create more realistic action sequences) to animate the film’s heavy action. The director responded by saying it was both an “insult and compliment” to his animators.