More Than Just Film
Ghost inthe Shell (Japanese with English subtitles) & Daft Punk’s Electroma (with live soundtrack by The Winona Ryders). Thursday 16th February @ Winchester Discovery Centre.
About halfway into Werner Hertzog’s Antarctic documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, there is a heartbreaking moment which haunts the viewer long after the film ends. In the midst of the steady flow of penguins travelling back and forth from their nesting area to the fishing grounds in the open sea several kilometres away, the camera focuses on a single penguin stood perfectly still and seemingly deep in thought. The lone penguin suddenly turns and waddles, almost comically, across the vast frozen plain towards the mountain range on the horizon, some 80 kilometres away, and toward starvation and certain death. For days afterwards I found myself questioning the penguin’s motives. Was it bored with the daily grind? Was it lonely? Or was this in fact an act of inspiring empowerment, or self destruction, or both? The more I thought about it, the more I read into its simple actions complex behavioural patterns which have historically, and perhaps too exclusively, been termed as human.
The protagonists in the films we are screening at our next SuperCool Cinema event – Hero Robots #1 & #2 in Daft Punk’s Electroma (2007) and Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell (1995) – are also non-humans that cross social and geographical boundaries on journeys which they have little intention of returning from. Each are technological creations actively seeking religious experiences and profound transformations as they wrestles with unhappiness and unease with their present states.
Wearing Daft Punk’s iconic black leather suits and gold and silver helmets, the Hero Robots emerge from the desert and enter a small American town without context or explanation. Rather than struggling to fit into this isolated community, the problem facing them is forging individual identities in a society proliferated with technology. Their attempts to discover their private selves is portrayed as a quest to become human. Often wearing nothing at all, Motoko Kusanagi is a female cyborg assassin and major in a Tokyo anti-terrorist police unit. Despite her ruthless nature, Motoko is racked with doubts over whether or not she possess a soul (or ghost). Rather than forging an identity, Motoko dreams of transcending individuality and escaping the physical realm of the body to allow her soul to roam freely.
If a double bill of films about alienated and unhappy machinery sounds a bit too metaphysical then rest assured that there are plenty of thrills (cheap and more pricey) to be had. Ghost in the Shell balances its complex philosophical tone with explosive action. To quote James Cameron and Roger Ebert, it is both “the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence” and “filled with sex, violence and nudity”. Its ground-breaking blending of computer and cel animation creates dazzling cityscapes and wonderfully fluid action. Legend has it that in a bid to explain their vision for The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers showed film producer Joel Silver the extended action set-pieces which book-end Ghost in the Shell, telling him, “we wanna do that for real.”
Following in the footsteps of the internationally acclaimed Akira, Ghost in the Shell was the first anime to be simultaneously released in Japan, America and Europe, grossing half a billion dollars and making it the first anime cross-over hit. In stark contrast, Electroma was released only a handful of screens, gradually becoming a cult favourite through once-a-week midnight screenings in Paris and London. Since it was released on DVD at the end of 2007, Electroma has rarely been shown on a big screen, making the SuperCool Cinema event in February very special indeed. Making it even more special is the live soundtrack to the film that will be provided by The Winona Ryders, Winchester’s own saviours of garage krautrock (with occasional slap-bass).
Financed, written, directed and shot by Thomas Bangalter & Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (aka Daft Punk), Electroma is a very different type of experience to Ghost in the Shell but a visual feast all the same. Its dazzling cinematography and painterly use of colour and composition create hauntingly beautiful images such as sweeping desert vistas and the recurrent motif of fire. Just like the shot of our fiend the penguin, the simplicity and ambiguity of Electroma enables spectators to project onto the protagonists a range of issues regarding identity, alienation and empowerment.
To raise awareness for non-humans wrestling with such weighty issues, SuperCool Cinema have dedicated the event on 16th February to St Babbage, the patron saint of robots, cyborgs and supercomputers suffering from emotional disconnection. So don’t spit and cuss the next time your computer or work droid does something stupid. Everyone will feel much happier if you show it some love, take it out for a meal or give it a little kiss. But unless it’s a Coit-U-Bot 5000, or a recreational automaton with water-tight sealings, I’d draw the line there.