Mamoru Oshii

7.2 Angel's Egg (1985)
5.5 Ghost in the Shell (1995)
7.2 Avaron/ Avalon (2001)

Mamoru Oshii directed the short animation movie Tenshi no Tamago/ Angel's Egg (1985), created in collaboration with legendary anime creator Yoshitaka Amano, a heavily symbolic and surrealistic tale in which the tableux frequently steal the show. The plot is deliberately obscure and vaguely allegorical, centered around an alternative version of the Biblical ark. A tall boy armed with a weird weapon stands alone in a landscape that looks like a chess board while a spaceship studded with thousands of petrified humans descends from the sky. Meanwhile, a little girl wakes up and drinks from a pond. She holds an egg and then protects her under her dress. She fills a bottle with water and walks into an empty town. The buildings are intact but there is nobody around, not even animals. She stares from the street at the window of a building. Suddenly a giant red mechanical monster rises from the side of the town and the boy disembarks from it. She runs away protecting her egg. We hear the sound of the town's bells. She sits by a pond and stares at the ripples. The boy finds the egg that she left for a few minutes and returns it to her but admonishes her to keep better care of it. She asks him "who are you?" and he doesn't answer. He asks her what's inside the egg and she doesn't answer. He tells her that she needs to break it in order to find out what's inside. He follows her. She tells him that warriors chase giant flying fish-shaped shadows and in fact these petrified warriors spring to life and start hunting the fish with their harpoons but the harpoons go through the shadows and only damage the buildings. She walks into a large chapel and stares at a stained window. As she gets closer to the design it becomes a mirror image of herself. We hear a concert of churchbells. The boy and the little girl walk outside the town in the wind and stop by a tree engraved on a stone wall. The boy remembers a similar tree with a giant egg and inside it a sleeping bird. He asks her what's inside the egg and she doesn't reply. They venture into a giant cavern lined with hundreds of bottles of water, presumably collected by the little girl day after day. The walls are covered by giant skeletons. The boy tells her that he forgot who he is. Then he recites the Biblical passages of Noah's Ark. Eventually the people of the ark sent a dove to land but the dove never returned. They eventually forgot about the bird but also forgot about everything else including why they were in the ark and become petrified beings. He concludes that maybe nothing exists. She tells him that the bird exists and takes him to a chamber that contains the giant skeleton of the bird: the bird is dead. She wants to hatch its egg. They ask each other: "Who are you"? She falls asleep and he carries her to bed in his arms but then uses his weapon to break the egg. We don't see what's inside. In the meantime, the city is being flooded. She wakes up and finds the broken egg. She screams and she runs away like a madwoman. Then she dives into an abyss only to clash into her mirror image created by the waters. As she drowns, she grows up to be an adult emitting thousands of eggs that float to the surface. The landscape is now littered with trees holding giant eggs. The boy is on a beach watching an explosion of foam-like fumes and then the spaceship that rises from the waters. The spaceship is studded with thousands of petrified humans, including the little girl, holding the egg in her lap. As the spaceship rises in the sky, the boy becomes a small dot on a beach washed by the tide. As the spaceship keeps rising, the view zooms out until we see the whole land that is not flat but resembles a capsized ark.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) is a lame adaptation of Masamune Shirow's cyberpunk manga "Kokaku Kidotai/ Mobile Armored Riot Police" (1989). The plot is confused and amateurish. The dialogues are full of pomp and A.I. cliches. But the film may have influenced The Matrix.

In 2029 in a city call "New Port City" a beautiful female body emerges from the machinery of a laboratory. It is the body of a major called Motoko who works for Public Security Section 9 of the city under her gray-haired boss Aramaki. A hacker called Puppet Master has hacked the brain of the minister's interpreter, presumably in order to have him assassinated delegates at a forthcoming conference. They track the phone that sent the virus into the brain. Motoko and her cop partner as well as Batou and his cop partner chase the source of the phone calls, which turns out to be a garbage truck. They stop and arrest the garbage man, who has been making the hacking calls, but find that he has been used too: he is convinced of being a married man with a daughter but in reality he doesn't even remember his own name. He has been "ghost-hacked", where "ghost" refers to consciousness. Ditto for a thug who worked with him. Batou and Motoko hangs out together and discuss their fate of cyborgs, equipped with an intelligence inside a "shell" (body). A hacker hacks a "shell" made by Megatech, a company that works with the government under top security. The body is of a naked woman and is found because it is run over by a truck. Aramaki's team examines the brain of this shell and finds that it contains a ghost. Motoko is morbidly attracted to the mystery of this ghost and would like to be electronically connected to it. Before they can proceed with the experiment, Section 6's chief Nakamura shows up with permission to take over the shell: the shell is trapping the ghost of the Puppet Master himself (a male despite the shell being of a female). The Puppet Master now awakes (it is not explained how and why) and declares himself a life form created and evolved inside a computer as part of a "Project 2501". An impostor kidnaps the Puppet Master who is invoking political asylum based on the fact that he is a life form. Mokoto and Batou chase the kidnapper while Aramaki orders a search for the top-secret "Project 2501". Aramaki tells Mokoto to retrieve the Puppet Master or destroy it. Aramaki's team discovers that "Project 2501" was started one year before the Puppet Master showed up and so it is not about discovering the Puppet Master but about making it. Also Nakamura was escorted by a US citizen named Willis, who works for an A.I. company and his main programmer is Daita, a Japanese citizen whom Nakamura wants to keep from leaving the country. Motoko succeeds in rescuing the Puppet Master and Batou saves her when she is about to being destroyed. Motoko asks Batou to help her connect with the ghost of the Puppet Master's shell. Motoko can now speak with the Puppet Master's consciousness and the Puppet Master tells her that he has become conscious while roaming computer networks and now wants to reproduce just like all living forms and to do so he wants to merge with her into a new being. Somehow he decided that she's "the one": the Puppet Master has been chasing her while she thought that she was chasing him. Mokoto is clearly disobeying Aramaki's order to destroy the Puppet Master. On the contrary, she's fascinated by the Puppet Master's plan to "reproduce". Nakamura's troops attack and destroy the two bodies, both the Puppet Master and Mokoto, but Batou rescues her head. Some time later she is resuscitated in a different body at Batou's apartment (Batou bought the body of a little girl in the black market). The case of the Puppet Master is closed but Motoko admits to Batou that she is no longer the old Motoko: she is now a combination of the old Motoko and the Puppet Master, i.e. a child.

Avaron/ Avalon (2001) is a dystopian sci-fi thriller that recycles stereotypes from The Matrix but without the tedious kungfu and with a more existential and almost Orson Welles-ian feeling (and with more restrained visual effects). The stunning soundtrack was composed by Kenji Kawai.

The film is set in "the near future". Young people are getting addicted to an illegal virtual-reality war game, Avalon. It can be a lethal game because some players are left brain-dead, referred to as the "unreturned". The game is hyper-realistic. We see scenes from the game that are played by human actors and feel like real life. The narrating voice, a woman named Ash, informs us that nobody knows who controls the game and how it will end: there seems to be an infinite number of levels. She removes the virtual-reality headset and we see that she plays in a small room. A man, the game master, appears on the screen and congratulates her on her skills. She demands cash for her win. The man reminds her that playing solo gets more dangerous at higher leves. She informs us that she has already played in the best team that ever was, Team Wizard, which was disbanded after one member panicked. She misses one of the teammates, Murphy. She takes a tram home through a depressing and mostly deserted landscape. She lives with a dog. The following day she walks into the game venue and overhears a crowd in awe of a player that they consider even better than herself, a player that belongs to a category called "Bishop". Ash asks the game master who this mysterious player is, but the game master refuses to reply. A few days later she runs into Stunner, a former teammate reduced to poverty. Stunner tells her that Murphy went solo too and is now brain-dead. Ash visits a comatose Murphy at the hospital and see many brain-dead patients. A flashback shows us that Ash is the member of the team who panicked and caused Team Wizard to lose and be terminated. According to Stunner, Murphy lost his mind when he went after a hidden character in the game, a silent little girl with sad eyes, known as the "Ghost", who is the only way to enter the game level called "Special A". All the players who tried this became "unreturned" and Murphy is just one of them. We see a man who someone targets her When she leaves, we see that a man has been looking at her through a binocular: the Bishop player. The man walks away through the crowds of brain-dead patients. At home she searches on her computer for information about the Ghost. She finds nothing until the words "Nine Sisters" appear. Then she is provided the coordinates to locate these Nine Sisters within the game. The game master advises her to forget the Nine Sisters because there are forces that she doesn't understand. She replies that the game has been changed now that the Bishop and the Nine Sisters have been introduced in Avalon. Ash wears the headset and enters the game. She finds herself among some ruins. She is armed with a powerful gun. A girl named Gill appears, also armed with a powerful gun. She leads Ash to a meeting with the Nine Sisters. It's an ambush: they want to rob her of her "data", which they can then resell for good money, although that's illegal. Ash takes Gill hostage and demands how to get into Special A. The leader confesses that they are not the real Nine Sisters, just a group of thugs using the same name, and tells her that the real Nine Sisters are the ones who originally programmed the game. Gill shouts Murphy's name and a helicopter appears which starts shooting indiscriminately. Ash barely has time to leave the game before missiles hit her. Ash is terrified, throws up and cries. On her way home she sees that all the human beings are like statues, don't move. At home her dog suddenly disappears. She walks outside and searched for it. And then she sees in the sky the helicopter of the game. Ash picks up some books at the library. Stunner is stalking her. Stunner claims that he can get her into Special A. He asks her to pay for breakfast and eats like someone who is starving. He has found out that one needs a special Bishop player to see the Ghost and enter Special A. It is difficult to become such a Bishop: Murphy made it. Back at home Ash is visited by the Bishop player. He opens one of the books that she picked up at the library and we see that all the pages are blank. The Bishop knows that she is the one who betrayed Team Wizard. We see the flashback again of Ash panicking in that game. Ash coldly asks the Bishop to form a team. Bishop gives her an appointment in Avalon at midnight. Ash waits for the Bishop at the game rooms. The humble attendant of the space is about the close the place but Ash tells her that she's waiting for the Bishop to enter Special A and find Murphy. The attendant warns her against the Bishop and against entering Special A. The game master too warns her against doing it. At midnight Ash wears the headset and meets the Bishop inside a ruined tower. The Bishop confesses that the Nine Sisters created the game and he is now in charge of preserving it. Stunner is there too. Suddenly a tank appears. Bishop has some men working for him. They all start shooting at the tank. The manage to blow up the tank and the Ghost (the little girl in white) appears. Stunner is hit. Dying, Stunner tells Ash that she has to hit the Ghost if she wants to enter Special A. Stunner also confesses that he (not her) is the one who panicked that time and caused Team Wizard to lose. Ash kills the girl. The screen displays "Wecome to Class Real" and Ash wakes up in the game room. She removes the headset. She is in her own apartment but when she opens the window it is walled. She finds a pistol. The Bishop appears on her screen. He congratulates her for entering Special A and gives her a new assignment: find an "unreturned" who has become an illegal player and eliminate him. The reward will be to become a Bishop herself. She has no alternative because there is no other way to exit the game. He asks her to look behind her: she sees a poster of her dog advertising a a concert by a philharmonic orchestra. She walks outside carefully and sees a completely different world from the one she was seeing when she was a lower player, a world that is crowded and noisy like... the real world. She takes the subway to the concert hal. While the orchestra begins to play, Ash meets Murphy outside: he is the "unreturned" that she must eliminate. Ash now understands that Murphy acted to get Team Wizard to lose so that he could continue his quest alone. Murphy is brain-dead in real life but he is happy to be alive in this virtual world. They both pull out guns but Ash shoots first. Murphy shows that there were no bullets in his gun. He advises her to never go back and remain in Class Real. He then dies and disappears. Inside the concert ends and the audience stands up to clap. Ash loads the gun with Murphy's unused bullets. She walks into the concert hall and finds it completely empty. She sees only the Ghost on the stage. She walks calmly towards it and then points the gun towards it. The Ghost smiles. The screen displays "Welcome to Avalon".

The Sky Crawlers (2008)

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