Production I.G.’s action spectacular 009 Re: Cyborg is directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who brought us Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East. It’s set in a cataclysmic present, as skyscrapers round the world are toppled by a wave of suicide bombers, driven by a divine voice – “His Voice” – calling for humanity to start again. Our best hope: a team of nine cyborg heroes, upholding justice and world peace. Expect jetplanes in the clouds, firefights on the ground, mushroom clouds, some very funky cyborg superpowers, and an invisible enemy. To borrow the terminology of Production I.G.’s president Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, 009 is a ‘strong black coffee’ anime.
Of course, the I.G. studio has been depicting super-powered cyborgs since the original Ghost in the Shell back in 1995. 009, though, uses a much older cyborg team. In fact, its cyborgs were invented by the seminal manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori in 1964, which means they’re part of the same generation as Sean Connery’s James Bond and the Man from UNCLE. But the cyborgs have always been adaptable. Ishinomori himself tailored them for boys’ magazines, a girls’ magazine, an adult, avant-garde magazine, and even a magazine aimed at nostalgic fans of the earlier incarnations! Ishinomori died in 1998, but the cyborgs live on – the artist’s son revived them in a novel, and the most recent TV version played in 2001.
In Britain, the characters aren’t well known, but any Production I.G. fans will feel at home all the same. Here’s why…
THE TECHNOLOGY. At first glance, Re: Cyborg 009 looks like a “traditional” Production I.G. anime. It’s not. It’s actually animated in CGI, like the studio’s Oblivion Island, but it’s been manipulated to look like the 2D style we know and love. The big bonus is that the film’s designed to look great whether you’re watching it in a standard screening or though 3D glasses which let the jet planes and urban skylines stand out of the picture. It’s a canny balance – it’s clearly anime as old-school fans know it, yet it offers the 3D spectacle that Western multiplex audiences expect from animation.
Production I.G. has a proud history of computer innovation. When it made the first Ghost in the Shell in 1995, the studio scanned and digitised hand-drawn animation to help emulate live-action cinema, with camera-shake, background distortions and lens flare. By Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, painted backgrounds were “projected” onto computer-generated 3D geometry, with the artists paying incredible attention to the multiple textures in a single shot. That same perfectionism is still there. If you look at the trailer above, you’ll notice a shot (at 1-47) where a lovely woman emerges from a computer device. It was initially made using computer animation tools; however, animator Daisuke Suzuki decided it wasn’t beautiful enough and adjusted it by hand.
THE MUSIC. It’s by Ringu composer Kenji Kawai. While he’s provided music for a great many anime – for example, the recent Towanoqon – his association with I.G. goes through the decades: the Patlabor franchise, both cinema Ghost in the Shells, The Sky Crawlers, Eden of the East, Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit…
THE CYBORGS. As we’ve already noted, Production I.G. have quite a track-record when it comes to depicting superpowered cyborgs! The girl in the trailer may be Cyborg 003, the beauteous Francoise, but take a look at her scanning the net and blithely falling from an aircraft and you’ll think of Major Kusanagi. Some other touches feel very GITS. For example, hero Cyborg 009 (Joe to his friends) begins the film with amnesia, repeating his schooldays over and again in a cyborg limbo. It’s completely in line with all those brain-hacks, mind-manipulations and identity crises in Ghost in the Shell. A cyborg’s life is never simple…
The team in 009 has a wise-old-man mentor, the aged Professor Gilmore, who recalls the indomitable Aramaki in Ghost in the Shell. Arguably, both characters are descended from Doctor Ochanomizu, the mentor and big-nosed father figure of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy.
The other cyborgs are:
001 (aka Ivan), a telepath frozen in the body of an infant, complete with pacifier! If his voice sounds familiar, it belongs to actress Sakiko Tamagawa, who voiced all those loveable beetle-like Tachikomas in Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, and the eternally helpful Juiz in Eden of the East.
002 (aka Jet), previously a pivotal member of the team. He can fly at supersonic speeds, and is perhaps the character who most resembles an American comic-strip superhero when we see him revealed in his “pure” cyborg state. At some point in the past, though, Jet has had a bitter falling-out with the team, and has quit it to work for America’s National Security Agency. His issues with Joe are a big part of the story.
004 (aka Albert). The German team member. He self-deprecatingly calls himself a Cold War relic, but still manages to pack an astonishing amount of firepower into his fingers. (Yes, his fingers.)
005 (aka Geronimo), a hulking Native American. Looking at his physique, we wonder if he has a brother called Batou.
006 (aka Chang), a bluff Chinese who can set the world on fire. He works especially well paired up with the Teutonic 004.
007 (aka Great Britain): Need we say that he’s the British player in the team? Jovial, shapeshifting, and deadly if he gets you in a hug.
008 (aka Pyunma), the African team-member. Unfortunately, plot developments mean that we don’t get to see his powers in the film, but his archaeological investigations are crucial to the story.
009 RE: Cyborg is coming soon on a limited release in the UK and Eire, and can next be seen in Dublin this weekend.
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