Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Fantasia ’19: Ghost in the Shell Virtual Reality Diver (VR short)

Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the most beloved characters in anime—hence the strong emotions riled up by the “white-washed” casting of Scarlett Johansson in the live action Hollywood adaptation. Fans will be happy to see the real anime Kusanagi is back, but she only has fifteen minutes to save near-future Japan in Hiroaki Higashi’s Ghost in the Shell: Virtual Reality Diver, an immersive VR short that screened (or goggled) during the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

If it is your heart’s desire to freefall over a dystopian Tokyo than Diver is about as close as you can get, for now. The experience might make some headset wearers a little nauseous, but try to enjoy the scenery on the way down, because the panoramic 360 field of vision was rendered by Production I.G with their usual attention to detail and flare for spectacle. In fact, if you are not constantly looking around, you are missing out.

Fans also will not want to miss an original and entirely self-contained Ghost in the Shell story. Having the just completed her latest tune-up (more of a rebuild), the now entirely cyborg-ized (but fully conscious) Kusanagi is scrambled to defend a Kuzan peace delegation from terrorist Okitatsu Oribe. To do so, she will have to fight him both in physical reality and in cyberspace, both of which are pretty trippy to plunge into via VR.

Yet, maybe the coolest thing about Diver is that screenwriter Junichi Fujisaku and the I.G team still find ways to address the franchise’s over-riding theme: just what does it mean to be human in a cyber age? Kusanagi is keenly aware of her cybernetic status and the awkward fact Oribe’s weaknesses are rotted in his acutely human condition.

So yeah, there is some substance there, but the whole point is soak up the visuals and feel the rush. Clearly, I.G takes their bread-and-butter franchise world seriously, because they took considerable care translating it to a VR short format (still considered pretty gimmicky by a lot of folks). Although Ghost in the Shell: Virtual Reality Diver is now available on several VR platforms, many fans’ best chance to see it will during festivals, like this year’s Fantasia, where it was a selection of the virtual reality section.