Ghost in the Shell and the films of Meiko Kaji - too immensely disparate areas of Japanese cinema - covering vastly different eras and mediums, yet conjoined in the fact they represent the subject matter for the first two in a series of new books which sees movie distributor Arrow branching out into new territory - albeit in the company of familiar friends. With these opening volumes in a series that promises further installments covering the likes of The Blair Witch Project, we are encouraged to sit back, relax and indulge in some leisurely reading, revisiting old favourites from new angles - with said book in one hand, and maybe a glass of something crisp and quite possibly alcoholic in the other.
The first of the two books sees esteemed Japanese cinema critic Tom Mes (perhaps best known for his work with Jasper Sharp on the site Midnight Eye, and its accompanying compendium book) casts a look back over the considerable filmography of cinematic icon Meiko Kaji - aka *the* Lady Snowblood, aka *the* Female Prisoner Scorpion. Before the likes of John Wick and Kill Bill, Kaji was the final word in ice-cold killing, and Mes lends a wonderfully lyrical style to his description and analysis of her career, transporting us back in time to a regal, decadent world of Showa-era Japan. You can almost picture the cigarette smoke hanging in the air, vintage tunes playing on the radio. As you read through - it’s clear this book is a real passion project for Mes, and his style is a strong match for a character of Kaji’s stature.
Turning to the Ghost in the Shell book, Osmond is undoubtedly a good writer too, and clearly knows his subject well - but in this instance, perhaps sometimes *too* well. While for the most part the book adopts a good balance between academic and populist tones, there are times when Osmond almost lapses into a fannish fervour, at pains to point out arguably unnecessary trivia or declaim another critic for getting it wrong. This kind of literary ‘showing off’ of amassed knowledge has always been one of the worst sides of anime discourse, and one feels a tighter edit of the book would have helped clean this stuff up. This reaches its nadir in the book’s mid sections which essentially admit to being sourced largely from a fan-run sakuga site - simply listing, entry by entry, Ghost in the Shell’s primary animators and their prior notable work. While it’s easy to agree with Osmond’s sentiment that these individual talents need more attention, this sudden shift into an encyclopedic style mode doesn’t gel well with the rest of the material presented here.
Thankfully, things are saved in the book’s excellent final section where it looks at the interesting angle of co-production behind the movie’s success, zeroing in on the fascinating origins of Manga UK in the early 90s. It’s here that Osmond’s research really hits its stride and feels excitingly original, pushing the story of the film’s genesis in a way that not only feels refreshingly British-centric, but also will certainly be of use to anyone looking to write scholarly material on the film in the future.
Examined together, the Meiko Kaji book definitely feels like the stronger of the two - it’s longer, feels more slickly organised, and comes with a rigorous filmography, discography, bibliography, index and other appendices that it would have been nice to see in the Ghost in the Shell book too (which feels a little too much like it was quickly rushed out to tie in with the release of the Hollywood live-action version). The font-size is also considerably smaller in the Kaji book too, giving it a more professional feel overall - it would be nice to see these small inconsistencies between the volumes potentially ironed out in future release of this kind from Arrow. The price is also potentially an issue - while the high quality of these books mark them out as a premium product, the £19.99 RRP is too high for volumes that clock in at a little over 100 pages.
All in all though, Arrow have presented an excellent couple of new additions to their range here - and it’s admirable to see them branching out from their core trade in DVDs and Blu-Rays. These books shine with a real high quality velour, with excellent design work and a general feel of care befitting true film buffs. In many ways, it’s amazing to think something like this hasn’t been done sooner - sure, companies like the BFI have done similar work in the past with their own series of companion books, but through virtue of these volumes coming from Arrow, they come with an inbuilt sense of the more artistically-inclined film fan, and for that audience, we’re certain there is a more than ample market for more in this exciting new series of books.