Ghost in the Shell (1995) / Animation-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for bloody violence, nudity, and language
Running Time: 83 min.
Cast (English dub): Mimi Woods, Richard George, William Frederick, Abe Lasser / (Japanese original language): Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Screenplay: Kazunori Ito (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow)
Review published February 10, 2000. Revised on March 30, 2017.
Yes, it's gorgeous animation. Yes, it's stylish direction. But what makes Ghost in the Shell stand out is that it's just damn good sci-fi. If you are a Blade Runner fan looking for another fix in the cyberpunk experience, Ghost in the Shell is just what you'll need.
Set in the year 2029, where human existence is interconnected with technology and the world has become one big network, hacking becomes the crime du jour. Section 9 is the bureau designated to crack down on the hackers and they have their hands full fighting the world's super-hacker kingpin, dubbed The Puppet Master. To combat technology, they use technology, with a police force comprised of cyborgs (dubbed 'shells') and human beings augmented by cybernetic parts to aid them in their investigative and combat skills against criminals who are using the same tech for their own devices.
Our main protagonist in Section 9 is a cyborg named The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, who soon discovers that the mysterious Puppet Master is called as such because of his/her ability to control people with the technology they have implanted within them, as well as his ability to implant and change their memories. The only thing that separates humanity from the replicas are the "ghosts", i.e. the consciences or souls that reside within humanity, though, as artificial intelligence grows more sophisticated, one wonders whether a something resembling a living entity can exist without a ghost within its shell.
A collaborative film effort between Japan and the UK, Ghost in the Shell is eye candy to be sure, but it's also intelligently written and conceived, and should please cyber-heads to no end with its atmosphere and concepts fleshed out on the screen. Elements of many sci-fi staples abound, including the aforementioned Blade Runner, RoboCop, and Predator. Fans of cyberpunk author William Gibson will find a good deal of influence on display here as well.
Although it isn't as fluid in movement as other animated features, the level of detail in the hand-drawn backgrounds (as well as the sheer number of them), as well as the use of 'lighting', shading, and perspective makes Ghost in the Shell an eye-candy delight. Also striking is the score of the film from Kenji Kawai, which mixes ancient tribal rhythms with futuristic electronic beats to perfect effect. Although many have tried to copy the look, feel and themes of Ghost in the Shell, the story still feels fresh and relevant today, especially as many of the warnings on how a connected techno-verse would also mean a loss of privacy, as information becomes a top commodity.
The film is still relevant today in this world where everyone is 'plugged in' to technology that has come to virtually define us all, but also in terms of its questions on the limits of artificial intelligence to run our lives, the invasive nature of government in prying into the everyday activities of its citizens using those devices, corruption of public officials, cyber-terrorism, the dangers of identities being stolen by hackers, as well as the age-old questions on what it is to be 'human', and whether that soul we claim to have is the one thing that separates us from animals and robots alike.
Despite its multitudinous influences, Ghost in the Shell is entertaining on its own terms, and is influential in the world of anime in its own right (anyone who has seen The Matrix must acknowledge its influence on the Wachowskis on a few of their basic concepts - as well as their own questions on the nature of gender and identity), with scores of imitators following suit. Though the dense philosophical plotting renders the film of limited appeal, Ghost in the Shell is a must see for anime-niacs, sci-fi junkies, and anyone looking for a very intelligent diversion. It's a must-see for anyone with even a passing curiosity on what anime has to offer.
©2000,2017 Vince Leo