Home > Action, Sci Fi > Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

In a future of simulated experiences and hackable memories, what is reality? In a world where cybernetic implants and bodies are commonplace, what is humanity? In a city where robots and artificial intelligences exist alongside humans, what makes a soul?

Ghost in the Shell is an anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii and adapted from the manga of the same name by Kazunori Ito. Widely lauded as the first taste of adult anime for many Western viewers, it features the voices of Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, and Iemasa Kayumi.

Major Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg assigned as squad leader of Public Security Section 9, a division of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission. Because her body is fully synthetic, she can’t be sure that she still possesses a true soul, referred to as a “ghost”. She has been assigned to investigate a series of “ghost hacks” perpetrated by a hacker known only as “The Puppetmaster”, in essence altering and rewriting memories of humans that are then used as tools to carry out other ghost hacks. Things start to get weird(er) when a, unauthorized female cyborg body is suddenly assembled at Megatech. The cyborg escapes the factory, only to be creamed captured by Section 9, who studies it to try to figure out why it was built. They make a strange discovery as they analyze the cyborg: despite being completely synthetic, and therefore having absolutely no organic brain tissue, the cyborg body possesses evidence that it has a ghost. Kusanagi, for existential reasons outlined above, wants to contact this ghost, but it appears that a lot of people want to get hold of this entity for their own purposes, particularly since it appears that it is connected to the Puppetmaster and a mysterious Project 2501…

When some people think of anime, they imagine giant robot battle, pubescent superheroines in sailor suits fighting giant monsters, improbably powerful ninjas and martial artists, or tentacle rape of any of the above. While these are valid themes found in some anime works, Ghost in the Shell contains none of them. Instead, it is a beautiful, serious, occasionally talky but often philosophical sci fi drama exploring such concepts as humanity and life over a backdrop of virtual reality and computer hacking. As one of the first fusions of traditional cel animation and CGI graphics, Ghost in the Shell boasts beautiful scenery, smooth animation, an distinct character designs in a genre where corner cutting might otherwise lead to cookie-cutter characters distinguished only by clothing or hair color. The characters, though definitely drawn in the anime style, don’t feel as stylized as some characters I’ve seen, and their expressions are subtle. Scenes where Major Kusanagi goes into action are well-rendered and smooth, and although there is some nudity in this film, it is tastefully invoked, and never used sexually.

While the plot is complex, it had to be condensed a lot from the source manga for length reasons, trimming out pretty much all the subplots except for the Puppetmaster story. Although I haven’t read the manga, it doesn’t seem that this distillation really hurt the movie much. The philosophy and Buddhist topics and imagery provide the necessary depth to keep this from becoming Transhumanist Philosophy for Dummies, and the idea that neural implants are so commonplace that a skilled hacker can just dip in and mess with your memories is plausible (and frightening) in the world that Oshii has created. Combine this with the idea of life developing in the other direction – that a being that was synthetic from the start can develop a soul – and you’ve got a neat little exploration of what it is to be human, seen through the respective eyes of Kusanagi and Project 2501.

For many current anime fans, Ghost in the Shell was one of their first samples of what can be a complex and beautiful genre. While the plot can be complex, it also hints at a greater world beyond it, the world explored in greater detail in the manga. I highly recommend this for anime newbies and fans alike.

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