“And can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?” – The Puppet Master
Every once in awhile, a film comes along and kind of just punches you in the face. A film that calls for your attention and forcibly holds that attention for the films complete run time. For me, Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995) did just that.
As someone who has become bored with the same recycled, cookie-cutter plots that the Hollywood system pumps out every year, I was shocked to find a film that deals with complex issues like humanity’s ever expanding dependence on technology and also packs a punch like a good action-mystery movie should.
Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is widely regarded as one of the first big anime films to take the world by storm during the nineties. It achieved massive box office success and critical acclaim, and in doing so inspired many american science fiction films, namely: The Matrix (Wachowski,Wachowski, 1996).
Ghost in the Shell is set in a world where cybernetic enhancements have become the norm, where human bodies are simply “shells” which can be cast aside and replaced, and human consciousness has been digitized and transferred to the internet into and contained as a “ghost.”
These ghosts contain everything the human mind contains, namely people’s memories and their identity as a whole. However, since ghosts are connected to the web, they can be hacked. This means that people’s memories and identities can be completely altered by “ghost hackers” at any time.
The plot of the movie centers around a task force called Sector 9 devoted to hunting down ghost hackers. This team, lead in the field by a cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi, begins to clash with a dangerous ghost hacker known as the Puppet Master, sinking them into a dangerous game of deception and intrigue.
Ghost in the Shell is a really complex film, it deals with themes of existence similar to the way that Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) deals with love. Both films create an alternative situation that allows them to question the very nature of a complex idea through the facet of technology. Her deals with themes of love from the perspective of a relationship between a human and an artificial intelligence interface, causing us to question what love really is.¹
Ghost in the Shell takes this same idea from the frame of existence as, throughout the film, Major Kusanagi questions her humanity and existence.² This is reflected in Kusanagi’s dialog throughout the film, as she questions her existence and purpose with the members of her crew between missions.
Ghost in the Shell is beautiful, its background art encompasses the gritty feel of this dark, futuristic, world very well. The animation is fluid and precise, all of the characters movements seem natural and human, and the action is well
choreographed and stylized.
The soundtrack is also excellent, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the world perfectly while also adding edge and intensity to enhance scenes and emotions throughout.
The film does receive some criticism due to the nudity shown in the film, especially by the main character Major Kusanagi, some of this was even called to question by legendary film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.³ However, I would argue that Major Kusanagi’s nudity throughout the film is a great depiction of her struggles with her humanity, as she doesn’t quite see herself as human, and seems almost unaware of the societal standards surrounding nudity.
This film is a masterpiece. It is beautiful, thought provoking, intense, and it brings to light a dark and brilliant world that could potentially exist someday. Hopefully, this review compels you to check out the film, because not only is it one of my favorites, but it is an excellent jumping off point to the world of science fiction anime.