Original Release Date: November 15, 1995 Directed By: Mamoru Oshii Genre: Action, Science Fiction Based on the Series Created By: Masamune Shirow
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Ghost in the Shell. Reader discretion is advised.***
In the near future, electrons and light flow freely, and corporate computer networks eclipse the stars. Despite great advances in computerization, countries and races are not yet obsolete…
Section 9 is an elite task force that combats corruption, terrorism, and other threats. Operating in a society where people can interchange their body parts for cybernetics, the world has never before been so interconnected. Worryingly, that also means one tweak to the system can lead to disastrous consequences. It is the job of Section 9 to prevent such an occurrence.
Leading Section 9’s strike team is Major Motoko Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka). Most of Motoko’s body is robotic, to the point where only her consciousness is truly hers. However, there then comes the case of the Puppet Master, and Motoko begins to question this last bit of her humanity.
To find the answers she wants, Motoko will need to confront the mysterious Puppet Master, but doing so comes at considerable risk.
Ghost in the Shell was the kind of movie I needed to watch twice. To tell you the truth, I believe it will require a third, fourth, fifth-plus viewing to fully appreciate – if not understand – what this film’s story was trying to do. To offer some unasked advice, I would encourage people not to judge this one solely based on a first go-around.
To that effect, though, I have no qualms about saying Ghost in the Shell must have had something. After all, I don’t dread the idea of subsequent viewings. On the contrary, I want to know more about this story, its world, and its characters. I have been interested in this movie, as well as this entire franchise for some time. Now that I am starting it, I take comfort in believing that the other entries in this series could be incredibly fascinating and a ton of fun, as well.
There is an idea I put a lot of stock in. It’s the idea that any subject can be either dull or enlightening, not because of said subject’s inherent qualities but due to how it is presented. This applies to Ghost in the Shell since its narrative focused on what it means to be a living being with free will and desires. A deep topic for discussion, sure, and one that can be quite interesting. However, experience has proven to me that going down this particular road is difficult, and it can be easy for a story to lose itself in snooty philosophy-speak, not to mention confusing and hard to follow explanations.
Ghost in the Shell didn’t do that, to a point. I will admit that this story wasn’t the most straightforward, hence the need for multiple viewings. But it was through this movie’s presentation that its complexity became a strength rather than a weakness.
For starters, Ghost in the Shell (as of the posting of this review) is a little less than a year away from its 25th anniversary, and its animation has aged remarkably well. Along with that, the film’s music was both haunting and somber. To put it simply, it felt like I was watching a movie, not a made-for-TV anime, and I’m saying that was a positive.
But the thing that impressed me the most about Ghost in the Shell was its characters. Or, more specifically, how its characters interacted with one another.
It was no question that Section 9 was an elite task force that employed cutting edge technology and highly trained operatives. They could work, move, and execute their missions before their targets knew what hit them. And crucially, they all acted as such. No one on the team was there by mistake. Each of them was always aware of their surroundings, they could operate independently, and they knew their comrades would be quick to respond when they raised the alarm. What I’m getting at is, everyone knew what sort of world they lived in and treated it accordingly.
Now for those of you who are wondering what the hell I mean, I’m trying to say that I don’t like it when a story talks down to me. I find it frustrating when any narrative feels it needs to explain everything it is doing. I firmly believe most audiences can put two and two together, and many details can be inferred through character actions and dialogue.
For example, in Ghost in the Shell, agent Togusa (voiced by Kouichi Yamadera) was Section 9’s newest member, and unlike his colleagues, he didn’t have any cybernetic alterations to his body. Taking note of the disparity, Togusa asked Motoko why she recruited him to the force. Through Motoko’s explanation, we not only learned her reasons, but we also got the first glimpse into how she saw her own self. This exchange between these two characters felt real and organic, and neither of them was trying to play the narrator to us, the audience.
That was Ghost in the Shell’s greatest strength.
This story was complicated. Its subject matter was deep, and I’m not going to lie, I didn’t fully understand this movie after my initial viewing. It took coming back once again for me to get a better idea of what it had actually said and done. And to what this film didn’t do, it didn’t come off as pretentious. Ghost in the Shell talked more about confirming one’s own identity, using fear and danger to ground a person’s hold on their existence. This movie didn’t try to deconstruct the nature of humanity or any of those other topics that can quickly turn into a self-serving handjob.
Ghost in the Shell, despite being nearly a quarter of a century old, didn’t feel like a product of its time. So, although it might be a lot to take in at once, it is worth coming back to over and over again. That’s the mark of a pretty damn good movie if you ask me.
I want to begin this section by reminding everyone that I watched Ghost in the Shell before Stand Alone Complex (the first Ghost in the Shell TV anime). Along with that, we need to remember that there was a seven-year gap between the movie and the anime. Also, I am writing this review under the assumption that Stand Alone Complex is its own adaptation of the original Ghost in the Shell story and not a sequel to the film.
All that notwithstanding, I fully intend to watch this movie (for my own benefit) once I have caught myself up with the rest of the Ghost in the Shell series. Why? It’s because as things stand as I write this sentence, it will not matter how many times I watch this movie. If I don’t finish watching the franchise or if I don’t just sit down and read the original manga, there will be terminology I won’t understand.
I liked how much this movie didn’t exposition its way through the details of its story. As a consequence of that, though, many terms and word choices were lost on me.
For instance, it took me a good long while to fully wrap my head around what a ghost and a shell were and how they functioned together. To the best of my understanding, a ghost is an actual conscience of a human being that can be transferred to a cybernetic body, i.e., a shell. For Motoko, she feared that her conscience was not real; that it too was artificially created by a computer program. If that were true, it would mean she was never human.
Again, it took time for me to even come to that conclusion, and I’m still not sure if that is what the movie was trying to say.
Regardless, there were tons of examples where this film would drop a name or place but give no context as to what was being referred to.
To tell you the truth, this movie appeared to be adapting the main idea of its source material, but its source material was, most likely, a lot more complicated than even the film let on. Therefore, an 82-minute runtime simply wasn’t enough to get the full picture.
But do you know what might do a job better at that? A full-length twenty-six episode anime. Ghost in the Shell, the movie, was just opening the door, and let me tell you, I am now more than happy to go through it.
I have heard many people many times say this movie is a classic.
Well, I am hard-pressed to disagree with them now.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. It had outstanding animation, great music, and exceptional characters. Plus, the writing was as down to Earth as you can possibly get given the subject matter. It really is no wonder why this has stood tall over the years.
And if nothing else, this film has gotten me excited for the rest of the franchise.
Ghost in the Shell has earned a recommendation.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this film? How would you advise Ghost in the Shell? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and be sure to come back December 6th as Ghost in the Shell Month continues with Anime Hajime Review: Ghost in the Shell – Stand Alone Complex.