Warning: this review may contain spoilers
What makes us human? Is it flesh and bones? Is it the soul? Is it just intelligence? What truly defines a person? Ghost in the Shell is about these questions and more. The story is set in a world where humans, cyborgs, and machines co-exist. But all this technology, all this computerization, does it leave anything ‘human’? Ghost in the Shell is a futuristic, psychological, cyberpunk film directed by Mamoru Oshii and based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. Apart from the classic cop vs criminal part, it covers many philosophical questions about humanity and individuality. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime films of all time and was the start of a tremendous series.
In the year 2029, advances in cybernetic technology allowed people to replace body parts and organs for robotic ones. Even the brain could be replaced with a cyber-brain with the ability to gain access to the Internet and different networks. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg agent working for the government, and her team have been given the assignment to track down the notorious hacker known as ‘The Puppetmaster’ and uncover his plans.
The story has a splendid pace, and I was in awe from the first minute. The tricky points are mostly in halfway of the film. It takes place in New Port city (a fictional city resembling Hong-Kong) and develops mostly around Kusanagi and her team, more specifically the second-in-command Batou, and Togusa. From the get-go, I was already intrigued. The first half of the film is mostly a cop-criminal chase, dropping some hints here and there. The intro gave a good insight into the Ghost in the Shell’s world and what to expect. Also, the Kusanagi creation scene featured some wicked stuff as it felt like a ritual; it made my hair stand on end. Shortly after ‘The Puppetmaster’ made his appearance, he ghost-hacked the Foreign Minister’s interpreter via telephone connection to perform assassinations. They traced down the source and a couple of suspects but sadly they were ghost-hacked as well. The case was a dead-end. I was really sad for the poor guys that were ghost-hacked, especially when they told them that the memories they had were not real but were actually just implanted and there was almost nothing they could do. Really sad.
The mood throughout the film was melancholy but it was suitable for the theme. It had a pretty good build-up and the story got more and more philosophical and had a good plot-twist. The ultimate question this film challenges us with is what it means to be human, as this is the existential crisis that Kusanagi faces. Having most of her body replaced by prosthetics, she is always doubting her own humanity. The classic machine-human portion of the movie was developed so smoothly.
The film reaches the home stretch with the appearance of the female cyborg which was recovered by Section 9, and is revealed to be ‘The Puppetmaster’ which he was trapped by Section 6 in that body. ‘The Puppetmaster’ awakened, and after a brief discussion about his creation, he requested asylum but was interrupted when Section 6 tried to kidnap him. Kusanagi, injured, finally meets face-to-face with ‘The Puppetmaster’. All the build-up came to a memorable closure. They connected their brains and revealed to Kusanagi the story of his creation and his purpose of living as a human. He was created as a ‘life-form born in a sea of information’ by Section 6 and his purpose at the start was to ghost-hack for political purposes. In time, he became ‘self-aware’ and developed the desire to live in a human body. As he thought the essence of humanity is to reproduce and eventually die, the reason he chooses Kusanagi was that they had a lot in common. He proposed to merge their ghost and Kusanagi to gain his abilities. Section 6 tried to stop them but failed. The merging was successful and a new Motoko Kusanagi awakened with an uncertain future ahead.
Art & Music
The animation and artwork are splendid and can be compared to today’s anime. The coloring of the characters and environment is a bit hazy but I think appropriate for the mood and tone of the film. If it lacks something, it is better character artworks but their movement animations are great. Ghost in the Shell used a novel process called ‘digitally generated animation’ (DGA), which is a combination of cel animation, computer graphics, and audio that is entered as digital data. In 1995, DGA was thought to be the future of animation.
The music was composed by Kenji Kawai. It contains mostly chants mixed with ambient music as well some orchestral elements. Even though it is so simple, I think it was really clever to use traditional music in this futuristic concept.
Themes & Trivia
Ghost in the Shell features various themes, the main of is humans’ coexistence with technology. There are also themes of sexuality, gender identity and other philosophical questions. What do we gain and what is been ‘taken away’? The director wanted to make it clear how it feels to not have an organic body: thirst, pain, fatigue, the desire to live for something new, the instinct to procreate were absent. There are several scenes where Motoko feels that sense of numbness, the detachment from her own being and human emotions.
New Port City
Oshii based the setting for Ghost in the Shell on Hong Kong. Oshii stated that his first thought to find an image of the future setting was an Asian city. He also said that Hong Kong was the perfect fit for the film with its countless signs and the cacophony of sounds.
Corinthians 13 11-12
The following dialogue which was first heard in the boat scene “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; Then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” and the following “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” are quotes from the Bible.
It’s a fact that Ghost in the Shell inspired many action scenes and technology features in The Matrix. There was also a rumor that Carrie-Anne Moss got the role because she resembled Kusanagi.
The writer, Masamune Shirow, wanted to use the name Ghost in the Shell as an homage to Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine, a philosophical psychology book from which he drew inspiration.
Ghost in the Shell is definitely one of the best films I have watched in a long time. It featured good action scenes, a great plot, and the animation was great for a 90s anime. I can even compare it to later films. It also had a cast of memorable characters. We don’t learn a lot about Motoko’s past and why she became a cyborg, but putting that aside, the film explored her absence of humanity and the numbness of not being human, her detachment from her body and soul, and more. The movie also explored the coexistence of humans and technology and how it affects us. I think you could also call it prophetic if we look at how the world is today. As Oshii once stated in an interview “I think it’s because before, people tended to think that ideology or religion were the things that actually changed people, but it’s been proven that that’s not the case. I think nowadays, technology has been proven to be the thing that’s actually changing people.” Couldn’t have said it better.
‘When I float weightless back to the surface, I’m imagining I’m becoming someone else.’
- Good plot and nice development
- Strong messages
- Great animation
- Memorable characters
I enjoyed every minute of Ghost in the Shell. It will probably not have you question your existence or purpose but it will definitely make your mind roll a bit. It’s a MUST WATCH film for all anime fans.
Ghost in the Shell