Ghost in the Shell (1995) Review
What is Ghost In The Shell?
First, I'm glad that I was able to finally experience the phenomenon of Ghost In The Shell for myself. I can now recount firsthand what makes it so special. Ghost In The Shell is a 1995 Japanese animated science-fiction film based on the manga created by Masamune Shirow. The plot follows public-security agency Section 9 as they hunt for the cyber-terrorist called the Puppet Master. Section 9 agent Motoko "Major" Kusanagi and her team are given the mission to track down the Puppet Master only to be drawn into his web of political and philosophical ideals. The themes featured in the movie are of self-identity and military strength in an advanced and technological world. The movie was directed by Mamoru Oshii and written by Kazunori Itō. And animated by Production I.G. It stars the voices of Atsuko Tanaka (Kusanagi), Akio Otsuka (Batou), and Iemasa Kayumi (The Puppet Master).
People Love Machines In 2029 A.D.
The story of Ghost In The Shell takes place in an turbulent, alternate future where humanity's interest in technology has allowed them to create their own cybernetic world filled with robots and androids. Consequently, there's a huge rise in cyber-terrorism. Everything is interconnected in a vast network. Two more World Wars (III and IV) have made sure that only powerful nations thrive. As a result, many areas around the world have succumbed to balkanization.
Through shells (cybernetic bodies), people can be given a second chance at life. Whether it be better eyesight, superhuman abilities, or sometimes rebirth. The term "Ghost In The Shell" comes from the person's consciousness (ghost) inhabiting a robotic body. The mysterious cyber hacker known as "The Puppet Master" is dangerous because he has the ability to take control of other cybernetic bodies. It is up to Major Kusanagi and her allies to track him down and find out who he is and what is goals ultimately are.
The story's dialogue carries heavy philosophical tones centered around the topic of self-identity. The Puppet Master himself (despite actually being A.I.) identifies himself as "a living, thinking entity that was created in the sea of information." The film covers the topic of identity in a society where people are losing their identity. The easiness of augmentation and the abundance of A.I. is causing the humanity to become less sentient.
Technology has dominated everything and what it means to be human is being forgotten. Major Kusanagi describes herself perfectly when she says, "[t]here are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind...[s]ure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me..." Her background is obscured, but she knows she's different. She knows she's an android with a purpose to kill or eliminate, However, that doesn't stop her from questioning her existence. However, too often does the existential dialogue dampen the energy of scenes. The story's philosophical nature can be the movie's greatest strength or weakness.
The film's use of nudity (or the appearance of nudity) is nuanced. Kusanagi has a synthetic, full-body prosthesis and is outfitted with cybernetic parts. Needless to say, her body is unique. However, nudity is used throughout the film not has an excuse to sexualize her. Sure, her buttocks are exposed. However, the full-body prosthesis doesn't have her nipples colored. Or, the details of her genitalia on display.
The nudity is a metaphor for sexual freedom. The characters (especially Kusanagi) are not embarrassed by their nakedness. In fact, she doesn't seem phased by it. Another thing worthy of mentioning is how the female body is depicted. Kusanagi's body is not slender but strong and muscular. She's a woman and her body exudes power in every way. This doesn't apply to just Motoko but to the other nude bodies depicted the movie as well. They are not objects to be admired but instead individuals.
The film's animation is gorgeous as it combines cel animation and computer graphics. The beauty shows in the film's hand drawings and hand painted cels. The colors whether it be on the characters themselves or in the background, stand out. The animation has a certain texture and vibrancy of 90's classic anime. As a result, everything is crisp and clear. For instance, the Major's eyes are cold and serious. And it is conveyed through the icy blueness, elegantly colored in her stare.
The cinematography works extremely well with the megalopolis depicted in the film. The backgrounds are splendidly cel animated. There are vertical highways, congested alleyways, and flooded streets. The luminosity of the cel animation is seen in the backgrounds just as much as in the characters. The level of detail is paramount and adds to the story as well.
The movie's science fiction elements help create a movie that is truly memorable. To start, the society shines through the many technology advancements shown. There are cyber brains, which are brains that self contain information so that a person's consciousness could be transferred to another body. Cyborgs (like Major Kusanagi) are made entirely of synthetic prosthesis and cybernetic parts with only a human brain intact. Electronic brain conversations in which their mouths are still. The ability to hack into other people's ghosts (minds). And Think tanks which are tanks outfitted with A.I. There's more, but my point is the movie focuses on those science fiction elements to bring forward its cyberpunk narrative.
Music & Sound
The music and sound design is high quality and appropriate to the film's atmosphere. The chorales are haunting and even create a sense of holiness. And the timely hitting of the drums combined with the chorales gave birth to something entirely new—sacred even. The film's sound design according to the extras in the Ghost In The Shell DVD, used a high end studio. Spatializers were used to modify the voices for the electronic mind conversations. Perhaps, this is also the time to comment on the film's English dub. The dub is well done but unfortunately (or fortunately) retains the cheesiness of 90's films.
Ghost In The Shell (1995) is highly regarded (by most) as one of the best animated films out there. However, that doesn't mean the film isn't lacking in certain parts. There is not enough action in the film to balance the amount of existential dialogue in the movie. Sometimes the film feels like it's giving you one big lecture. Their is a lot of story to digest but not enough action. However, come and indulge in this film and you'll walk away with a new appreciation for animation.
Ghost In The Shell (1995) is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and other streaming platforms.