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'Ghost in the Shell': Philosophy, Explosions, and Identity

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interests are science fiction and zombie movies. I also enjoy pessimistic and survival films a lot.


In 2029 Asia, technology has assumed an even more fundamental role in everyday life. Each person’s thoughts, memories, and emotions can now be stored and transported as “Ghosts,” and can be placed on different cyber bodies called “shells,” which virtually guarantees that machines with superhuman abilities have consciousness. This technology, still not mass-produced, has revolutionized the military and medical fields. Thanks to the “ghost in the shells,” human organs are easily replaceable by improved synthetic counterparts.

Motoko Kusanagi, the leader of the assault team of the Public Security Section 9, is a full-body prosthesis, augmented-cybernetic human thanks to her “ghost.” Motoko, along with her partner Batou, is assigned to capture an elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master.

Ghost in the Shell begins as a story framed in the communion of tradition with new technologies. Hong Kong, perhaps the city that best represents that mix, is the obvious visual inspiration of the fictional city in which these characters live. The music, created by Kenji Kawai, marks the same tone. In the opening theme, called “Making of a Cyborg,” Kawai uses the ancient Japanese language of Yamato and a mixture of traditional Japanese notes and Folk Bulgarian for the futuristic message. And during the film, that communion becomes evident in scenes like the one where Motoko’s cyborg body is repaired with a mix of high technology and the ancient technique of acupuncture.

Of course, in a context where it’s possible to digitize human consciousness, the eternal debate about what makes us humans is an essential part of the narrative.


Since she has a fully cybernetic body, Motoko constantly doubts her own humanity. At times she believes that her “ghost” doesn’t really have any humanity but is the product of an artificial memory designed to deceive her into believing she is human. “The only thing that makes me feel human is the way I’m treated,” Makoto tells Batou, revealing in the process the Turing test as the possible single mechanism for certifying humanity.

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The Puppet Master, on the other hand, has the certainty that he/it is completely human. In an interrogation scene, the Puppet Master uses uncertainty as an argument; “A memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind.” Arguing further that he has the right to proclaim himself as a living entity like any other because of “the inability of science to determine exactly what life is.” Fallacy or not, the argument leaves his human interlocutors speechless and unable to refute his/its logic.


In its philosophical reflection on identity, Ghost in the Shell displays an additional puzzle about gender roles. Motoko’s body looks feminine and she sardonically jokes about having PMS, but her genesis, clinical and methodical, has nothing to do with fertilization but with assembly lines and synthetic liquids. Motoko has an androgynous face, asexual behavior, and a cybernetic body that can’t menstruate, reproduce, or die. The final twist, which deepens the relationship between Motoko and Puppet Master, further examines this topic.

Ghost in the Shell became a cinematic classic because all those philosophical statements were displayed with masterful easiness, in a wonderful animation full of explosions, bullets, and exploding bodies. It proved, like no other film, that an audiovisual work can be highly entertaining without sacrificing intelligence. It's no surprise that this Mamoru Oshii film is the direct influence on the Wachowskis' The Matrix, a film that ended up changing the industry.

Movie Details

Title: Ghost in the Shell

Release Year: 1995

Director(s): Mamoru Oshii

Actors: Atsuko Tanaka, Iemasa Kayumi, Akio Ōtsuka, and others

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