Should I Watch..? 'Ghost In The Shell' (1995)

Updated on April 18, 2019
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.

Film's poster
Film's poster | Source

What's the big deal?

Ghost In The Shell is a Japanese anime film released in 1995 and is based on the manga series of the same name created by Masamune Shirow. The film is a cyberpunk thriller following a cyborg security agent on the trail of a notorious hacker known as the Puppet Master. It became the first anime film to be released simultaneously in Japan, the US and Britain as part of a strategy to increase the global appeal of anime films. The film is also notable for combining traditional hand-drawn animation with CG. Initially a box office disappointment with global takings of just $10 million, the film became a cult hit via home release and went on to influence a number of filmmakers including the Wachowskis who were heavily influenced when they produced The Matrix. It has since gone on to become recognised as one of the best anime films of all time. Please note that the version of the film I watched was in its original Japanese with subtitles and not the English dub as seen in the trailer.

Unmissable

5 stars for Ghost In The Shell (1995)

What's it about?

In the near future, cybernetics allows the human body to become augmented or even replaced by cybernetic parts. It also allows the creation of the cyberbrain, a mechanical casing around an organic brain that allows the user to connect to the Internet and other networks. One such individual who has undergone extensive cybernetic enhancement is Major Motoko Kusanagi, an operative with the elite law enforcement Section 9 organisation, who has undergone a complete body-replacement and had her consciousness (known as her "ghost") transferred into the new body.

Together with her cyborg partner Batou, they are tasked by Section 9 chief Daisuke Aramaki to investigate a ghost-hacking on the Foreign Minister's interpreter which is being linked to the internationally renowned hacker known as the Puppet Master. After pursuing two suspects, they make a chilling discovery - Megatech Body, a government-affiliated producer of cybernetic bodies, has been hacked and a body escapes from the facility. What's even worse is that when the body is found, it appears to contain a human ghost in it's computer brain...

Trailer (English dub)

Main Cast

Actor
Role
Atsuko Tanaka
Major Motoko Kusanagi
Akio Ōtsuka
Batou
Iemasa Kayumi
The Puppet Master
Kōichi Yamadera
Togusa
Tamio Ōki
Chief Aramaki
Yutaka Nakano
Ishikawa
* voice performance

Technical Info

Director
Mamoru Oshii
Screenplay
Kazunori Itô*
Running Time
83 minutes
Release Date (UK)
8th December, 1995
Rating
15
Genre
Action, Animation, Thriller
*based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow
Much like 'Blade Runner', the film offers a deep exploration on the nature of humanity vs technology as well as reversing traditional gender roles.
Much like 'Blade Runner', the film offers a deep exploration on the nature of humanity vs technology as well as reversing traditional gender roles. | Source

What's to like?

Having grown up watching old school anime like Golgo 13: The Professional and Vampire Hunter D, the first thing I noticed about Ghost In The Shell was the standard of animation which has improved in leaps and bounds over those earlier movies. The seamless blend of old techniques and modern technology mirrors the film's setting, a partially flooded metropolis with decaying urban landscapes and illuminated by bright neon advertising. It's a gorgeous film to watch, especially during the film's action scenes where you can most obviously see where the Wachowskis got most of their ideas for the lobby shootout in The Matrix. Despite the technobabble dialogue, you understand who these characters are and why they're conflicted. The film's ruminations about the nature of humanity in a world of advanced technology remind you of another great sci-fi film, Blade Runner. This is a movie that is much deeper than you might suppose.

Because of the detail and depth of the animation, you never fully divert your attention for the film which is good because it's an easy film to get confused by. Thankfully, the film is supported by a vocal cast that breathes life into these characters. Take Kusanagi's performance as Major Motoko - not only does she give the role a soul but combined with breath-taking scenes such as the diving sequence or the impossibly precise introduction which sees her character being built in intimate detail, the character becomes the star of the piece. Without being fully aware of it, you care deeply for her safety despite her being one of the baddest female action characters I've seen outside of the Alien franchise.

Fun Facts

  • In traditional anime films, characters would often be shown blinking to create the feeling of being animated. However, director Mamoru Oshii deliberately chose to have Motoko's eyes wide open nearly all of the time. This subtly underscores the fact that she is a cyborg.
  • The film's haunting opening theme 'Making Of A Cyborg' is sung in classical Japanese and the lyrics are actually a wedding song sung to dispel evil influences.
  • There is a brief shot of a basset hound looking down from a bridge onto Major Motoko as she drifts past in a boat. The basset hound is a trademark of Oshii's films as he is a fan of the breed and tries to include at least one shot of the dog in every one of his films.

What's not to like?

When I say that Ghost In The Shell is easily confusing, I'm not exaggerating. Due to a fairly short running time, the film doesn't have the time to fully explore the implications of technology on humanity in the way Blade Runner does. I can understand why it makes time for a stylish shootout or another lingering scene over Motoko's practically nude battle armour because part of the film's brilliance is in the visual experience. But I would have liked another ten minutes or so that really examined what the film was trying to say or even going into the obviously complex relationship between Motoko and Batou.

So if my only legitimate complaint about a film is that there wasn't enough of it, do I really have room to complain? As an introduction to anime, this is as good as you're going to get - it's easier to understand than the somewhat overly ambitious Akira and it also isn't as obtuse or fantastical as Studio Ghibli's output like Howl's Moving Castle or Spirited Away, both excellent films in their own right. But what's really satisfying is seeing how Ghost In The Shell has influenced other sci-fi films to such a degree that even little moments spark the fire of recognition such as Motoko landing from a jump, shamelessly copied by the Wachowskis in the opening sequence to The Matrix. No wonder that their whole pitch for that film was their intention to remake this film in real life, a feat later accomplished by Hollywood in 2017.

Major Motoko Kusanagi has become one of anime's most revered heroines and has inspired countless coplayers and filmmakers over the years.
Major Motoko Kusanagi has become one of anime's most revered heroines and has inspired countless coplayers and filmmakers over the years. | Source

Should I watch it?

As deep as its wonderful animation and posing lots of philosophical questions, Ghost In The Shell is a world-class piece of science fiction that is uniquely Japanese and utterly irresistible. It's perfect for anyone who believes that animation has to be about talking animals and being family friendly - this is dark, brooding and adult. Watching it, you completely understand why it has been ransacked by other filmmakers looking to create their own sci-fi masterpieces even though they often leave the more intelligent aspects of the screenplay behind.

Great For: science fiction fans, fans of Blade Runner and/or The Matrix, Asian viewers

Not So Great For: the live-action adaptation (see below), short attention spans, teenage boys with a pause button

What else should I watch?

In 2017, a live-action adaptation finally arrived with Scarlett Johansson in the renamed lead role of Major Mira Killian. The film is considered a prime example of what has become known as 'whitewashing', Hollywood's long-established practise of recasting ethnic minority roles with Caucasian actors, something which dogged the film during production and post-release. It's been suggested that this negativity about the film contributed to Ghost In The Shell bombing at the box office although the film's emphasis on visual effects and style over the film's story might also have complicated things. Needless to say, I'll be judging for myself soon enough.

Sure enough, Hollywood has had a torrid time producing live-action versions of anime films and TV shows. From notorious turkey The Last Airbender to flop B-movie The Guyver, few films have had the same impact as their anime originals. So really, you're much better off sticking with the original anime - Studio Ghibli have produced some of the most successful anime films in history like Spirited Away, Ponyo and the stunning Princess Mononoke. However, the highest grossing anime film in history is Your Name, a romantic fantasy that depicts a young girl in rural Japan swapping bodies with a young boy in Tokyo. The anime industry seems to have moved on considerably from those early films I mentioned earlier which tended to be more action or horror orientated and much more straight-forward.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Benjamin Cox

    Soap Box

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)