D-MAIL ANIME REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL
Original text: November 2014Genre: Cyberpunk, Thriller, Action
Editing and rewrites: June 2017
Studio: Production I.G.
Original year of release: 1995
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writer: Kazunori Ito
Runtime: 84 mins
STORYGhost in the Shell is an anime that is extremely dear to me. It’s the movie that got me into anime and for me, defines the medium and everything I love about it. It instantly made me a huge Mamoru Oshii fanboy and is one of my favorite movies of all time. That being said, I will try to be as objective as possible and review this movie on its own merits rather than how I feel about it personally. However, if you were hoping for me to be totally unique and call this movie an overrated piece of garbage, I can guarantee you that is not going to happen.
The story of Ghost in the Shell is set in the near future, where the larger part of the human population has traded in their flesh and blood body parts for artificial replacements. It follows major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg cop working for Public Security Section 9, an elite unit of the Japanese homeland security, whose job is to hunt down cyber terrorists. The cyber terrorist in this case being The Puppet master. A mystery hacker who commits cybercrimes all over the world and has the ability to alter people's memories.
At first glance, Ghost in the Shell is a fairly run of the mill cyberpunk action thriller. However, make no mistake, the plot and themes of the film are by far its greatest strength. It’s the kind of movie where nothing is what it seems and there's a big twist lying around each corner. Everyone is constantly deceiving everyone else and there’s a whole bunch of political intrigue to make things even harder to comprehend.
But more so than it's terrific plotting, what makes Ghost in the Shell truly remarkable is how philosophical it is. The film is an in depth discussion on the theme of identity in an age where everything and everyone is computerized and to what extent our own experiences form us as individuals.
With a plot as complicated and thought provoking as it is and the movie having a fairly limited runtime, it should come as little surprise that the characters are somewhat left behind. In fact, the only character who has any real personality is Motoko herself. She is shown as a cold and very capable professional but also a deep thinker who asks herself questions that no one else would bother to ask themselves.
The other characters get a lot less screen time and, as a result, don't have any obvious character traits besides those that can be spotted at first glance. Her partner Batou, who's also a cyborg, is a brooding badass with an enormous amount of respect for Motoko and will always back her up whatever she does. Her other colleague Togusa is a family man who has almost no cybernetic implants and because of that comes across as a little more human than the other characters. Her boss Aramaki is a sharp minded individual and a political mastermind. And Ishikawa is the tech guy who er...is mostly very good at spouting much-needed exposition.
ART & ANIMATION
Honestly, I still cannot wrap my head around how incredibly beautiful this movie looks. Especially given the fact that it's over twenty years old! Neo Tokyo is shown as a vibrant hub by day and a noirish megalopolis by night. Oshii is a very visual storyteller who uses images rather than dialogue to convey the themes he wishes to discuss. And this is clearly evident with Ghost in the Shell, as he manages to imbue every single frame with a sense of meaning.
The action scenes are also a thing of beauty and still stand as some of the best action sequences in anime today. Although it's full of big explosions, highly spectacular fight scenes and shootouts, it's always shot in such a way that the viewer can understand what is going on at any given time with very long-lasting frames and stationary camera angles.
In fact, the visuals of this film were so well regarded upon release that the Wachowskis decided to copy several entire scenes from the movie literally frame by frame for their own sci fi action film: The Matrix. I don’t think there’s any better argument to be found for the brilliance of this film's visuals.
The music for the film was composed by longtime Oshii collaborator Kenji Kawai. Kawai made the brilliant choice to forgo any techno, electronica or other styles of music we generally associate with cyberpunk in favor of traditional Japanese chants. It works beautifully and does wonders to emphasize the film's more subdued and contemplative tone.
As presumptuous as this statement sounds, I feel Ghost in the Shell is one of the few anime where the only way to watch it is by watching it subbed. The dub changes a lot of the dialogue in the film to make it more suited to western audiences. However, in doing so it also removes a lot of the subtlety. Single lines in the sub that contemplate themes of identity and the human soul are turned into standard one-liners in the dub. So, unless you really hate reading I would highly recommend going for the sub route with this one.
A well-constructed storyline, a deep philosophical exploration of human existence, a great soundtrack and some of the best visuals ever produced make Ghost in the Shell a cyberpunk movie unlike any other. It doesn't have too many interesting characters and its short runtime ultimately proves problematic. Despite that, it's still a great cyberpunk action thriller and a film that no self-respecting anime fan can miss out on. In short: if you haven’t seen this film yet…well what are you still doing here? Go watch it right now!
Ghost in the Shell has been licensed by Manga Entertainment in both the US and UK. It's not available for legal streaming though. Also, years later an updated version called Ghost in the Shell 2.0 was released which updates the film's visuals with, quite frankly, terrible CGI. So just buy the original. You'll be much better off.
Special thanks to @Kuze, @Shannon Apple and @Tonto-banchou for all their useful feedback and editing.
D-Mail Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Kerberos reviews the entire Ghost in the Shell anime franchise. Starting with the classic 1995 cyberpunk action thriller directed by acclaimed...
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