It’s a Classic: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995)

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Just a whisper.  I hear it in my ghost”

Ghost in the Shell 95

‘Ghost in the Shell’ – a true anime classic (image credit: Kodansha/Bandai Visual/Manga Entertainment, used for illustrative purposes only).

 

Year:  1995

Starring (voices – original Japanese cast):  Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Ohki, Iemasa Kayumi

Director:  Mamoru Oshii / Written by:  Kazunori Ito

What’s it about?

In a future where technology and humanity have become intertwined and cyberterrorism runs rampant, counter-operative Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team investigate a new threat that emerges from cyberspace…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Based on the manga by Shirow Masamune, director Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is an essential classic of the genre and a standout piece of science fiction cinema that fuses elements of RoboCop and Blade Runner (and in turn becoming influential itself – The Matrix trilogy being a good example) with an enigmatic and cerebral tale of humanity’s inseparable relationship with technology.

Taking place in the year 2029, where technology has advanced to a point that the human brain – and one’s essence, or ‘ghost’ with it – can be transplanted into an artificial body, Ghost in the Shell is a futuristic ‘cyberpunk’ thriller that focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg and lead operative of the counter-cyberterrorism organisation known as Public Security Section 9 (her teammates comprising loyal right-hand, Batou) who become tasked with investigating the appearance of a suspected super-hacker going by the name of ‘Puppet Master’.  As the case unfolds and with the discovery that the Puppet Master is actually a sentient form of Artificial Intelligence, Kusanagi begins to question the meaning of existence and whether this new form of life is a threat or a link in the next step of human evolution.

Like a lot of anime, Ghost in the Shell has a ponderous, existential quality to it (made all the more evocative by Kenji Kawai’s beautiful music score) with dense, philosophical dialogue that may make the film’s concepts difficult to grasp initially.  It’s best approached with an open mind and a willingness to simply surrender and be captivated by the mesmerising nature of Ghost in the Shell and the ideas it poses about the evolution of technology, human existence and the blurring of the line between the two.

Almost a quarter of a century on and the animation for Ghost in the Shell continues to astonish, the level of detail and craftsmanship produced with precision and great care.  Whilst there’s an awful lot that can be achieved today with CGI, it’s a reminder that this – now sadly underutilised – art form can yield equal, even superior results.  The characters are believable and realistic, the technology design intriguing and the cityscapes as intricate as they are expansive.  Complementing all this is the fluid and visceral action, which, though ultraviolent, is executed with energy and skill, providing numerous exciting moments (the highlight of which is undoubtedly the climactic battle between Kusanagi and a heavily armoured tank) that outshine some of the more overly noisy, endless world-crumbling set-pieces seen in various simple-minded popcorn blockbusters of today.

The success of Ghost in the Shell has resulted in a popular franchise that beyond manga and video games has spawned not only a sequel (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, released in 2004) but further iterations in television and original video animations (known as ‘OVA’) including the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series.  An inferior live action feature film starring Scarlett Johansson was also released last year.  Its themes becoming more relevant than ever, Ghost in the Shell is likely to endure and be revisited and reinterpreted for some time to come.

Standout moment

Intersected by the opening credits, we witness the ‘birth’ of the Major as her android body is created…or is it just a dream?

Geek fact!

The voice cast for the English language version of Ghost in the Shell includes Richard Epcar as Batou, who would go on to voice the character in both the sequel, Innocence and the Stand Alone Complex series.

If you like this then watch…

Akira : that ‘other’ cyberpunk classic that formed part of the western ‘Japanimation’ craze of the 1990s, Akira follows the rise of a dangerously powerful psychokinetic teenager amidst the biker-gang torn streets of post-World War III Japan.

Patlabor 2 : also directed by Mamoru Oshii, the second Patlabor film is a complex and politically charged tale in which a mecha police unit fight to uncover a conspiracy as Japan verges on civil war.

7 thoughts on “It’s a Classic: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995)

  1. The first volume of GitS that I reviewed barely had The Puppet Master in it, but what little there was of that character, I could definitely tell that he was the key to a bigger part of that series philosophical nature. Based on your review, I can also tell that the anime takes itself much more seriously and “darkens” the lore to give it the edge it needs to become a classic. I’m definitely hyped to try this out soon. I wonder if the live-action movie would ever get a sequel.. Maybe with a different actress and director? A reboot doesn’t seem likely for now, that’s for sure. Awesome review as always.

    You’ve got me wondering about Patlabor too now. I didn’t know about it, so I looked it up. Sounds pretty awesome. The robot looks like something from Gundam hahah

    • Thanks for the kind words Lashaan! The anime is certainly quite a serious and compelling piece of work and from what I’ve read in your review of the manga, superior to its source material in that respect.

      Patlabor is definitely worth a look, but I’d only recommend the two features from the 1990s. There was a series/OVA run but the tone is completely different with a lot of humour and goofiness to it. I’ll hopefully get around to reviews of Patlabor 2 in the not too distant future.

  2. Great review! I also think that this type of art can achieve results which are superior to those of the now-overutilised CGI…

    I’ve added a link to your review below the one I wrote on my blog, I hope you don’t mind! :–)

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