Ghost in the Shell (1995)

“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.”

‘Ghost in the Shell’, written by Kazunori Itō and directed by Mamoru Oshii in 1995, is a dystopian science fiction anime movie. It takes place in a world in which an electronic network has implanted its tendrils into every aspect of life, and humanity exists in a half-world between this cyberspace and the physical universe. Cybernetic bodies occupied by human souls or ‘ghosts’ battle for information as the corporal and cyber existences have become merged. I was expecting an out-an-out action adventure along the lines of ‘Akira’, but instead ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a deep mediation not only on the nature of technology and the nascent development of the internet, but also on wider issues including gender, nationality and aging. It’s beautifully made, the animation is smooth and realistic and the presentation of the characters allow them to deliver real emotions. Also impressive is the distinction between the cybernetic (the ‘shells’) and human characters. It’s a complex film: the world creation and the consistent tone means that it is immersive, but it doesn’t spoon-feed information to the viewer. The narrative begins in media res which gives the film energy but also requires focus, and if you are expecting a film that relies on spectacle rather than concepts then you may get lost. Highlights are the opening scenes taking place within a dream by the central character Major Kusanagi, who imagines being constructed. This dream sets up the theme of gender fluidity throughout the film in a visceral but simultaneously poetic way. Overall, it’s a film that is both prescient, looking forward to the risks of cyber-crime and the dehumanising potential of online existence, but also tackles historical philosophical preoccupations of the nature of existence, gender and self. All in 83 minutes.

Would I recommend it? Yes – with ‘Akira’ for the Japanese view of the future, or perhaps ‘The Matrix’ to see what Hollywood does with the imagery and vague concepts, but also what it leaves behind.

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