Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii.
Written by: Kazunori Itô based on the manga by Masamune Shirow.
I had not seen Ghost in the Shell since around the time I met my anime loving wife – and tried to impress her with my knowledge (which was limited then – but has grown since) of the genre she loved. I remembered liking the film – although for some reason, I hadn’t revisited it like I have with other anime films (Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, Paprika, Perfect Blue, all of Miyazaki, etc.) in years – so I was looking forward to reason to see it again before the live action remake hits theaters later this month. Watching the film again surprised me – it was slower than I remembered it being, and even after watching, I’m not sure I could pass a test on what exactly happened in it. It’s also odd to see it just in the contest of how far animation has come in the last 22 years – Ghost in the Shell was once lauded for its visuals, and while there is great stuff here, it’s not all great. While I mainly enjoyed the return trip to Ghost in the Shell – I was also at least somewhat disappointed.
The film is set in the future – some point at which humans and cyborgs live alongside each other mainly in peace. The protagonist is The Major – a beautiful, strong woman who spends a lot of time naked for some reason - who is more robot than human. She is a cop, assigned to investigate one potential criminal – but in the course of that, stumbles over the Puppet Master – the most dangerous cybercriminal around – a man who says he once had a body, but was tricked out of it – and no exists in the electronic universe exclusively – and perhaps wants the Major to join him.
There is a lot – at times seemingly endless – talk in Ghost in the Shell, about just want it means to be human, and the line between human and robots – what makes one human, and what doesn’t. In many ways, its biggest influence is probably Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) – which has a lot of talk, and mixes in action alongside it as well. The dialogue is rather ponderous and philosophical – sometimes reaching for something profound, sometimes sounding like the rambling of pot addled university students.
The film was groundbreaking in many ways on a technological level – using cutting edge animation and sound techniques – and much of the film does look great. Yet, there is a reason why its animation style didn’t become the standard going forward either – and you can see the filmmaker hitting the limited of what they can do at times (there are a few odd scenes in which it doesn’t look like much of anything is moving- as long reams of dialogue are read).
Ghost in the Shell was meant to be a breakthrough when it was released in 1996 in North America – a coming out party for anime, which wanted to break into the theatrical marketplace, and not just exist on import VHS tapes. In that, it had mixed success – the film didn’t gross much when it was released, but more and more anime made its way to North America – legally (my wife complains that when she first got into anime in the early to mid-1990s – she had to work to find every book and tape she had – then they made it too easy). Ghost in the Shell is a good anime film – but it wouldn’t make my list of the best the genre had to offer – and oddly, it wouldn’t even be among the first I would show to people who are new to the genre. The film has its merits, but it’s also a little bit of a confusing mess.