Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ghost in the Shell (1995) - Futuristic Crime Thriller

Ghost in the Shell: If Only All Cops Looked This Good

Poster for Ghost in the Shell 1995
"Ghost in the Shell" (1995).
Adapted from a manga by Masamune Shirow, "Ghost in the Shell" (1995), directed by Mamoru Oshii, is a futuristic crime thriller involving female cyborgs and criminal hackers. Not too different than the present day, eh? This manga was a smash hit in Japan and spawned a cottage industry of films, tv shows, video games and the like. Among many, many other accomplishments, this film was the first anime to reach Billboard's #1 video position upon release. The Wachowski brothers ("The Matrix"), James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino all give this film credit for influencing their work.

Female cyborg in Ghost in the Shell 1995

"Ghost in the Shell" has become a cottage industry, the gift that keeps on giving. It is considered an enduring classic in Japan, and also has many fans overseas. Masamune Shirow, the creator, has turned it into two theatrical anime movies, two anime television series, an anime television movie, an anime OVA series, a theatrical live-action movie, and several video games. And he's done that while creating unrelated artwork, too. Fans of "Ghost in the Shell" don't consider it just a single movie, but a continuing story, along the lines of, say, the Disney/Marvel "Avenger" films.

Ghost in the Shell "Arise"
"Arise" (2013) provides an interesting background to the story and introduced a new look.
There already is quite a list of filmed versions of "Ghost in the Shell":
  • Ghost in the Shell [Movie - 1995]
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [Movie - 2004]
  • Stand Alone Complex [TV Series 2002 – 2004]
  • Solid State Society [TV Movie - 2006]
  • Arise [TV Series - 2013]
  • Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie [Movie - 2015]
  • Alternative Architecture [TV Series - 2014]
  • Ghost in the Shell [Live action movie - 2017]
The most controversial "Ghost in the Shell" was its remade as a live-action motion picture starring Scarlett Johansson in 2017. Fans of the original film had very mixed reactions to that film, and many consider it inferior to the animated feature film original. Many were upset at the casting of Johansson as the Major. The 2017 film had a mediocre performance at the box office.

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie 2015,
"Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie" (2015), which continued the sleek new style based on "Arise," was received well by fans of the franchise.
There also was a Japanese anime television series, "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex," which had two seasons, in 2002-2003 and in 2004-2005. A third season is planned for 2020 on Netflix, to be called "Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045." The first season was adapted into a feature-length OVA titled The Laughing Man (2005), and watching the OVA is a good way to catch up on what happened in that series.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka), a female cyborg in charge of police unit Section 9's assault team, is hunting for a cyber-terrorist known as "The Puppet Master" (Iemasa Kayumi). They track down leads, but the criminal is very clever and deludes his victims into doing his bidding without their knowing it.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

A female cyborg is created without authorization and escapes from the factory, only to be involved in a car accident. The cyborg seems to have a human presence. Further investigation is precluded by a surprise attack by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Section 6, led by Nakamura (Tessho Genda), which allows the cyborg to escape.

Ghost in the Shell 1995
That's a big gun!
Things get murkier when a secret Project 2501 comes to light. The head of Section 9, Daisuke Aramaki (Tamio Oki), speculates that Project 2501 and the Puppet Master may be related in some sort of secret government program.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

They track down the Puppet Master, and Kusanagi goes in to arrest him in an abandoned building. It turns out to be a trap, and only the timely arrival of her second-in-command Batou (Akio Ohtsuka) along with the rest of the team saves her from being destroyed by a spider tank. The body of the cyborg is there, and Kusanagi interfaces with it. The Puppet Master communicates through the cyborg and reveals that he indeed is part of Project 2501, a Section 6 program that communicates with ghosts. He wants to merge with Kusanagi in order to create a higher being, one in which he dies but carries on as a ghostly advisor with her in control of the physical body.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

Section 6 appears again, determined to kill Kusanagi and everyone else with Batou. The Puppet Master merges with Kusanagi, but Section 6 manages to blow the heads of both cyborgs' bodies off, along with Batou's arm.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

Major Kusanagi lives but now is in the cyborg body of a child because her own body was destroyed in the fight with Section 6. The affair has become public, causing problems in the government. The merger with The Puppet Master, though, is still in place, and Kusanagi will never be the same.

Ghost in the Shell 1995
The cool look that obviously also appears in "The Matrix."
Clearly, the film is just an introduction to what could potentially be a limitless supply of adventures for the Kusanagi/Puppet Master combination, sort of like Batman meeting Robin or The Lone Ranger meeting Tonto. At the end of the film, we are left uncertain just how powerful an organism it might be, how much control the Puppet Master retains, or what plans it might have for the future. The likeliest outcome is that it becomes some sort of crime-fighting superhero - but that is not confirmed. The viewer must take in future installments to see where all this is leading.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

The art in this film is just right, with splendid colors and movement that is uncanny in its precision. If you think all anime is awkward stuff that you see on the Internet, this is much better. The pace is fast, squeezing a tremendous amount of complexity into 83 minutes. There is some fascinating dialog, with philosophy thrown around liberally and questions about the cycle of life. The bottom line is that this is a film for people that want to think about the nature of existence and what it means to be alive - and dead. The influence of computers is a central theme of this film, much like it was in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

The English dub reputedly is not as good as the Japanese original, with some liberal alterations in dialog, but you take what you can get. The film also has considerable nudity and graphic violence, and one might as well assume that, despite the strong female lead, this is directed at a male audience. The subtitled version might be the best bet if you are patient and want to get the full impact, but if you are looking for some light entertainment, just get the English dub. There is a lot of music, but many action scenes are silent, which enhances their spookiness. The plot is very intricate can get a bit confusing, but the characters draw you back in. There is a deep philosophy to "Ghost in the Shell," asking questions about life and our purpose in being here, that might interest those not sold by the action and pretty girls.

Ghost in the Shell 1995

If you like films such as "The Matrix" and "Dark City," or just like "girls with guns" films, you should get a copy of "Ghost in the Shell" and check it out. You will see a lot of similarities to "The Matrix," and even what you might call "homages." If anything, this franchise's popularity has increased over the years. If you like this kind of fiction, this is a good place to start on what could turn out to be a wonderful voyage of enjoyment as you follow the story of Major Kusanagi and the Puppet Master.

You also may be interested in reading our review of the follow-up prequel series, "Ghost in the Shell: Arise."


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