But for now we see through a glass darkly
Ghost in the Shell (Kôkaku Kidôtai) (1995): 9 out of 10: An anime Cyberpunk adventure set in the far future of 2029, Ghost in the Shell is both a fantastic anime and a fantastic movie.
The Good: The ghost in Ghost in the Shell refers to the ability to cast one’s consciousness into a mechanical body and control it from afar. The influence Ghost in the Shell had on future sci-fi such as The Matrix is more than clear (Right down to the plug-ins that the characters have on the back of their necks and the Matrix Raining Code in the opening credits.)
The ascetic is very near future grounded in 1995’s reality in many ways with fantastical elements. The overall feel of the movie is as a result is both a noir style mystery and a fantastically speculative science fiction.
The animation is simply top notch, combining mostly tradition animation with rudimentary CGI. It is gorgeous. The detail work on the backgrounds in the city is a particular standout. The cyborgs are actually quite western with our lead Major, a busty dark haired warrior who looks a little like Lucy Lawless or Scarlett Johansson. The action scenes are often quite well done.
For a mid-nineties anime, the story is fairly easy to follow. This is not Akira. The characters mostly come into their own through the plot and storytelling rather than expositional information dumps Sci-Fi is often guilty of.
The Bad: Now, while the story may be easy to follow eventually and the themes about humanity have been explored many times in different ways. There is a bit of a of a learning curve. Think Blade Runner the AP course. Unlike Blade Runner, however, there isn’t that much emotional attachment to the characters. They are often cyphers rather than living, breathing personalities. This is fair since they are cyborgs, of course, but Blade Runner’s genius was to make its cyborgs more human than the humans. Ghost in the Shell misses this trick.
There is also an argument to be made that Ghost in the Shell has its own head up its ass for much of the film. Bear with me. The original anime was much more humorous, sexy, and The Major was a party girl eventually scarred with her interaction with the big bad the puppet master. In the film version, The Major starts of as stoic as Gary Cooper in High Noon and never really breaks character till the very end. There are not many character arcs in Ghost in the Shell. As a result, it is much harder to get emotionally attached to Major.
The Ugly: I could put the CGI upgrade Ghost in the Shell 2.0 but it really isn’t that bad. Just unnecessary.
One of the most important anime releases (along with Ninja Scroll, Akira and Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend) Ghost in the Shell was a much bigger hit outside of Japan than in. The manga that the anime is based on is a different beast (It starts with a lesbian threesome) and as a result local audiences were not impressed with the now stoic main characters and philosophic navel gazing.
In Conclusion: Ghost in the Shell is a very pretty and very good film with a lot of really makes you think themes. It is surprisingly fun, though one gets the sense that it was really not trying to be fun. It easily could have been a disaster. We have all seen Anime films so concerned with their 8th grade level philosophical underpinnings they forget they are making a piece of entertainment. See also the last ten minutes of The Matrix Reloaded)
I wouldn’t recommend Ghost in the Shell as baby’s first anime. But if you are in the right mood (coffee, not beer) it is one hell of a watch.
A couple of nice videos highlighting the movie. YouTube recently has been age restricting embedded videos, so for all I know the first one might be a warning message by the time you read this. I will try to keep an eye out.
No notes on individual shots today. Though we do have one puppy. It is a nice collection that highlights the wonderful background animation throughout most of the film.