Ghost in the Shell (1995) Review

With the release of the American remake next week, and with the Cult Chops feature over on the LAMB focusing on anime films, I thought it was right to do a review of the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell. Now the influence of this film can be seen all over modern sci-fi, mainly with The Matrix, however, when a film is incredibly influential, there’s always a niggling feeling at the back of my mind that the film won’t be as good as I think it will be. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case with Ghost in the Shell.

The film focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi, an assault team leader for Section 9, a military organisation in a near future version of Japan where a vast electronic network connects the planet, and where people can access these networks through cybernetic bodies, or shells, which possess their consciousness. She is assigned to find an elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master, who has been hacking into the shells, a process known as ghost-hacking, which allows him to take control of a persons body without their knowledge and implant memories to convince others to follow his actions. After a failed attempt to capture him, a shell, claiming to be the Puppet Master, goes into the headquarters of Section 9, bringing in issues of the nature of humanity and the whole notion of whether or not machines can have souls. These ideas are what help Ghost in the Shell retain its impact all these years later. Even as other films have explored these ideas, none of them have done it in such a unique way as Ghost in the Shell. The questions of the nature of humanity raised are fascinating, particularly regarding whether an artificial lifeform can truly be considered alive if it cannot experience death, which is ultimately the main goal of the Puppet Master. There are also some incredibly interesting political elements brought into the film, involving the nature of spying and defections, whether or not an agent can actually defect from one country to another considering that they can be ghost hacked, which helps make the film fascinating to watch, especially as the Puppet Master comes into play in this aspect. What helps the themes of the film work as well as they do are the characters, in particular the Major and her struggles in reconciling the human and machine parts of herself, emphasised in a scene when she does scuba diving. This also helps to emphasise the relationship between her and the other characters, which helps the plot elements at the end of the film work as well as they do.

The standout element of the film though is the incredible animation. The designs of every element you see in the film, even the small background details and the subtle movements of the characters, is excellent. These elements create a believable world for the film, without which, the film would not work as well as it does. The CG animation used for the network is brilliantly handled meanwhile, creating a unique vision of global networks that very few films have been able to replicate. Special praise has to go to the animation during the action scenes, particularly the scenes where the Major is in the thermoptic camouflage. In live action, it would be relatively simple to make a fight scene where one of the characters is invisible, just by having that person wear a green morphsuit then digitally removing them from the shot, which ensures that the movements of the opponent in the scene when they’re being beaten feel natural. In animation though, there is no frame of reference for the movement, the challenge is always making the movements feel believable, that you subconsciously fill in the rest of the fight scene that you cannot see, and Ghost in the Shell absolutely nails that.

Overall, it’s easy to see why Ghost in the Shell has earned the reputation it has and why it has become so influential. Whilst I think it could have been about 15 minutes longer to flesh out a few more elements, the overall plot is incredibly intelligent and thought provoking, the music does a brilliant job at setting the tone and the animation is incredible. This is an obvious must watch anime film and I’d recommend this as a gateway into anime following the Studio Ghibli films.

My Rating: 4.5/5

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