Photo Credit: Bandai Visual/Kodansha
Before I start in on this review I want to say two things. One, yes, I also reviewed the 2017 remake with Scarlett Johansson. Two, don’t come after me with pitchforks on either review for these films. I know there are some out there with strong opinions on both versions. I, obviously, am one of them. The most important thing to remember is that opinions make the world go round. You can either disagree or agree with them.
Okay, moving on.
I am aware that Ghost in the Shell isn’t a fantasy film but, honestly, when I was making my list, I was running out of fantasy films and so I borrowed this one from the sci-fi realm. It’s a very interesting premise. It follows Motoko Kusanagi, a Public Security Section 9 assault team leader in Japan, as she hunts down a mysterious “ghost hacker” named the Puppet Master. In this Japanese future, cybernetics has become integral in the lives of humans. Scientists have also developed a cyberbrain that allows a human to access the internet and other networks. The often used term is “ghost” referring to the consciousness that inhabits the body, or the “shell”.
I know one thing, if I hadn’t have seen the live-action film first, I would have had no idea what was going on. This is the first anime I’ve seen that isn’t Studio Ghibli. I was very surprised to find out that there was little to no exposition explaining what was happening. Again, like I said, had I not seen the live-action film, I would have been very confused. As it was, I was still confused. I blame the fact that I was quite tired last night when I tried to watch it.
Beyond the confusion, there’s no doubt that the anime is beautiful. Of course, I made the mistake of watching Ghost in the Shell 2.0, the remastered version, as opposed to the theatrical version. Apparently, the theatrical version is far prettier but I do have to admit that what I saw was far ahead of its time. It’s quite amazing what animation can achieve when in the proper hands. Ghost in the Shell is definitely very cerebral and thought provoking which is only amplified by the gorgeous animation and the timeliness of the subject matter, despite the fact that this film was originally released in 1995. Japan is always ahead of the curve.
Another thing I particularly like about Ghost in the Shell is its inversion of typical gender roles and stereotypes. Motoko is definitely neither human or robot. She’s also described as both female and non-gendered and this poses a few questions for those of us who are watching technological advances right before our eyes. Where does the line start to blur between humanity and machine and should we ever cross that line? Beyond that, Ghost in the Shell is a prime example of a female protagonist given power in a world dominated by men. She isn’t demeaned by her male colleagues. She isn’t sexualized or objectified. She’s treated with respect. Woman or machine, in a world full of men, she’s not weakened by her femininity or her past. She’s empowered by it and that’s a huge step forward compared to the other iterations of females in our Western culture. I think the US needs to use this film as a model for writing female characters.
The only thing I didn’t like about Ghost in the Shell, and this was my fault for watching the remaster and not the original theatrical version, was the unnecessary inclusion of CGI animation. I feel like it wasn’t needed, especially when most of the film was hand-drawn, traditional animation. The CGI felt forced and out of place. But, all that is is a preference between the re-release and the original. Nothing more. Nothing else besides the animation was changed for the re-release so that was my own quibble.
If you’ve seen the live-action Ghost in the Shell, you owe it to yourself to watch the anime. While it doesn’t have as much exposition as our films do and it certainly doesn’t languish in the plot, it’s a great film and it’s visually stunning. You don’t want to miss out on something so important or influential to so many other great science fiction films.