Ghost in the Shell

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valondar's avatar By valondar on Jan 13, 2009

Story

It sometimes feels pretty lonely being a fan of Mamoru Oshii. He's squandered much of his goodwill on the fiasco Innocence (which I still liked but that's a whole 'nother story) and the rest of his cinematic canon is quite often dismissed, and not merely by action fans who dislike anything slow. He's accused of being pretentious for its own sake, following the forms of arthouse flicks merely at the surface without adding sufficient depth to create a good film.

There's truth to both of these criticisms, particularly in his weaker works. Certainly Oshii is pretentious but heck, pretentiousness is underrated. I love me some good pretentiousness. It's an essential quality in the kind of films he tries to make, those that borrow so much from the greats of art cinema in an effort to bring something different to the world of cartooning.

Oshii's never been spectacularly successful in the West, but he did have one bona fide hit - a film that many anime fans have watched and no doubt some still love (even those who probably have no idea who I'm talking about or think I mean Matsumune Shirow).

That film, of course, is Ghost in the Shell. This is a cyberpunk tale that deftly melds action and philosophy - though none of the questions it poses about man and machine are particularly original, they're interestingly framed. A difficult but surprisingly successful balance is maintained between the action aspect and the underlying thematic material, though it tends to lean towards the latter to the expense of the former.

Perhaps the most intriguing notion raised is that of 'ghosts', which are meant in the now somewhat archaic sense of 'soul' - a quantity that can determine the difference between real life and artificial intelligence. For those whose entire bodies have been replaced by machines, these ghosts are the only indications left of their humanity. However, it is a little opaque as to what exactly these ghosts are, giving it a vaguely tacked-on metaphysical feel.

I'm not calling this a profound film (it isn't), but it executes its aforementioned blend effectively. How well you believe it does really would depend on your fondness for extended monologues or debates.


Animation

This is a wonderfully realised urban landscape - the Blade Runner of the East, at the time only rivalled by the landmark Akira. Action sequences are kinetic and the character designs are good. The animation brings out the best of the cyberpunk aesthetic, one I'm more than partial to.

What's aged poorest is the use of CGI, which thankfully was confined to computer screens rather than being incorporated into the film itself. Still, this CGI seems primitive compared to what our computers could handle today, let alone in some near-future where we can create cyborgs.


Sound

An atmospheric and haunting chant in ancient Japanese is the most memorable piece of music, provided by frequent Oshii collaborator Kenji Kawaii. There's an extended musical interlude featuring this around the centre of the film that is one of my favourite moments in anime - it is almost spiritual in its reflectiveness.

The voice acting in English is a little monotone but I thought it was okay - Mimi Woods's delivery resembles Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise. Naturally, the Japanese track was a fair bit better.


Characters

Characterisation isn't a strong point here. Mokoto Kusanagi may raise a lot of questions about her own humanity but she's sufficiently robotic to make us doubt too, and the rest of the cast are without much presence. Perhaps the most interesting character is the least human - but that's mainly for the questions he raises as an entity. They're largely people to follow around as they fight and then as mouthpieces to idly air the philosophical touchstones of the piece and they work on that level.

8/10 story
8/10 animation
8.5/10 sound
6/10 characters
8/10 overall
chaoserver's avatar By chaoserver on Mar 1, 2010

Story:

The biggest issue with ghost in the shell is that theres not much there. What I mean by that is nothing really new is brought to the table, and it ultimately feels like a(much much better) standalone episode from the series. The story is noteably worse than what we are given in either series of the anime, and only about halfway are we intruiged slightly, though that dwindles out in the climax, or lack thereof. It is a good gateway anime, or gateway scifi anime, but if you are used to the genre you will find nothing new here, though the story will not be painful, and finished, at least for me, in what seemed like an hour, despite being over twice that length.

Animation:

The animation shows dating but is still impressive in it's own right. Some characters look rather odd, and there is a lot of nudity, though not really explicit or sexual. Overall the animation is certainly good and a positive piece to the movie.

Sound:

Sound was good, even better if you like high pitched japanese vocals. However, the english audio was bad, only due to the Majors horrible voice actor, and sadly the dvd didn't have a subtitle option.

Characters:

Nothing to write home about. Major spends most of the movie contemplating about herself and if she is real. Aside from the major no characters develop, or are even given a particular personality. They aren't bad, and the most interesting character is introduced halfway through with a bang, though quickly stops being nearly as interesting.

Overall:

GITS is worth a watch easily, and is a great first watch when getting into scifi anime. You will probably not find anything profoundly eye opening here, as you would have to be imaging something or new to anime, but you will have a seemingly fast and pretty enjoyable experience.

7/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
6/10 characters
7/10 overall
k1ng0fn3rds's avatar By k1ng0fn3rds on Nov 17, 2010

Ghost in the shell was amazing, simply amazing.  My only issue with it was the amount of nudity in it.  it seemed excessive for the type on film this was.  Ghost in the shell has an intense plot that is not for the simple minded. The plot was great, catching the rogue computer virus taking over a cyborg body, then that virus gaining animal instinct and trying to reproduce, this shows what can happen to mankind when we over-computerize ourselves.  The other unique feature is the deeper meaning of just the title, Ghost in the Shell, and its relation to Motoko.  Throughout the movie they discuss their "Ghosts".  The Ghost represents the human soul, or what makes humans human, and the shell represents the characters cybernetic bodies.  Man is trapped in the cyber body trying to be as human as possible.

10/10 story
10/10 animation
8/10 sound
8/10 characters
9/10 overall
snakebrain's avatar By snakebrain on Dec 14, 2010

I’m not quite sure what to make of Ghost in the Shell.  I think it’s a good film, thought-provoking and entertaining, with dynamic animation and an interesting cast of characters.  But it’s also curiously pedantic – the exposition is just a little too on-the-nose, and the ending is an anticlimactic mess.  It’s still an excellent movie, but at the end I found myself wondering, “Is that it?”

This might not be the film’s fault.  I’ve done quite a bit of research and critical reading on the concept of embodiment in cyberspace and cyborg-feminist theory over the past year or so, and many of the film’s ideas are ones that are not particularly revolutionary for me.  This may also account for how I had an easier time following a film that has a reputation for being somewhat opaque.  But I don’t want to pretend I’m smarter than this movie – this is a very smart movie.  And I also don’t want to let it off so easily.

The film starts out in a remarkably interesting way, with a truly unique assassination.  It then moves on into murkier, more interesting territory as we learn about a hacker called The Puppet Master, and get a couple of highly engaging action scenes that show the extent and power of his (or her … or its) influence.  The Puppet Master can control people through erasing their memory and other such devices; he can do this because of how cybernetically enhanced everyone in this world is.  Let’s put it this way – it’s a big deal that one of the characters doesn’t have hardly any cybernetic enhancements.

The film begins with the question of what makes us human, and at first the answer seems to be “our memory,” because of various monologues about how we are who we are because of what we remember about our past.  As the film the progresses the answer gets harder and harder to discern, as the question is broadened to ask, “What is life?”

These are the big questions.  These are questions we’ve been trying to answer for millennia, since the dawn of man, probably.  Now, I’m not expecting this movie to "answer" these questions.  That would be miraculous.  What I do expect is an honest engagement with them, which is hard to do when your runtime is so limited.  This movie is under an hour and a half long, and therein lies the major problem it has: it simply has too many ideas to cram into one movie, especially one that’s so short.

To be fair, someone must have realized this because there’s a TV show based on the movie.  But that doesn’t really help the movie much; with such a short runtime, the characters have to engage in lengthy dialogues that don’t just explain the admittedly complex plot, but also the large, omnipresent themes of the film.  It simply doesn’t have time to do these big questions justice, and it seeks to remedy this through a series of exposition-laden conversations towards the end of the film that more or less kill the momentum.  Even a last-minute car chase can’t make up for the fact that most of the characters spend the entire thing talking through it, trying to figure out the plot.

It may sound like I didn’t like the movie, but I did give it 8/10 for a reason.  The characters are highly engaging and entertaining – the female lead is especially complex and interesting.  The animation is great, and the action scenes are among the most exhilarating I’ve seen.  I enjoyed the music as well, though it wasn’t as instantly iconic in my mind as say, Kaneda’s theme from Akira.  This is, in essence, an extremely well put together film that suffered some problems in pacing and runtime.  Still, it’s also revolutionary and unique, and while its questions may be asked a little too bluntly, they’re still highly thought-provoking questions.  This is a good movie that could have been great with better writing and a little more room to breathe; as it stands, it’ll have to settle for being one of the more influential anime.

7.5/10 story
8/10 animation
7.5/10 sound
8/10 characters
8/10 overall
Hajime's avatar By Hajime on Sep 24, 2010

The first series of Ghost is like we all know (excellent) I give it the thumbs up, especially when it comes to the laughing man arc, giving true meaning to whether technology will truelly be progresion or regression. Brilliant series

8/10 story
6/10 animation
10/10 sound
7/10 characters
6/10 overall