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Ghost In The Shell

Ghost In The Shell

By Arpad Lukacs • April 28th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Manga Entertainment

Original release: October 18th, 1995
Running time: 82 minutes

Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writers: Kazunori It?, Masamune Shirow
Composer: Kenji Kawai

Voice cast: Mimi Woods, Richard Epcar, William Frederick Knight, Crispin Freeman, Tom Wyner

Ghost In The Shell

Each time I watch Ghost In The Shell, it’s an event of some significance. I think about it for a while, I look at my to-do list and I choose an evening I can devote entirely to animator Mamoru Oshii’s most profound work to date. Upon each new viewing experience – while almost obliviously living in a world where technology and the internet have infiltrated virtually all walks of life – Ghost In The Shell feels increasingly real.

Oshii said his intuition told him that this story carried an immediate message for our present world – but that was back in 1995 when this legendary animated film was first released. With the current state of technology in 2013 and its potential for the not-too-distant future, the message Oshii was talking about nearly two decades ago is expanding to new areas in our real life. Of course, there wouldn’t be a need to write about Ghost In The Shell with much devotion if it was just that; science fiction making accurate predictions about the state of technology in the future. The film does that with remarkable excellence as it needs technology to penetrate human existence, but its true gradually unfolding purpose is an in-depth exploration of the latter by understanding the former.

Therefore our first glance at the world of Ghost In The Shell reveals a cold, bleak vision in the future of 2029 where our understanding of technology must be integral in order to navigate through everyday life, from waste collectors to secretaries and all the way up to highly sophisticated cybernetic government agents. In this seemingly soulless world, the film sets out to find one nevertheless. The empty, wide blue eyes of the protagonist speak of this desperate search without the aid of dialogue. Motoko Kusanagi (Mimi Woods) craves for something she hasn’t managed to identify while stoically conducting occasional assassinations and government cover-ups as part of her job at Section 9.

Ghost In The Shell

With most of her body being artificially enhanced by cybernetic technology, Kusanagi is much like our new dubious friends the drones; doing her job with never-before-seen precision, completely re-defining warfare by expanding the battlefield to anywhere and everywhere. But while drone technology – however advanced it may seem now – is at its earliest stage comparable to “biplanes right after World War 1”, Motoko Kusanagi is a state of the art cyborg with an autonomous nature that drones currently imitate only in laboratories. “Cutting the cord” is within reach nevertheless with the fundamentals of the technology being accessible to virtually anyone.

As we see Kusanagi’s employer Public Security Section 9 frequently butting horns with what seems to be not much more than a rival government branch Section 6 under the control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the distribution of power seems to lack any centralised control in Ghost In The Shell. Although it’s not without precedent for government branches to quarrel over jurisdiction, in the film government itself is invisible while its branches struggle for power and are also alarmingly close to corporations that provide the technological needs and the following inevitable maintenance services. The uneasy relationship between Section 9 Ghost In The Shelland Section 6 often turns sour, and although there’s always a specific issue of some sort on the table, the debate is actually a disagreement about who’s the boss. In the absence of a higher authority to answer this question and both branches having access to their own military-style resources, there’s an unpredictable internal imbalance in Ghost In The Shell that overlaps with conflicts of international magnitude creating a highly complex and intelligent universe.

It’s only remarkable that in this sophisticated context that’s already much more than most films are capable of conjuring up, the focus is nevertheless on Kusanagi’s internal search for existential meaning. Her eyes rarely blink, giving us uninterrupted view into the void inside this mostly artificial being who wonders if she is still in possession of a soul – a “Ghost” – or if she ever was. The science invites an inquisitive mind more than ever before; it was able to point to ‘something’ that’s present in humans and isn’t in androids. But some of the fundamentals of a Ghost that’s evidently there are also questioned by yet another scientific achievement: with “Ghost-hacking”, anyone’s memories can be taken away and replaced with new ones.

With individuality being so fragile in the frame of consciousness, what a Ghost is and its significance seems to become meaningless in a world where the ‘self’ can be lost forever without anyone taking much notice. Public Security Section 9 is after someone who has exceptional skills in hacking Ghosts and has done it effectively to manipulate political events and intelligence manoeuvring: the Puppet Master. It looks like a fight could break out between Section 9 and Section 6 in order to capture this Ghost In The Shellmost wanted criminal before the other does, but the Puppet Master is set to put yet another twist on the already intangible concept of a Ghost. In what’s undoubtedly one of the best and most profoundly surprising scenes in the history of cinema, we realise that whoever was after the notorious criminal was literally ‘chasing a ghost’.

I can’t help but struggle to do justice to a film that stands alongside Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). There’s so much in the film I haven’t even mentioned; its vision of the World Wide Web is nothing less than uncanny when compared to our current world of social media where anyone’s a mere few clicks away from having their own website, blog, news outlet, you name it. This 21st century sophistication of the internet has given rise and unprecedented power to hackers, some of whom are now amongst the most wanted along with serial killers and terrorists. Anonymous was initially not much more than a few online pranksters for instance, but it’s since organised and become a group of notorious hackers equipped with what seems to be ideology and moral code. I expect the relevance of Ghost In The Shell will continue to expand for many years to come.

And of course, Ghost In The Shell is breathtaking cinema. Shallow depth of field is beautifully animated and the creators added lens distortion effect in certain scenes creating stunningly cinematic visuals with meticulous attention to detail. The elegantly precise action sequences surpass most of what’s made today, The Wachowski’s film The Matrix (1999) introduced much of that to a Western audience. As well as masterfully animating Kusanagi’s pondering eyes, we also get an occasional peak into her perception – with a mysterious dog indicating an anomaly of some sort, raising more questions about her Ghost. We could assume the volume and depth of the philosophical themes would leave little room for anything else, but that couldn’t be any further from this film. Ghost In The Shell is thrilling science fiction, a hypnotic, unforgettable masterpiece that needs to be seen to be believed.

Ghost In The Shell

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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