Ghost in the Shell (1996)
Ghost in the Shell (1996)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: March 29th, 1996 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Mamoru Oshii Actors: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki, Tessho Genda




dvancements of computerization in society and for governmental agencies have caused plenty of problems for programs that have become overrun by bugs. The world is almost entirely interconnected, with humans now having the ability to insert their minds into cybernetic robots (shells) for simulated experiences. This also leads to personalities and pasts being implanted (hacked) into various users (like “Total Recall”), leading to the controlling and manipulating of reality by others. But the purpose of various hijackings and illicit projects becomes almost irrelevant once Section 9, a specialized police force consisting primarily of superhuman cyborgs, is called in to clean up the mess and get their hands dirty – frequently with spilt blood.

The year is 2029 and Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka), herself essentially just a human brain inserted into an android body, is assigned to hunt down and capture the highly elusive, infamous mystery hacker and terrorist known as the “Puppet Master.” Her team, including driver Togusa (Kôichi Yamadera) and veteran agent Bateau (Akio Otsuka), help her to stop a suspicious garbageman linked to a hacker with heavy firepower and thermoptic camouflage (making him essentially invisible), who engages in a shootout across the bustling streets of the city before being apprehended. Though his arrest doesn’t lead to the Puppet Master, it’s believed the wanted criminal will strike at the upcoming diplomatic talks, where Colonel Malice and the corruption of the politically motivated Section 6 may play a significant role, especially after a ministry interpreter cyborg has her brain hacked with the intention of reprogramming her to become an unwitting assassin.

With booming orchestral music and operatic voices supplementing the neon lights and humid alleys of the Asian metropolis (based on Hong Kong), “Ghost in the Shell” has the look and attitude of “Blade Runner,” and is an obvious inspiration for “The Matrix” – which borrows the distinct glowing green text cascading down computer screens; plugging into the police information network through holes in the back of the neck; and a memorable scene in which a room with concrete pillars is demolished by gunfire. The lighting, framing (faked camera angles), and backgrounds are instantly impressive, mimicking progressive cinematographic techniques of the time to create a darkly gothic environment that is aided by the use of slow-motion action and longer, contemplative shots in which characters motionlessly think. It’s based on Shirow Masamune’s manga of the same name from 1989, which similarly transforms a few ideas from “The Terminator,” with its notions of extremely powerful humanoid robots with artificial intelligence, and computers becoming independently sentient. It also borrows from “Scanners,” with its mind control and conquering of consciousnesses.

“You’ve lost me. I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” The plot seems at times to be as complex as the human brain – and the idea of reprogramming it or manipulating memories is difficult to comprehend. Through the questioning of identity, presenting transitional states of minds and bodies, the notion of robots lashing out at their masters, and the idea of invasively overreaching governmental control, “Ghost in the Shell” tackles the heady themes of a Philip K. Dick novel. And giving cyborgs rights and attempting to draw a line for humanity nods toward Asimov.

There’s also an artistic preoccupation with the naked female form, perhaps commenting on the fruitlessness of gender in this primarily nonreproductive world. This is visualized through Kusanagi’s camouflage, which is only efficient when she’s nude; permanently erect nipples; detailed maintenance of her shell and rejuvenation and cleansing of the unclothed body; and the rogue computer entity possessing another naked robot woman who never gains attire, even when she’s in fragmented pieces. It might have been generically exploitive if it weren’t for the seriousness and intricacy of it all. Ultimately, though convoluted, “Ghost in the Shell” is an atmospheric thriller that proves to be one of the most noteworthy of all Japanese anime films and an action-packed, thought-provoking bit of science-fiction.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10