Ghost in the Shell Review

AKA: Kokaku Kidotai, Mobile Armored Riot Police, Ghost in the Shell 1, Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Genre: Cyberpunk/Action/Crime Drama
Year Released: 1995
Distributor: Manga/Anchor Bay
Origin: Japan/England
Running Time: 82 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: R
Related Films/Series: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society, Ghost in the Shell: Arise -Ghost Pain-, Ghost in the Shell: Arise -Ghost Tears-, Ghost in the Shell: Arise -Ghost Stands Alone-, Ghost in the Shell: Arise -Ghost Whispers-, Ghost in the Shell: Arise -Pyrophoric Cult-, Ghost in the Shell: AAA, Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie, Ghost in the Shell (2017 American Live-Action Remake), Ghost In the Shell: SAC 2045
For Fans Of: Texhnolyze, The Matrix, A Scanner Darkly, Serial Experiments Lain, Psycho-Pass, Ergo Proxy, Paprika, Lucy, Black Magic M66, Appleseed, Battle Angel, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet, Surrogates, A. I. Artificial Intelligence, Akira
Notes:
-The Japanese version was used for this review.

-The original cut of the film was used as opposed to the 2.0 remaster.

-Check out Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews who reviewed the same movie.
Fun Facts:
-Ghost in the Shell won the Animation Kobe Feature Film Award which was also the first award ever from director Mamoru Oshii. This was also the first animated film to win the Tokyo Sports Film Award for Best Film. Other movies that won the same award are Battle Royale, The Great Passage (the original live action movie), and the anime remake of In This Corner of the World.

-While Kenji Kawai would be highly noted for his soundtrack work for Ghost in the Shell, he would also score anime such as Maison Ikkoku, Devilman, Kurogane Communication (which I reviewed), and Mob Psycho 100 among several other series and movies. Not only that, but Oshii himself considers Kawai to be his best friend even to the point of crediting half of his success to him.

-Besides the Wachowskis who admitted they wouldn’t have made The Matrix without this film, one of the biggest admirers of Ghost in the Shell is James Cameron of all people. He was heavily influenced by Ghost in the Shell as well as his other film Avalon. Cameron has to be an anime fan to give that much praise to GITS let alone doing an official live action remake of Battle Angel.

-Motoko Kusanagi is voiced by Atsuko Sato. She has played the Major in this film, Stand Alone Complex, and SAC 2045. Some of her other voice work includes playing Claire from Trigun, Elizabeth from Le Chevalier D’Eon, and Lisa Lisa from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

-The screenwriter of Ghost in the Shell is Kazunori Ito. He has also been a writer for 3 Gamera films, Dirty Pair, and Digimon X-Evolution. Also, he’s one of the creators of the .hack franchise.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: One of the low-life hackers uses thermo-optical camouflage by putting a hood up. One could say he has his own cloak of invisibility of sorts. This came out before Harry Potter, by the way.

-There was actually a third person shooter video game that was created by Exact and THQ that was made for the Playstation back in 1997.

-Film Buff Bonus/Otaku Bonus: Let’s start with The Matrix comparisons here. The green digital code in the opening credits directly influenced the famous codes in the movies. The scene with the watermelons getting blown up from gunfire would be reused in the first film. Trinity was even based on Motoko. One suspect finds out his life and memories were implanted, so it was all a lie. People can jack into their necks with cables to get to the Net/Matrix respectively. Speaking of Motoko, Angela from Kurogane Communication is an analog parody character of her who is fully robotic instead of being a cyborg.

You know, with all the reviews I’ve done with Ghost in the Shell, I feel bad for not reviewing the film that started it all. Yes, I have some goal-based reasons with my stipulations of covering other works related to series I’ve reviewed, rew-atching movies I’ve seen before, and re-watching anime yet never reviewed. Talk about a triple threat of reviewing goals. I’m sure the anibloggers who read my blog have seen this movie at some point in their lives since it’s reached classic status. I certainly won’t deny the vast influence of Ghost in the Shell. You have everything from the Hollywood blockbuster franchise The Matrix, avant-garde cyberpunk series Texhnolyze, and even Taylor Swift of all people referenced this anime in her video of “…Ready for It?” (I refuse to believe that T-Swizzle would like anything of that sort). Maybe this is a bit strange of me to cover a more well-known anime movie that even non-otaku have heard of long before Black Widow herself would try to play the Major in an American live action remake which I still refuse to watch and it’s not just the whole whitewashing aspect.

Oshii’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s magnum opus is highly-acclaimed and influential, but is it still worthy to achieve classic status in the realm of animation?

For those of you who live under a rock, here’s what Ghost in the Shell is about. In the year 2029, technology has advanced to the point where people can get cybernetic parts as well as connecting consciousnesses to the Net. In Newport City, Japan, there’s a task force that deals with cyber crimes called Section 9. These cyber crimes involve anything from hacking computers to literally hacking cybernetic brains. Speaking of hacking brains, there’s widespread “ghost hacking” where people become possessed to kill others and it’s controlled by the mysterious “Puppet Master” who’s wreaking havoc as well as causing international fissures in security. Section 9 is lead by Major Motoko Kusanagi who’s a cyborg that’s well-trained in guns, martial arts, hacking, and using different gadgets to take on any case. Puppet Master has been using so many random low-lives, but has been able to evade so many government officials while razing Newport City. How will Major Kusanagi and company deal with this cybernetic threat?

To be honest, talking about the positives of Ghost in the Shell is boring. What else needs to be said with all the positive reviews from both professional critics as well as random people on the internet? The animation is gorgeous and is easily one of Production I. G.’s best. It’s so tactile, very fluid, and innovative with different animation techniques. The art design is on point with the Newport City scenery, interactive reflections, and the characters have GASP! actual noses as well as distinct facial features. This has really stood the test of time and has aged quite well. Keep in mind, this came out the same year as Pocahontas. Which movie looks better as well as being less problematic? Yeah, that’s what I thought. The soundtrack totally made Kenji Kawai a composer to take seriously with his ambient works, usage of kotos, and the recurring choir that sings in classic Japanese which is haunting, yet surprisingly appropriate despite the futuristic setting. The plot is certainly intelligent, yet still easy to follow for most viewers who like cerebral plots without being incomprehensible. They certainly do a great job showing the worldbuilding in 2029 Japan. Ghost in the Shell has always been a philosophical anime work even with all the cutting-edge technology, engaging missions, and spectacular fight scenes. One of the core motifs in this film as well as the rest of the series is the modicum of humanity or what is humanity. The Major can certainly kick so many people’s butts and is often courageous in her missions in leading Section 9, she has internalized paranoia about her origins or if she really counts as a human given all the cybernetic parts her body has including Kusanagi’s own (cyber)brain. She has this contrast of being cool while gunning down cyber-criminals, but has this deadpan fear as she wonders where she came from at the start. Yes, they do talk more about her origins in the Arise OVAs and The New Movie, but they do bring up some tidbits like Megatech making the cybernetic parts for her body. This movie certainly isn’t for the stupid watcher as there are philosophical elements and some intelligent dialogue. There surprisingly wasn’t a lot of technobabble like what Neon Genesis Evangelion is guilty of. Puppet Master was also a very intimidating villain. The whole voice aspect certainly threw me off when I first saw this film years ago (you’ll see why if you haven’t seen GITS), but he really was an effective mastermind who was even able to give Section 9 a major shake up with how effective he was. I won’t get into any spoilers, but he transcends being human in a believable way. Don’t worry, he’s not some kind of robotic deity or anything weird like that. The film works very well with the major characters (Motoko pun not intended), the voice acting, plot, and the soundtrack, so I don’t know if I added anything to the positive points because I don’t want to repeat anything else from bloggers and critics far more popular than me.

Ghost in the Shell does need some re-calibrating here and there. This may seem blasphemous since I’m talking about such a renowned anime film that influenced sci-fi in both the East and West, but this movie has some issues that need to be discussed. Besides Motoko and Batou, not many characters get much shine or development. Later series such as Stand Alone Complex and Arise put more effort in that regard in showing everyone from Section 9 and others. When I rented this on Google Play, the subtitles misspelled Batou’s name as Bateau which was very bizarre since he’s Japanese and that sounds more French to me with that misspelling. Of course, some of the dialogue gets very pretentious with the big words and conversational choices. There were some very outdated elements in Ghost in the Shell which become very obvious knowing that it was made in the 90s. There are payphones in multiple locations even though they are card-operated, car phones as seen in the garbage truck that look less advanced to even handheld phones made today, and during the interrogation scene, an apartment is shown with a boxy TV with a built-in VHS player in it. It’s the early 2020s and people already have flat screen TVs with access to internet as well as various streaming services as the norm for years now. Think about it, Ghost in the Shell takes place later this decade and there are already things that have been around since the 00s that look more advanced to some of the technology shown in this film. Look, I know Major Motoko Kusanagi is considered to be one of the best heroines in anime history and there are things to like about her as a character, but let’s address the elephant in the room that not many people want to talk about when it comes to this iteration of her character. Why the heck does she have to be naked to use the thermo-optic camouflage? You would think that Section 9, a government paramilitary black ops infantry with state-of-the-art technology to fight against violent cyber crimes would give her some kind of armor to take care of that. Shoot, that one lowly hacker had a hoodie that could do the same thing as her in the nude which makes no sense. Doesn’t anyone realize that invisibility doesn’t equal invincibility? It’s shown in two of the fight scenes that someone using thermo-optic camouflage can still be seen (or at least have their outlines visible) when they are hit with something or get wet in some way. I don’t care how good of a fighter and markswoman she is, if a bullet or bomb hits her, she has no protection from the impact. For an organization with access to lots of information, they can be dumb sometimes. One could argue that it was cheap fanservice (come on, you have fanboys who like Motoko for the wrong reasons, you know) and it’s one of those killer plot holes that can ruin critically-acclaimed works. Even the later series including the Arise OVAs which are prequels didn’t have that issue. Much like how the ruby slippers rightfully belonging to the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz via inheritance laws (which kickstarted the VERY credible “Glinda is the real villain” fan theory) for example, this issue with that gadgetry is insane if you really think about it.

This work from Mamoru Oshii is certainly high quality sci-fi film, but I’m not going to pretend there aren’t issues to it. The animation is beautiful and holds up very well. The sound design as well as the soundtrack are also standouts. The story is very intriguing with various twists and turns. However, this movie gets pretentious at times and Motoko’s camouflage aspects add to a gaping plot hole. Ghost in the Shell isn’t perfect, but it’s still something I strongly recommend.

Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1 point if you like artsy sci-fi movies.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you prefer modern animation.
-Subtract 1-4 points if you want lighter and softer animated works.

Pros:
-Astounding hand-drawn animation
-Intriguing and cerebral storytelling
-Amazing soundtrack

Cons:
-Lack of development for supporting characters
-Dated technology
-The gaping double standards and plot holes with thermo-optic camouflage

Final Score: 9/10 points

Content Advisory: Ghost in the Shell is for mature audiences only. The language gets very strong and the violence is graphic with bodies getting blown up in gruesome ways. There’s female nudity with Motoko and with one gynoid body that becomes a major plot point. Parts of the plot will go over people’s heads like politics and existential aspects. Some parts of the movie get disturbing with the brain hacking and at one point, Motoko’s body gets hacked by the Puppet Master in a very creepy way.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Ghost in the Shell is property of Manga Entertainment and Anchor Bay. The Japanese Blu-Ray cover is from Blu-Ray.com and is property of Production I. G. and Bandai Visual.

14 comments

  1. I actually first saw the live action adaptation and never found it AS bad as people said. It’s a bit generi sure but I always say it as a Western Interpretation rather than an adaptation. I do think the characters are very 2d in the actual movie and much more real in this version… I saw it after and I think your review is very good!

    I do not think this has aged all that well though, mostly because of the technology but also like with the body camo, there is a fair bit of stuff you just have to accept works. It is a bit gloomy and harsh for my taste, which is why I prefer Cowboy Bebop a lot better, which I find much more timeless. There is a weird sense of time to gloom and “less then utopian” societies. If we would make Blade Runner today, (not remake but created from scratch) the whole.. Real or not Real would be very different and it would most likely result in the movie being more like a society in David’s Cage’s Being Human game. At some point we stopped imagining we would progress super fast.. unlike back when these series were made.

    I saw Demolition Man yesterday on tv and thought… they might not be that far off , with our society trying to become to overprotecting and to utopian at points, banning everything that is bad for you, having information about the world accesible at all time , self driving cars that can also be driven. It’s kind of funny. The problem is that when sci-fi misses it becomes campy and I think that is Ghosts biggest issue.. It doesn’t work well with being campy. Bebop doesn’t mind, Demolition Man or the Old Star Trek ham it up a fair bit so there it doesn’t matter it becomes camp. Since Ghost CAN’T become camp due to it’s tone.. it instead just becomes wrong or dated and that’s a shame! It’s still great.. but this will keep aging, while a lighter tone could have made it more timeless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see. I doubt it would have the nuance and cerebral nature of the original. That remake is something I won’t see given my severe issues with ScarJo being the Major, but my reasons are well-documented and obvious knowing me. Thanks for liking my thoughts on the original!

      The technology is certainly a big one like seeing the payphones or having phones more advanced than what was shown on here. I never understood how the movie gets a free pass with the body camo situation and I’m glad the newer movies corrected that mistake with Motoko actually wearing clothes when activating it. While Cowboy Bebop’s animation is starting to age as it looks more obviously 90s, there are still timeless elements which I agree with. Interesting points with other cyberpunk works. You did make me think what those movies would look like if they were made today. 2019 certainly didn’t look like how Blade Runner depicted it. Where’s my flying car? Hahaha!

      I never saw the entirety of that movie, but I know what it’s about though. There’s definitely a case with censorship, instant info access, etc. GITS is a movie that is very serious and even the biggest fans will admit that.

      This was a good discussion. I’m glad we can have healthy dialogue despite our differing opinions on GITS!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great review! The OST always stands out for me too.

    I was thinking about the bodysuit and I guess it could be Section 9 being cavalier – Major’s body is replaceable and so they don’t care what she wears at any time… but then, to me it does feel more like just a fan-service choice.

    Also agree on the Puppet Master, great villain, yeah 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ashley! That is also a quality soundtrack.

      Interesting points. Her body would be replaceable since they could transfer her cyberbrain and/or her ghost, but at the same time I don’t think it would be practical for Section 9 to keep pouring money into a new body no matter how effective of a fighter the Major. They may be a top-tier special ops group, but they aren’t Wall Street. I saw it as more of a fan service thing especially when you compare and contrast the later movies and series where she is clearly wearing something with the thermo-camouflage gear.

      Yes, he really is an effective villain.

      Liked by 1 person

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