GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Mamoru Oshii

Written by: Kazunori Ito

(based on the manga GHOST IN THE SHELL by Masamune Shirow)

Voices of: Mimi Woods, Richard Epcar, Tom Wyner, Christopher Joyce, William Frederick Knight, Michael Sorich, Simon Prescott & Richard Cansino

Based on the manga of the same name, 1995’s GHOST IN THE SHELL has become known as one of the big anime films that popularized the genre in America and is also widely considered to be one of the greatest animated movies of all-time. Though I don’t necessarily think that it’s without a few distracting flaws, GHOST IN THE SHELL is a visually entrancing and thought-provoking ride. This served as the inspiration for many science-fiction movies that came after its release (e.g. DARK CITY and THE MATRIX), but is sure to give the viewer an interesting 81-minute experience on its own merits.

The year is 2029 and the place is New Port City, Japan. The world is connected through something known as “the Net” (think the internet multiplied by a million). Humanity has become infused with technology, meaning that lots of people use cybernetic bodies (a.k.a. shells) and store their consciousness (a.k.a. ghosts) online. Motoko Kusanagi (Mimi Woods) is a team leader for Public Security Section 9. Her latest case involves a mysterious hacker, known as “The Puppet Master,” who can take over people’s bodies and plant false memories. This cyber-terrorist leads Kusanagi and her team on a seemingly simple chase that morphs into a complex conspiracy. Our robotic protagonist soon finds herself questioning everything around her and the meaning of existence itself.

GHOST IN THE SHELL packs a lot into its short 82-minute running time. The meaning of life is discussed frequently and no big answers are spelled out for the viewer. Instead, we are left to our own devices to interpret what the deeper discussions mean in this film and if there’s any merit to them whatsoever. I found the waxing philosophical conversations between explosive action scenes to be a refreshing approach to what may just sound like a sci-fi/action anime on the surface. That’s not to say that GHOST doesn’t have its awesome action-packed moments, because it certainly does. This is a very R-rated cartoon that involves gore, nudity and intense gunfights. There’s a mystery at play too, which I’m sure is further delved into in the other installments in this long-running franchise.

As for the animation, this film looks amazing. The visuals are brought to life through a combination of traditional cel animation and digitally integrated computer effects. This adds to the excitement of the many confrontations, chases and explosive set pieces, while also appearing beautiful in the film’s slower moments. Speaking of which, the pacing in the 82-minute running time occasionally drags. I’m not talking about the many dialogue-filled scenes, but am referring to a handful of montages that seem to exist purely to show off the impressive animation. I mean, the animation is undoubtedly impressive and just as cool as I described it to be, but these bits detracted from the story’s flow.

The only other problem I have with GHOST IN THE SHELL comes from a deliberate storytelling decision. Kusanagi is an interesting protagonist when you describe her on paper, but there seems to have been intentional disconnect thrown onto this character. She’s robotic to the extent that we don’t really see her feel many emotions, while her metal-eyed partner Batou seems like a more well-rounded character altogether. Meanwhile, the Puppet Master serves as an interesting antagonist in that he’s not necessarily a traditional villain. I loved where they went with his character and this led to a ballsy ending that few films would ever attempt today. Besides these three main characters, the rest of the plot’s players seem almost like one-note afterthoughts.

I think the unconventionally ballsy, thought-provoking tone is ultimately what shapes GHOST IN THE SHELL into a great film, despite its faults and problems. This seems like a movie that took a lot of risks and a majority of them paid off in a big way. These include: the film’s complex approach to a seemingly simple set-up, the strange cast of characters, the absurdly short running time, the amazing animation and the downright weird conclusion. Though I may not love this acclaimed anime as much as many others seem to, I still highly recommend GHOST IN THE SHELL. It’s an interesting, thought-provoking and compellingly imperfect piece of gorgeously animated science-fiction.

Grade: A-

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