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Ghost In The Shell Review

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Whilst we’re on the subject of Mamoru Oshii, here’s a review of one of his finest.

Ghost In The Shell

Genre: Sci-fi Cyberpunk
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Distributor: Manga Entertainment UK
Duration: One movie – 85 minutes approx.
Production Creation: 1995

Plot Synopsis

Based on Masamune Shirow’s near legendary manga, Ghost In The Shell is one of the few anime movie features that can be credited for spearheading anime penetration in the West.

It is AD 2029. Networks are everywhere and everybody wishes to become a part of them. Technology has advanced to the point where people can augment entire sections of their body to fit their medical needs, personal requirements or vocation. All such people who augment themselves still retain, at least in part, their human brain. Within this brain, is the ‘ghost’ or ‘soul’ of each cyborg, and due to the links with cyber overnetworks, ghosts can now be hacked and manipulated by those who know how and false memories are able to be implanted.

When the interpreter of a high ranking government official is targeted by a mysterious hacker known only as the ‘Puppet Master’ and is subsequently ghost hacked, Special Section Nine of the state owned police force is called in to help. Section Nine’s finest officer, Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg herself, is assigned to the case. However, the ‘Puppet Master’ will lead her into a world political espionage, physical danger and even to question her very own existence and what it means to be human.

The Review

From the camp of anime fans who say that Ghost In The Shell isn’t all that, to the camp that says it’s a mature sci-fi masterpiece, Ghost In The Shell has enjoyed a wide variety of opinions from anime fan and otaku alike. Regardless though, no anime fan can deny that it’s remains a landmark anime almost eight years on.

Produced by Production I.G, one of the major animation powerhouses of Japan, Ghost In The Shell enjoys very high production values and this is immediately evident as visually, Ghost In The Shell is absolutely breathtaking. The animators and artists have really done a superb job of bringing Shirow’s vision of quasi-futuristic cityscapes, locations and it’s characters to life. Complex skyscrapers, sprawling computer laboratories, urban areas and even run down slums are brought to vivid life with some of the most detailed background art seen in an anime feature since Akira.

The characters though, are something you will largely hate or like depending on whether or not you’ve read the manga. If you’re like me, and haven’t read any or only read very little of the manga, the character designs won’t offend you as they are detailed, expressive and quite stylish. Those of you who are massive fans of the manga though, won’t be too enthralled with what you see here, as the characters, Motoko in particular, bear a scant resemblance to their manga counterparts.

The animation also benefits from the high production values too with fluid and precise movements throughout. CG is also used in places, although sparingly so, to display such things as cloaking devices, explosions and such like. One sequence that takes place at the start of the film, which shows Motoko’s cybernetic overhaul, showcases this lavish animation wonderfully and to this day looks as stunning now as it did during it’s original release.

The soundtrack by Kenji Kawai (Patlabor movies 1,2 and WXIII) is a perennial favourite of mine as it’s very atmospheric, starkly sombre and quite haunting. A special mention must also go to the music that accompanies a group of scenes in the film which shows Motoko wondering in different parts of the city in both slow motion and a mixture of still frames. Drawing influences from Chinese folk music and various other oriental choral melodies, it’s simply a very stirring piece of music that not only adds layers of atmosphere to the anime but also compounds the fact that the soundtrack is among the most memorable i’ve heard to date.

When we dig past the impressive audiovisual aspects of the film, Ghost In The Shell appears to almost break under the weight of it’s undeniably impressive scope and range of themes, but thankfully is saved by Oshii’s typically tight and somewhat methodical direction. There are aspects of politics, introspection, dystopian ideals, self-reflection and many other themes that may have proven too much for other directors to fully explore, but are done so here with admirable success. Some may see the slow and deliberate pace of the film as a factor that acts as it’s detriment, and as such will probably turn action fans off pretty quickly. However, the slower pace works to its advantage since this is an intelligent work that requires a more deliberate pace to engage the viewer to a fuller extent.

Unlike Akira, Ghost In The Shell doesn’t suffer from any kind of compression problems as far as the plot and characters go, but it’s still fairly easy for the uninitiated to become confused since there are a lot of profound and abstract moments in the movie that wouldn’t make too much sense on the first viewing. Nevertheless, the cohesiveness of the tight storyline and characters to the impressively daunting technical aspects of the production remain a balancing act that Ghost In The Shell just about manages perfectly.

Also unlike Akira, there are many times in the film where Oshii encourages the viewer to fill in the narrative gap with their own thoughts and conclusions and as a result, you never feel like that this is a ‘dumb anime’ but rather an intelligent feature film that forces you to think and contemplate rather than have everything spelled out in front of you. The previously mentioned scenes of Motoko walking through the city, flicking between frames containing shop windows, graffiti walls, broken down houses and aircraft soaring slowly overhead, are complete devoid of are perfect examples of this.

Ghost In The Shell is a landmark anime that still retains the same poignancy and ability to compel now as it did when I first saw it. As an anime feature to gain notoriety across the world, it’s importance shouldn’t be understated as in a stark contrast to Akira which had a compressed plot and underdeveloped characters, Ghost In The Shell manages an impressive interpolation with all it’s elements to a create a whole which remains true to it’s impressive hyperbole and strong caliber.

Simply unmissable.

Ratings Summary

Animation: A+
Art: A
Music: A+
Content: A

Overall: A+

Review by: JP Jones

Suitability for children

There are a few extremely violent scenes in Ghost In The Shell along with a smattering of mild profanity (mostly from Batou) and a bit of nudity (mostly from Motoko). Strictly for those aged 15+.

If you liked this why not try…

Ghost In The Shell: Innocence – DreamWorks Entertainment
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Bandai Entertainment

Written by bitsnark

December 5, 2005 at 9:56 pm

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