Ghost in the Shell – looking back at an anime classic
Animation that stands the test of time9
Slow-burning action thriller6
Meditation on being human7
Roxy Simons | On 24, Mar 2017
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Iemasa Kayumi, Koichi Yamadera.
Watch Ghost in the Shell online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Google Play
With 2017’s remake arriving in cinemas, we look back at the original Ghost in the Shell – and where you can watch it online.
What is it that makes us human? Is it our place in society? Our thoughts and memories? These questions are at the heart of 1995 anime classic Ghost in the Shell, as its lead character, and cyborg, Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka) starts to question her existence in Japan’s technologically advanced society in 2029.
There has been an increase in cases of fabricated memories, of cyborgs whose “ghosts” are manipulated and used to fulfil the agenda of cyber-hacker the Puppet Master. With her own robotic body and human brain, Major starts to wonder if she can still call herself human, when she’s unsure whether her memories are even her own. Working as part of Section 9’s covert police division, she is tasked with finding the hacker who seems to have also developed an interest in her, but this is easier said than done.
When it comes to anime that have redefined the way the genre is seen, Ghost in the Shell is undoubtedly at the top. It may have been released over 20 years ago but the film feels fresh even now, especially since shows such as Westworld are exploring similar notions of self-aware AI. The film’s frank examination of what it means to be human and our dependence – even over-reliance – on technology is also reflective of today’s society, so it’s no wonder that the anime still feels current so long after its release.
It’s not just the subject matter that makes Mamoru Oshii’s film stand out so much: it’s also its design and score. Animated by Production I.G., a studio that has since gone on to work on projects including Neon Genesis Evangelion and Kill Bill Vol.1 (they’re the ones behind that killer animation sequence), the film features seamless transitions and ground-breaking sequences. The fight scene where Motoko battles a convict at large in her camouflage suite is a particular highlight, and there’s plenty more where that came from. In comparison to other sci-fi films from similar times, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t feel outdated, even when it comes to the tracking technology the characters use, and it’s impressive that the studio’s work has been able to stand the test of time.
Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack is particularly striking. It’s ethereal and chilling, and Kawai’s main theme, which features a chorus, is used to great effect. It chimes in at the perfect moments, strengthening the film’s sombre nature and Motoko’s journey; the ancient Japanese lyrics that are used in one song are juxtaposed against the futuristic society we see on screen.
All that being said, the film does suffer from some pacing issues. Those looking for an action-packed thriller are not likely to find it here. The film keeps to a deliberate pace, and is slow to reach its climax. When the action sequences start they are exciting and beautifully animated, but they are few and far between, as the story focuses more on Motoko’s meditations on her humanity. Even when Motoko is faced with the Puppet Master, the encounter is subdued and philosophical. But it is this, rather than the action, that defines Ghost in the Shell as a whole – a groundbreaking anime that has become a cinematic masterpiece in its own right.
Ghost in the Shell is also available on Blu-ray with Digital HD in a special anniversary edition.