For one day only on Saturday 27 September 2014 (almost 20 years after its initial release in the UK, the iconic, influential and often imitated but never bettered Ghost In The Shell gets the big screen re-release treatment courtesy of Picturehouse cinemas across the country. As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday you can pick up the limited edition Steelbook blu-ray! Once described as the film “James Cameron would make if Disney let him”, resident anime fanboy Matt explains why this is one of the most influential films of the last 20 years in the second instalment of our Adultimation series.
by Matt Lambourne (@Matt_Lambourne)
If you purchased any Manga Entertainment VHS between 1993/94 it would have been impossible for you to not have seen or heard of Ghost in the Shell. It had been many years since the impact of Akira as the genre-defining movie had crossed-over graphic Anime into the mainstream. The world was ready for the next adult hit and by 1995 it had arrived.
“Can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither modern science nor philosophy can explain what life is?”
Ghost in the Shell is the story of a Special Police Unit (Public Security: Section 9) based in a not so distant future Japan, comprising of semi-cybernetic agents whose physical bodies have been fine-tuned and mechanically enhanced, known as Shells. In this post-cyberpunk future however, the Shell (or body) is somewhat dispensable and persona and memory can be transferred between bodies, this is the Ghost element of the movie, referring the transference of soul into differing physical entities.
Section 9 are in pursuit of an expert hacker known only as the Puppet Master who is responsible for implanting fake memories and realities into its victims minds to use their bodies to hack via proxy (known as Ghost hacking). As the movie progresses it becomes clear to the cybernetic contingent of Section 9 that the Puppet Master may not indeed be a person at all, but a Ghost that has evolved from the modern equivalent of the Internet, initially weaponised but has now become sentient and acting upon its own will.
This causes the members of the team to question their own origins and purpose in life, particularly the central figure of the movie, Motoko Kusanagi, who begins to consider if it is even important whether she was born human, or simply artificially constructed. As her investigations draw her closer to the Puppet Master, Kusanagi becomes paranoid or perhaps even indifferent to value of her own humanity.
The film progresses with Section 9 tracking down the Puppet Master’s temporary Shell. However, another government agency is seeking to obtain it for themselves, resulting in the climatic engagement of the movie with Kusanagi confronting a Spider-Tank in a battle sequence that may seem somewhat familiar to film fans for reasons which we’ll cover later in the article.
Without spoiling the end of the movie too much, Section 9 come out on top, although the Shell of Kusanagi is destroyed in the tank battle, her Ghost is merged with that of the Puppet Master. The new lifeform whilst resembling Kusanagi is neither her or the Puppet Master, which ends the film on a delicious outcome that leaves the future for this character open to interpretation.
Few films have ever been as hyped prior to release in the adult-Anime world as Ghost in the Shell was during the early 90’s. It featured in trailers for just about every anime film released for the 2-3 year period prior to it reaching a cinematic and eventual home release. For me it holds a tremendous fondness and was one of the first films I can recall ever being truly excited about for an extended period before its release.
The trailer itself is still one of my personal favourite examples of how to ramp up expectation and excitement with good marketing and extraordinary iconography without spoiling all the movie’s key plot-points. I implore you to take a look for yourselves:
Cel and CG animation
Ghost in the Shell is easy on the eye, that goes without saying. Even 20 years later it still looks fresh and edgy. Whilst the film is set in a near-future Japan, the densely populated City scenes are based upon modern day Hong Kong. Long narrow alley-ways, with a plethora of signs and that all-too realistic weaving of heavy concrete and rain causing a claustrophobic, damp and grey Urban-Jungle
The art work is especially stunning. Beautifully detailed digital Cel backgrounds combined with then state of the art CG animation made Ghost in the Shell not only feel light years ahead in terms of the sophisticated sci-fi plot but also in how it looked.
The music is also a key component, more so than in any Anime I’ve seen before or since. Gorgeous Japanese symphonic cords, blended together with traditional wedding vocals create a haunting tone during the film’s opening sequence with the shell of Kusangi being created, you know the movie is taking you into deep into the imagination of the director Mamoru Oshii from the get-go.
It can’t be stressed strongly enough how much impact Ghost in the Shell has had on movie makers, particularly in Western Science Fiction (namely the Wachowski Siblings). Its influence on 1999’s The Matrix for example becomes immediately noticeable from Ghost in the Shell‘s title sequence, which bears the hallmarks of the now iconic binary green rain as well as the cybernetic implants on the back of the characters necks.
There are many more touches shared between both films, both in the plot mechanics and the use of the Internet as a form of alternative reality. The action sequences also compliment each other greatly, as touched upon earlier in the article the climatic battle sequence is very similar to the lobby action-scene in The Matrix whereby pillars are used as means of cover but massively destroyed from gunfights to demonstrate fire-power.
Whilst it would be fair to say that The Matrix inserted more martial-arts at the expense of the the political plot lines, Ghost in the Shell features a limited amount of hand to hand combat whilst also borrowing from other Sci-Fi properties such as Predator with Thermo-Optic Camouflage being a key plot-trigger of the film
Its not a stretch to say though that The Matrix wouldn’t exist without Ghost in the Shell (and Akira before it).. that’s how important this film is in grand sphere of influence it wields amongst its industry fanbase. If you’re fortunate enough to have it showing near you this weekend, we highly recommended taking the opportunity to see it on a big screen. It’s a perfectly paced and easily digestible 90-mins of Sci-Fi Action that will live long in the memory.