Movie Reviews: Ghost in the Shell

The concept of artificial intelligence has existed for nearly as long as the idea of robots themselves. It seems, now, that machines capable of independent action would eventually become capable of independent reasoning, which raises questions of identity and ideology. A living, organic entity may be thought to possess consciousness, even a soul, but a machine, no matter how advanced?

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Mamoru Oshii, 1995) is a natural progression in this line of thinking, a posthuman ship of Theseus treatise given life through dusty 1990s animation. Our philosophical questions have taken form and evolved, learning to walk so that they may take police work. Their viscera may be transcendent, but their grievances are familiar. Off-duty they question their existences and drink canned beer, as fictional cop characters do.

This comes against the backdrop of a synthetic skyline, with a deus ex machina lurking both beyond the monoliths and inside humans with compromised memories, betrayed by their cybernetic posthumanism. The ideas here are relevant today, and in a world increasingly experienced through the digitized experiences of others, more familiar with each day.

I can only imagine the impact of this movie in 1995; in hindsight it seems destined to have become a cult movie, waiting for real-life technology to even hint at this imagined world. Watching in 2021, it is impossible to remove the movie from its influences, and its successors, but also from modern sensibilities.

Count me as someone with affection for early 2000s-era Adult Swim. The muted line art and CGI cityscapes are a welcome aesthetic, one representative of a specific point in time. I can see this aesthetic being a deterrent for some but I think it both matches the tone of the movie and, at the very. Some of the visual effects – transitions from camouflage and back – are creative, innovative.

There is the matter of the characters, however. The future of New Port City is predominantly male, and while our lead presents a female appearance, there is little to separate her from her male counterparts other than her voice. I won’t go into detail about the Major’s combat attire here, but spoilers ahead:

the nudity being exclusive to female bodies here, and characteristic of the only female bodies present, is hard to ignore or accept.

This aspect of the movie is hard to ignore, even assuming 1995 sensibilities.

Some content aside, this is a visually appealing movie, and one that does well to blend its philosophical discussions with its action scenes. I won’t spoil anything here, but the climax of the movie is well executed, and the narrative wraps up its conflict while leaving some room for interpretation. The action is compelling; there are a few legitimately stunning moments here.

I didn’t want to spend the review discussing this movie as a product of its influences, or as an interpretation of ideas that we still see explored today. In both cases I think the connections are clear, and I wanted to explore the movie in its own right. I understand that for many, this movie is formative and influential, hard to describe in terms of entertainment or even art. In hindsight I am inclined to agree; it has its problems but it remains significant, and holds up as a standalone work.