Deus ex machina are supposed to reveal truths of the world, not leave it covered in darkness. Which is why this film is rather prophetic, and should probably be in the queue for monthly consumption, at a minimum.
Ghost In The Shell (1995)
Cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki, Tessho Genda
Director: Mamoru Oshii
re-released on blu-ray Sep 23, 2014
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%, Audience Score 89%
The Guardian: ****/*****
Mamoru Oshii is a Japanese director and screenwriter. He has directed a ton of anime films and television shows, including Urusei Yatsura, Red Spectacles, Ghost in the Shell, Avalon, and Patlabor 2: The Movie. His directorial style has often been detailed in how different it is to most films made in the United States, with visuals being the most important element to him, followed by story, and then characterizations.
The Wachowskis and James Cameron have been in awe of his work for decades, especially with Ghost in the Shell, so I thought it fitting to time my review of the original film with the release of the live-action remake. Because, well, it’s even more relevant today than it was 20+ years ago.
Courtesy of Wikipedia…
In 2029, with the advance of cybernetic technology, the human body can be “augmented” or even completely replaced with cybernetic parts. Another significant achievement is the cyberbrain, a mechanical casing for the human brain that allows access to the Internet and other networks. An often-mentioned term is “ghost”, referring to the consciousness inhabiting the body (the “shell”).
Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka) is an assault-team leader for the Public Security Section 9 of “New Port City” in Japan. Following a request from Nakamura (Tessho Genda), chief of Section 6, she successfully assassinates a diplomat of a foreign country to prevent a programmer named Daita (Mitsuru Miyamoto) from defecting.
The Foreign Minister’s interpreter is ghost-hacked, presumably to assassinate VIPs in an upcoming meeting. Believing the perpetrator is the mysterious Puppet Master (Iemasa Kayumi), Kusanagi’s team follows the traced telephone calls that sent the virus. After a chase, they capture a garbage man and a thug. However, both are only ghost-hacked individuals with no clue about the Puppet Master. The investigation again comes to a dead end.
Megatech Body, a “shell” manufacturer with suspected close ties to the government, is hacked and assembles a cybernetic body. The body escapes but is hit by a truck. As Section 9 examines the body, they find a human “ghost” inside its computer brain. Unexpectedly, Nakamura arrives to reclaim the body. He claims that the “ghost” inside the brain is the Puppet Master himself, lured into the body by Section 6. The body reactivates itself, claims to be a sentient being and requests political asylum. After the Puppet Master initiates a brief argument about what constitutes a human, a camouflaged agent accompanying Nakamura starts a diversion and gets away with the body.
Having suspected foul play, Kusanagi’s team is prepared and immediately pursues the agent. Meanwhile, Section 9 researches “Project 2501,” mentioned earlier by the Puppet Master, and finds a connection with Daita, whom Section 6 tries to keep from defecting the country. Facing the discovered information, Daisuke Aramaki (Tamio Oki), chief of Section 9, concludes that Section 6 created the Puppet Master itself for various political purposes. This is why Section 6 is desperately trying to reclaim the body.
Kusanagi follows the car carrying the body to an abandoned building. It is protected by a large walking tank. Anxious to face the Puppet Master’s ghost, Kusanagi engages the tank without backup and is nearly killed. Her partner Batou (Akio Otsuka) arrives in time to save her, and helps connect her brain to the Puppet Master’s.
The Puppet Master explains to Kusanagi that he was created by Section 6. While wandering various networks, he became sentient and began to contemplate his existence. Deciding the essence of humanity is reproduction and mortality, he wants to exist within a physical brain that will eventually die. As he could not escape section 6’s network, he had to download himself into a cybernetic body. Having interacted with Kusanagi (without her knowledge), he believes she is also questioning her humanity, and they have a lot in common. He proposed merging their ghosts, in return, Kusanagi would gain all of his capabilities. Kusanagi agrees to the merge.
Snipers from Section 6 approach the building, intending to destroy the Puppet Master’s and Kusanagi’s brains to cover up Project 2501. The Puppet Master’s shell is destroyed, but Batou shields Kusanagi’s head in time to save her brain. As Section 9 closes in on the site, the snipers retreat.
“Kusanagi” wakes up in a new cyborg child body in Batou’s safehouse. She tells Batou that the entity within her body is neither Kusanagi nor the Puppet Master, but a combination of both. She promises Batou they will meet again, leaves the house and wonders where to go next.
For me, it’s tough not to watch this movie and be reminded of The Matrix. I had the unfortunate experience of watching that movie a great many years before this classic, and the repeated viewings of The Matrix trilogy over the years haven’t helped either. And so, the story is a familiar one, exploring self-identity as we relate to machines in a time when humans and machines have become interchangeable. God praise the internet, amirite? And the timeline is not that far away either, in both the film and reality.
Consciousness, humanity, autonomy, empathy, and mortality are all explored in a relatively short hour and twenty-some minutes. In a time when international corporations have basically done away with national identity too.The ghost in the shell is literally a play on the wandering consciousness that inhabits the meaty husk, and it wants to know if we hear it’s voice.
Pros: Visually compelling and with a message which has allowed it to age far better then films like Blade Runner or Total Recall, Ghost in the Shell is violent, emotional, and poetic to experience.
Cons: The individual characters are difficult to warm up to, but it might just be all of the robot parts they have imbedded.
Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes
Points of Interest: Motoko’s eye are intentionally animated to not blink very often, giving her a feel of a doll, rather then a human. The title of the manga which inspired the film is written as an homage to the Arthur Koestler work, The Ghost in the Machine.
So is the 2017 film better than the 1995 one? I’d like to think not, and not for the obvious whitewashing allusions that have been to popular on the internet over the past year or so. In fact, Mamoru Oshii has gone on record to state that the Major may or may not be Japanese, but regardless of her current appearance, her name and body have changed numerous times, and so it is in fact acceptable to have Scarlett Johansson in that role.
But I think the problem is that the anime far better depicts the story at hand, and that the visuals are far more compelling with their mix of traditional drawing and CGI. The Matrix will never be the same for me. And that’s no theory.
And speaking of things that The Matrix tried to wreak… Andre and I have a new Watch Culture video up for your viewing pleasure. Please tell us if you agree that Equilibrium is worth a watch, and if not, your comments are appreciated.