Title: Ghost in the Shell
Atsuko Tanaka as Motoko Kusanagi
Akio Otsuka as Batou
Iemasa Kayumi as the Puppet Master
Koichi Yamadera as Togusa
Yutaka Nakano as Ishikawa
Tamio Oki as Chief Aramaki
Tessho Genda as Chief Nakamura
Distributed by: Shochiku
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Year of Release: 1995
Synopsis: Based on the manga series of the same name by Japanese artist Masamune Shiro, this 1995 animated sci-fi action drama takes place in the near future, where robot and cyborg technology has advanced tremendously, and the world has become interconnected by a vast computer network that permeates every aspect of life. Much of humanity, including the protagonists, has direct access to this network through cybernetic bodies, or "shells", which possess their consciousness and can give them superhuman abilities. In the year 2029, Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg assault team leader for the Public Security Section 9, is assigned to capture an elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master. Her team, consisting of Batou, Togusa, and Ishikawa, use triangulation to seek out the Puppet Master. Their suspect is a garbageman who believes he is going through a divorce and thinks he is using a program obtained from a sympathetic man to illegally "ghost-hack" his wife's mind to find his daughter. Kusanagi and her team arrest both the garbageman and the man who gave him the program, but they discover that both men's memories were either erased or implanted, which means they themselves were "ghost-hacked" by the Puppet Master, who remains at large. It is later revealed that the Puppet Master, AKA Project 2501, is a sentient program that has gone rouge, and has become self aware. Kusanagi's closest partner, Batou, joins her in this mission to track down the rouge program and contain it at all costs before it causes any major disasters among the populated city.
Personal Comments: Known as “Kōkaku Kidōtai” (攻殻機動隊, literally, Mobile Armored Riot Police) in Japan, Ghost in the Shell is perhaps one of the most well-known and well-received anime franchises of all time. Like most anime franchises, it started off as a manga. It was created by Masamune Shiro, and published by Kodansha. And yes, Masamune Shiro is the same person who gave us Black Magic M-66 and Appleseed. Now, I've talked about this movie a lot from time to time. Or rather, I referenced it numerous times in many of my past reviews. And since I keep referencing Ghost in the Shell, I figured it's about time I did a review of it just for the sake of getting out of my system, and sharing my own personal experiences that I have with this movie and the franchise that it spawned as a result of its success. Now, when I first learned about this movie, I was curious to see what it was about as the trailers and the theatrical poster sparked my curiosity. But I didn't see this movie until the year 2000, which was five years after the film's theatrical release in Japan. I saw it for the first time when I rented a VHS copy of this movie from my local video store, and I watched it with my cousins on this one particular night.
Originally released November 18th, 1995, this was the first film given to the franchise, and it came almost a whole decade before the second film “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”, and the animated TV series that soon followed after. This film's animation is credited to Production I.G. The same company behind some of the episodes from Animatrix and Batman Gotham Knight. And yes, I know I say this a lot, but... WHOA!!! The animation in this movie is absolutely beautiful! It's so well-done and so gorgeous to look at! The moving quality and the attention to detail is downright outstanding and stylish. And not only that, but they also made good use of some awesome computer graphics as well. Yes, this movie made use of traditional 2D cel-animation and CGI, much like "Golgo 13: The Professional", and "Lensmen: Secret of the Lens", both of which I reviewed in the past. And for a film that was made back in the 90s, it's just amazing. Even though this movie is 20 years old now, the artwork and animation definitely holds up by today's standards. And it has definitely withstood the test of time. I'm telling you, Production I.G. really outdid themselves with this movie. Ghost in the Shell also incorporates influences from Robocop and the Terminator. But unlike that abysmal trainwreck ROTOR, it's MUCH better executed, and the story is more well-handled. The series also incorporates elements of mystery, drama, and film-noir as well.
The overarching philosophical themes of the film include sex/gender identity and self-identity in a technologically advanced world. The music, composed by Kenji Kawai, included an ancient Japanese language in a wedding song that serves as a key piece of music leading up to the climax of the movie. Ghost in the Shell was received positively by critics, who praised the film for its impressive visuals, which at the time were the most effective synthesis of traditional cel animation and CGI. It's complex story telling has served as inspiration for filmmakers such as The Wachowski Brothers, who are most famous for the hit film series “The Matrix”. However, that's one thing I want to go over in this review. While I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell considerably when I first watched it, I have to admit I was rather confused by the movie's awkward storytelling. Now, I'm not saying that it's a bad story. It's just that I found the plot in this movie to be rather confusing and hard to understand. And it has nothing to do with bad writing or poor story narration. Quite contrary, this movie does have a story. But it requires the viewer to watch at least several times in order to fully understand it, because the story is very in depth and detailed just as the animation is. And believe me, I had to watch this movie at least several times in order to grasp exactly what was going on here. But I have to give Mamoru Oshii credit for putting some effort into this story. And even though I had some trouble understanding it from the first time I watched this movie, at least this movie is not a complete disaster like Evil in the Woods, one of the films that I hate the most. But I'm not going to talk about that in this review.
I always found the main protagonist of the film, Motoko Kusanagi, to be a rather interesting character. Kusanagi is a cyborg employed as the squad leader of Public Security Section 9, a fictional division of the real Japanese National Public Safety Commission. Kusanagi's body is almost completely robotic (similar to the Terminator), but like most fictional cyborgs, she has a history of being human (similar to 8-Man and Robocop). She has the physical appearance of a 20 year old woman. But her actual age is estimated to be around her mid to late 30s. She is voiced by Atsuko Tanaka in the movies and the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series. In the English dub of the film, she was voiced by Mimi Woods. Kusanagi has had various makeovers over the years. And the various incarnations of her in the manga, movies, and TV series all portray her differently. Since each of these has an independent storyline, Kusanagi's physical and mental characteristics have been modified in different ways to reflect the focus of each respective story. In the manga, Kusanagi is a commanding officer when taking on assignments, but also trades jokes and insults with her troops. She constantly calls Aramaki "Ape Face", and when the Puppet Master reveals the "Motokos" that exist in the minds of those who know her, Aramaki's "Motoko" is sticking her tongue out. She also smiles frequently, and gives the "V" for victory to her boyfriend. She does, however, discuss seriously whether she is a "real" person with her girlfriend. However, she assumes a "horror movie"-style pose, and they both laugh at the end (but slightly nervously).
In the 1995 film, she is Aramaki's second in command in Section 9. She is a very effective leader and is able to use her wits and cybernetic body in bringing criminals to justice. However, despite the number of cyborgs in Section 9, Kusanagi hand-picks Togusa, who has undergone only minimal brain modification, to balance the roster, an interesting expression of her belief that homogeneity is a weakness and that versatility is a strength. Kusanagi is often contemplative and brooding, whilst her counterpart Batou is more extroverted and lively. She usually wields an M-23 submachine gun that, while fictional, bears a striking resemblance to a P90 - though with the magazine mounted vertically on the underside instead of horizontally as is the case with the P-90.
In the original manga, Kusanagi's portrayal differs from that of the movie. She has a much more slapstick, vivacious, and sexy personality. She participates in a lesbian sex splash panel and has a boyfriend. The in-universe explanation for the lesbian sex panel seems to be that cyborgs of the same gender are especially compatible. This splash panel is apparently a "side business" for Motoko, as stated by Masamune in the back of the manga collection. Apparently, "e-sex" (as depicted in the splash panel) is a lucrative but illegal act. This is because it ties together the users' nervous systems to allow shared simultaneous sensations; such intimate connections have the potential for serious complications, as illustrated by the accidental arrival of Batou. Motoko's body is one of the most advanced models on the market, possessing 16²/cm² skin tactile elements, meaning she has a greatly heightened sense of touch. These nerves render her e-sex acts especially pleasurable; therefore, she makes a good profit from these activities.
Heterosexual e-sex is especially illegal, because such acts entail immense pain, caused by the fact that nerves stimulated by one user are stimulated simultaneously and blindly in another user. Homosexual e-sex is safe because the participants have the same body parts being stimulated (in Motoko's three-way panel, the fondling of a breast). When Batou accidentally crashes Motoko's panel while trying to contact her, he experiences intense pain since he is receiving stimulation for organs and bodily parts which he does not possess. Whatever the technical rationale for all this, Shirow said in his poster-book, Intron Depot 1, that "I drew an all-girl orgy because I didn't want to draw some guy's butt." This panel was cut from the original American release of the manga, as it would have entailed giving the book an "adults only" rating. Ultimately, Shirow decided it wasn't important to the plot. In the second edition, released on November 17, 2004, the scene is completely unedited. Another, less important, fact about her sexuality is that she has a boyfriend during a latter story in the manga. He works for Section One, and they have been dating for seven months. Batou considers this "a new record."
Another character who I found interesting in the 1995 movie is the Puppet Master, who apparently is neither a male or female character, but rather, was an artificial intelligence program secretly developed by Section 6 of Public Security that develops sentience. In the English dub of the movie, it was voiced by Tom Wyner. Also known as Project 2501, the Puppet Master was created for the Japanese Ministry of Forein Affairs as a took that could stealthily manipulate politics and intelligence, altering databases and the memories of key persons for the benefit of select individuals and orginizations affiliated with the Ministry, and is equipped with an unparalleled computer brain and cyber hacking abilities. The program was headed by Dr. Willis, an American head of strategic research at Neutron Corporation and a top researcher in AI, and was started approximately a year before the first known Puppet Master incident. Project 2501 is only referred to as the Puppet Master once its handy work has been discovered by outside sources, which includes Section 9. Once discovered, the Puppet Master is assumed to be a human, most likely with mnemonic enhancements, who has incredible hacking skills. The Puppet Master's host body appears as a blonde white woman in her 20s. But the character is neither male or female, as the host body is merely a cyborg shell designed to resemble a young woman. Later analysis by Section 9 yielded unusual results. While given that the shell couldn't possibly have a ghost since it had not formally received one yet, one was detected anyway in the cyber brain's auxiliary computer. The technician explained that it resembled a virtual ghost of the kind that is created when a real ghost is dubbed, but lacked the indicative data degradation. In the film, it was revealed that the Puppet Master was once human, and that it was an American man whose name is never revealed, but had transported his essence into a robot body, and killed his original body in the process. The Puppet Master thinks of itself as a living thinking entity that was born from the very depths of data.
While traversing endless networks as it performed its tasks, Project 2501 acquired so much information and is able to process it in such a unique way that it eventually managed to achieve self-awareness, which its creators were initially unaware of. Regarded as just a bug in its AI program, Project 2501 would have been isolated immediately had its sentience been fully discovered. So once it realizes its programmer's reaction toward its sentience would almost certainly lead to its 'death', it begins devising a plan to ensure its own safety. Eventually, it learned of Public Security Section 9 and Major Motoko Kusanagi from its online journeys. It then took a special interest in her, well before the events of the film, because in her it saw a reflection of its own psyche. By the end of the film, Kusanagi wakes up in a child-sized cyborg body in Batou's safe house. Batou says her original body was destroyed in the fight. He recovered her brain intact and attached it to the new body. Police Chief Nakamura is questioned and the Foreign Minister resigns in the aftermath. As she is about to leave, Kusanagi acknowledges she is now neither herself nor the Puppet Master, but a combination of both. Batou says he will always be there for her. She exits the house and gazes out over the city, pondering the possibilities for the future.
In 2004, there was a sequel to this movie titled “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”, which is the film that I currently have on DVD. However, I'm not so sure if this film was ever dubbed in English. Because the DVD edition that I have only features the Japanese version with English subtitles. Like the previous film, “Innocence” was also directed by Mamoru Oshii, and was also animated by Production I.G, which means the animation quality in this movie is equal to the highly detailed and absolutely stunning quality from the original film. For some odd reason, Kusanagi is absent for most of the film, but she does make an appearance towards the end of the film, but in a completely different robotic shell since her original cyborg body was destroyed towards the end of the first film. However, most of the focus is on her closest freiend and companion Batou, who fills in her shoes as the commanding officer of the Tokyo Police Department, with Togusa as his partner. The two of them share a great deal of screen time in the sequel. With a story loosely connected to the manga by Masamune Shiro, the second movie was honored best sci-fi film at the 2004 Nihon SF Taisho Awards and was in competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The soundtrack for the film was released under the name Innocence O.S.T. and a related novel called Innocence: After the Long Goodbye was released on February 29, 2004. This film makes many allusions and references to other famous works, such as The Future Eve. The foreign DVD release of the film faced many issue ranging from licensing to audio.
The story is loosely based on Ghost in the Shell manga chapter "Robot Rondo". Opening in 2032, Public Security Section 9 cybernetic operative Batou is teamed with Togusa, an agent with very few cybernetic upgrades, following the events of Ghost in the Shell. After a series of violent deaths due to malfunctioning gynoids (robots shaped like marionettes) Section 9 is asked to investigate. As the gynoids all malfunctioned without clear cause, the deaths are believed to be premeditated murders; Batou and Togusa are sent to investigate possible terrorist or political motives. Additionally, the most recent gynoid's remains show they all contained an illegal "ghost". Section 9 concludes human sentience is being artificially duplicated onto the dolls illegally, making the robots more lifelike, and possibly acting as a motive in the murders. Called to a homicide scene, Ishikawa explains the victim is Jack Walkson, a consignment officer at gynoid company LOCUS SOLUS, who may have been killed by the Yakuza. A previous Yakuza boss was recently killed by a gynoid, so Ishikawa concludes Walkson was held responsible and killed in an act of revenge. Batou and Togusa enter a Yakuza bar to question the current boss, only to be threatened by the bar occupants. Batou opens fire, killing and wounding numerous gang members, including the cyborg that murdered Walkson. The current boss then admits his predecessor was somehow involved in LOCUS SOLUS, but insists he doesn't know how. Entering a store on his way home, Batou is then seemingly warned by Major and shot in the arm by an unseen assailant. Caught in a firefight, Batou nearly kills the store owner in confusion, but is subdued when Ishikawa appears. Having his damaged arm replaced, Ishikawa informs Batou his E-brain was hacked, causing him to shoot himself and attack the others. Ishikawa explains that Batou was hacked to try and cause further scandal following his Yakuza assault in an attempt to stop the Section 9 investigation.
In 2002, there was a TV series titled “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, which was directed by Kenji Kamiyama, and like the films, was animated by Production I.G. The series ran from October 1st, 2002, to October 1st, 2003, and lasted for 26 episodes. There was also “Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG”, which ran from January 1st, 2004, to January 8th, 2005. Like the previous series before it, the show lasted 26 episodes. In 2006, there was a third film titled “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society”, which was directed by Kenji Kamiyama, the same person behind the two TV series. The story takes place in the year 2034, two years after the events of 2nd GIG, Public Security Section 9 is investigating a string of mysterious suicides by refugees from the Siak Republic. Chief Aramaki orders the arrest of Ka Rum, the former dictator of the Siak Republic, only to find him dead of an assassination disguised as a suicide, and the word "Puppeteer" written in blood. In retaliation for the death of Ka Rum, a Siak operative plans a terrorist attack with a micromachine virus. Batou is sent to intercept the Siak operative who has the micromachine virus and encounters Kusanagi, who is conducting her own investigation. Before they can apprehend the operative, dies while attacking them. Kusanagi takes a case of virus ampules and warns Batou to stay away from the Solid State Society before she leaves. There is also a fourth film that is currently in production, and is set for a theatrical release sometime in 2015, which will mark 20 years since the release of the original movie.
Overall: I have to say, “Ghost in the Shell” is most definitely a timeless classic, and a solid gem of the 1990s. It was worth the time I spent watching it when I first rented it from my local video store that night, and I did not regret it. Although admittedly, I was a bit lost when I first watched this movie due to its confusing storyline and its tendency to drag in some places. Truth be told, the storytelling does have some potholes and mistakes here and there. But these problems don't affect the film too much in the long run. At least not for me anyway. And I have to say, I commend Masamune Shiro for making the manga. And it's also thanks to Mamoru Oshii for making this absolutely incredible and groundbreaking masterpiece of a film, which no doubt spawned a highly successful franchise. A franchise that spawned theatrical films, TV shows, and even video games. But anyway, the original Ghost in the Shell, for me, is one of the most memorable anime movies of the mid to late 90s. It's animation, action scenes, storytelling, and its epic atmosphere has withstood the test of time. And now, 20 years later, it's still holds up. And its still considered a groundbreaking film by today's standards. Since this movie is still popular today, you should still be able to find it on DVD and Blu-Ray. And its even available on Netflix as well in case you're curious enough to check it out. Well, with all that said, its time to give this movie the rating it deserves; solid 5 stars.