A few decades from now, nations have been replaced by city-states and mega-corporations, and the world has been tied together by a vast computer network. In the Japan of this new world, Section 9, a covert division of the Japanese police, investigate cybercrime and crimes committed by runaway robots. In addition to a wonderfully complex and introspective story, we get heart-thumping, realistic action, all served up with some incredibly revolutionary animation techniques that places Ghost in the Shell on a juicy platter for all to enjoy. Even though the story did leave me confused at times, the film was very provocative to me, and that was why I liked it so much.
Despite its origins, Shirow had little to do with the film interpretation and the result owes far more to director Mamoru Oshii’s dark, reserved, cerebral style than Shirow’s original vision. The art and animation are superb and considering it was made in 1995, phenomenal. A lot of anime movies today don’t even come close to this level of quality. Hidden within all the eye candy and psychobabble, are a few moments of actual insight into human consciousness and existence. Ghost in the Shell is generally considered to fall into the ‘action’ genre. While there are two excellent and very exciting action sequences, one at each end of the film, it is much more of a drama, spending a great deal of time developing the characters and plot.
Oshii’s obsessive perfectionism manifests in an amazing attention to detail, with layers upon layers of cluttered visuals fleshing out the workings of this future society. The animation looks pretty good for a science fiction anime. For example, looking at Tokyo at night looks really awesome, especially the scene with Kusanagi running across skyscrapers in Tokyo. While the film is punctuated with brutal action, this is really a think piece. There is much discussion about the nature of existence and the differences between artificial life forms and biological ones.
The animation is a strange mixture of dense detail and money saving shortcuts. When a character is talking, only the mouth might move. And there are scenes in which we simply watch a motionless character listen to someone off-screen. But then we are rewarded with wonderfully composed shots of a densely textured city surrounded by water, in many ways like Venice. Blood spurts and heads are crushed. The lead character has a tendency to fight in the nude. There are other assorted scenes of animated nudity. Characters frequently use profanity. The movie’s philosophical and metaphysical ideas blur the line between good and bad. I can’t help but recommend this film. It’s quite mainstream, so if you haven’t seen it, it should be easy to track down.