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It is 2029 and a team of cybernetically enhanced humans attempt to track down a powerful hacker.  

Number 9 on the list of anime that are a must watch is Ghost in the Shell. Released in 1995 and directed by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell was ahead of its time. It is not recommended for younger viewers because of violence and nudity. Lots of nudity.

In the future, people are able to augment themselves with cybernetic enhancements. Humans and technology, one step closer to being one. In this future lives Motoko Kusanagi. A full cybernetic, augmented human. Kusanagi, aka The Major, is an elite member of the spec-ops Public Security Section 9, an intelligence and law enforcement division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Her team consists of Batou and Ishikawa. They are lead under the direction of Chief Aramaki, the director of Section 9.

The movie kicks off as Kusanagi spies on a foreign diplomat attempting to leave the country with a programmer, who has intimate knowledge of classified projects. Before he is able to leave, Kusanagi eliminates the diplomat and slips back into the night. The rest of Section 9 hunts for a hacker known as the Puppet Master.

Elsewhere, the Puppet Master hacks into a facility and has a female cybernetic body assembled. However, once outside it is hit by a truck. The parts are sent to Section 9 where they are analyzed. It appears to have a “ghost” inside, a human consciousness, so to speak. During the examination Section 6, a rival agency, arrived to say that the body was a trap to lure the Puppet Master. Kusanagi is about to plug into the body and talk to the ghost inside. As this happens, Section 6 storms the facility and takes the body.

Information gathered during the analysis points to a highly classified project called Project 2501. It was a supposedly created by Section 6 to catch a hacker, but was more likely to be a tool of Section 6 and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Aramaki speculates that Section 6 wants to suppress secrets that may get out.

Section 9 tails Section 6 to try and recover the Puppet Master. Batu and Ishakawa tail one car while Kusanagi follows another. The car Batu and Ishakawa follow is a decoy. Kusanagi confronts Section 6 and attempts to get Project 2501, aka the Puppet Master.

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Ghost in the Shell is a magnificently animated film using a combination of cell animation and computer animation. The animation is high quality and fluid and the blending of the two different types of animation is nearly perfect. There is a scene right at the beginning after Kusanagi assassinates the foreign diplomat where she activates her thermo-optic camouflage, which illustrates perfectly this seamless fluidity between cell animation and CGI. Another example is the fight between Kusanagi and a six-legged tank. The bullets flying around, the water and rain splashing, and the tearing apart of her body in a desperate bid to disable the tank also perfectly illustrate the great animation in view. There is this strive for realism that comes off. For example, in the same scene above with the tank, the bullets spark when hitting metal but do not when contacting cement. Fire arms being discharged have weight as well as the recoil looks accurate.

The sound design was also good. Sound effects sounded good and sounded appropriate for the scene. For example, there are times when the view is from a cybernetic human where things do sound futuristic. Also, when the characters are talking though their secured network, there is a reverberation that sounds like they are all talking in a large hall together. It may sound a little weird but it works brilliantly. The one area that seems lacking is the musical score. It is hit and miss. There are times when the background music is synced up with the visuals. However, there is also choral music that occurs, which in retrospect, appears to have taken a page from Akira. It is an almost haunting sound that just doesn’t seem to fit. Admittedly it is in Japanese, so there is the possibility that the lyrics add some juxtaposition that a non-speaker would not get. It is a small gripe in an otherwise solid aspect of the movie.

The real depth of Ghost in the Shell is that exploration of what makes humans human in a digital world, where the humans themselves have become digital. In fact, this very question is seen in the first few minutes of the film. Batou notes there is a lot of noise in Kusanagi’s brain. Her response in the subbed Japanese version is “It’s that time of the month.” The irony of the statement is that her body is fully cybernetic and incapable of menstruating. However, being a female, she seems to long for those things that make women, women. There is a conversation late in the movie in which she converses about reproduction and what does that actually mean for someone who can’t physically participate in that process. Beyond just being a woman, Kusanagi questions what makes them human. She asks Batou how much of him is cybernetic and how much is the real him. She appears envious on some level of Ishikawa, who doesn’t have any cybernetic enhancements. The paradox is the same enhancements allow for superhuman strength, endurance, and the ability to plug directly into the internet.

Ghost in the Shell was definitely ahead of its time and has been a huge influence on several film makers. Most notably, the Wachowskis used Ghost in the Shell as a framework for The Matrix trilogy and several aspects of those films were “borrowed” from Ghost in the Shell. The most obvious is the green digital rain that was in the opening credits for Ghost in the Shell that found their way into The Matrix. Then there is the idea of plugging in to a network via cords terminated at the basal skull or neck region. Beyond that are the narratives of what makes oneself human in a digital world, when humans have essentially become digitized. Other parallels have been drawn with movies such as Avatar and AI: Artificial Intelligence.

Ghost in the Shell is an impressive visual feat with a killer story line as well. The plot is great and the subtexts enhance the story line by giving profundity. It is no wonder that this has been influential to Sci-Fi. It is definitely a must watch.

 

Directed By: Mamoru Oshii

Produced By: Yoshimasa Mizuo, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa

Written By: Kazunori Ito

Distributed By: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Voice Actors: Motoko Kusanagi- Atsuko Tanaka (JP), Mimi Woods (EG) Batou- Akio Otsuka (JP), Richard George (EG), Ishikawa- Yutaka Nakano (JP), Michael Sorich (EG), Chief Aramaki- Tamio Oki (JP), Christopher Joyce (EG), Puppet Master- Iemasa Kayumi (JP), Abe Lasser (EG)

Release Date: November 18, 1995

Runtime: 83 minutes

Rating: NR

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