Ghost in the Shell (1995)

*. We begin by seeing things from Motoko Kusanagi’s point of view, with her tactical vision and voices being listened to over various frequencies. We are immersed in a mechanical world, just like Kusanagi inside her shell. It’s the perfect opening note to strike.
*. Anime is a special taste. It’s never been a particular favourite genre of mine, but when it’s done well, as it is here, I do think it has a kind of poetry to it. I still don’t care for the saucer-eyes of the characters, but the way the murky images appear to move slowly as though underwater, and the way a single bit of graceful motion within a static frame draws the eye and is made expressive are things I can appreciate. How much of that is due to Mamoru Oshii’s direction and how much to the nature of the medium itself is another question.
*. At the time it was a very expensive production, and the animation — a combination of traditional cel animation and CGI — was a painstaking process. The results, however, were worth it. The look of the film fits the theme, with that blending of the digital with old school atmosphere.
*. The story feels a bit trite, but has to be judged in context. The movie is based on a manga comic book that started publication in 1989. Cyberpunk was something new. William Gibson’s Neuromancer had only been a few years earlier. The idea of cyberspace and human-computer hybrids was something relatively new. When the Puppet Master describes itself as “a living, thinking entity who was created in the sea of information” that must have seemed kind of deep at the time.

*. Blade Runner, which informs a lot of the look of New Port City, as it would the look of so many cities of the future, came out in 1982. So while this movie is ground-breaking there’s also a lot that was becoming standard grammar. I’d also mention the highly sexualized presentation of the heroine, who rises like Aphrodite through the opening credit sequence and is basically nude a lot of the time (that is, in skin-tight outfits with her nipples jutting out). Now sure, most superheroines are exaggeratedly sexy, but then there’s Kusanagi turned into a schoolgirl at the end. How perfectly manga. At least we’re spared the tentacles.
*. Is it more than just a great-looking anime? Here I’m not sure. The story is pretty basic and moves at an awkward pace. Why is there so much expository dialogue? Plus the fact is I just wasn’t as interested in Kusanagi as I thought I should have been. I think some of the blame for this falls on the choice of having Mimi Woods do her voice in the English version. That didn’t work at all for me.
*. I’ve seen this referred to as one of the greatest if not the greatest anime ever made. I can’t judge that, but it is a movie I not only enjoy but admire in a lot of ways. It’s also grown on me over several viewings. I don’t think it transcends its genre, but twenty-five years later it’s earned its status as a classic.

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