Ghost in the Shell (1995) Review

As I settled down to watch the newly released 4K blu-ray of this all-time classic I thought it was a good time to finally review it on this site, especially given I’ll be reviewing the Matrix trilogy leading into the release of the fourth film in a few weeks. Yes this first Ghost in the Shell anime film has inspired so many people and properties in its wake (not to mention a fun Anime TV series I’ve already reviewed in “Strand Alone Complex”) that it’s hard to cut all of that out and just focus on it as a singular story. I’ll try though! So let’s take a look…

Synopsis:

Cyborg federal agent Major Kusanagi is on the trail of “The Puppet Master”, a criminal who illegally hacks into the computerized minds of cyborg-human hybrids. Her pursuit of a man who can modify the identity of strangers leaves Motoko pondering her own makeup and what life might be like if she had more human traits…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

It’s THAT scene, where the Major seemingly gets nudey and jumps off a building only to be wearing a stealth suit… that may as well make her nude. It’s a classic!

It still blows me away that this film came out in 1995, the animation, both 2D and blended CG, are still beautifully realised and extremely fluid. A lot of concepts are ahead of their time as well, though I guess that’s more praise for the original manga than this film, but still. A lot of what’s seen here went on to inspire people all over the world and that can’t be understated. The soundtrack is great too, full of unassuming music with choir parts that still manage to fit the cyberpunk setting (a lot like Akira in that way…)

Ghost in the Shell blends sci-fi / cyberpunk aesthetics and action with a good high-concept story and a look at sexuality and what it means to be human. Quite the feat for an 82 minute runtime! We follow The Major, otherwise known as Matoko Kusanagi, an agent of “Public Security Section 9” and a cyborg who has had her entire consciousness digitised and put into a false body, a titular “ghost in a shell”. She and her fellow agents, including Batou (cyborg augmented body) and Togusa (no cybernetics at all), are on the trail of a terrorist known only as “The Puppet Master”, someone who hacks into other people’s “Cyberbrains” and causes them to commit acts against their will. The Major and Batou follow a few leads but don’t get very far until an entirely cybernetic body is turned in, and this body is soon found to have a human consciousness in it: that of the Puppet Master.

The Puppet Master, the antagonist that turns out to be a protagonist with some real deep thoughts…

The Puppet Master seeks asylum away from Section 6 who created him, claiming that he is now a sentient being by any definition of the word and is therefore allowed it, but he’s soon kidnapped mysteriously, leading to Section 9 pursuing them. Major Kusanagi is particularly interested in the Puppet Master’s idea of finding a self, becoming truly human and sentient, so eventually takes on a Spider Tank all by herself just to get to him, losing most of her false body in the process. The two discuss philosophical ideas about what makes one human and truly alive, eventually agreeing to “merge their ghosts”, giving Matoko access to Puppet Master’s powers and knowledge. Just as this happens Section 6 blow up the two bodies and the nearby area, hoping to cover their secret up but we soon see Batou saved Makoto’s mind at the very least and has installed it in a childlike new body. The new entity, neither The Major nor The Puppet Master, something in between, leaves Batou’s place and wonders where he/she will go from here…

The Bad:

As a teenager this was a scene that stood out to me: cool showdown with a tank-thing! I think the deeper meaning was a bit lost on my younger self… Still a good scene though, to be fair to me!

Honestly? No idea what I could put here. It’s under 90 minutes, has stunning animation STILL nearly 30 years later, and a story that has plenty of action to fit in between genuinely interesting and thought provoking ideas and concepts. It’s one of those films where if you haven’t seen it you’ll end your watch knowing exactly why people have been singing its praises for so long… or if you’re like me you’ll just be watching and enjoying it again!

Overall Thoughts:

Batou appreciates the old school Uzi aesthetic.

What else is there to say? Ghost in the Shell is often considered not just one of the best anime of all time, not just one of the best animated features of all time but one of the best films of all time and because of that it’s made many ripples across the entertainment world. Top notch animation, soundtrack and story, both full of action and thought provoking ideas, this 90 minute film from 1995 is still just as good now as it was then. A must watch.

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