Ghost in the Shell Anime Review
Mobile Armored Police Division
US Release By
Cerebral Cyberpunk Drama
What's In It
- Brief-but-spectacular Gunfights
- Shirow-style Super Technology
- Big, Mean Mecha
- Cybernetic Overload
- Heavy Philosophy
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 3 (significant)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 3 (significant)
A few decades from now, nations have been replaced by city-states and mega-corporations, and the world has been tied together by a vast computer network (fancy that). In the Japan of this new world, Section 9, a covert division of the Japanese police, investigate cybercrime and crimes committed by runaway robots. The story follows Major Motoko Kusanagi of Section 9 and her partner Bateau in their investigation of what at first appears to be a hacker known as the Puppet Master, who specializes in implanting unsuspecting people with false memories and manipulating them to do his dirty work. As it turns out, the mysterious character that has been operating behind the scenes is apparently an AI program, code named Project 2501, that has become sentient and is now seeking asylum with Section 9. But the government agency that created the AI isn't about to let it get away, and it still remains a mystery why the Puppet Master sought out Major Kusanagi in the first place--or what it intends to do with her.
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
Though Ghost in the Shell is a departure from the Masamune Shirow story on which it is based, director Mamoru Oshii has constructed a reserved, philosophical movie examining the meaning of the mind and the effects of technology on the soul. It lays out it's intricate political plot on a dark, subdued canvas that implies as much as it explains outright, in a world populated by harsh characters questioning their humanity. Undeniably stunning visuals, with fluid animation and incredibly detailed art, coupled with an abstract but impressive soundtrack round out the picture.
As with many movies following a strong vision, this one's strengths are its weaknesses in the eyes of some viewers, and whether you will find it engrossing or weighed down by its own pretense will depend entirely on your taste. In either case, though, Ghost in the Shell is an impressive film.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
A dark and slick cyberpunk-style story, Ghost in the Shell is the movie version of Masamune Shirow's award-winning comic story. 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.
Fans of the comic have been warned; though many of the themes survive, the two are different enough that it'd be easy to be disappointed with one if you liked the other. The story is somewhat different, the characters look and act different (cold and brooding, rather than harsh but relatively human), and the sporadic humor that Shirow is so fond of is nowhere to be found (whether that is good or bad depends on your tastes, but I missed it). The movie is also a little slow, and completely humorless--the mood is consistently dispassionate and everything meticulously constructed.
The bottom line here is that director Oshii used Shirow's framework for cyberpunk philosophy to sculpt a movie similar to his later works, such as Jin Roh. The result won't be to everyone's taste, but is unmistakable and powerful in its own way. Every action, sentence, and shot feels carefully planned, but the viewer is never allowed to get too close, and the production is pervaded by an emotionally detached air. This calm, even-handed style may be uncomfortably slow to some, but others will find it fascinating.
The main characters, similarly, can be both a strength and a weakness; they are completely humorless and have almost robotic personalities, which works within the story, but makes them difficult to empathize with. On the other hand, although they're probably not people you'd like to know personally, they seem very real and it's interesting trying to pick out what exactly might be going on in their heads. This again shows Oshii's careful style; everything seems deliberate, but he never gives us a clear window into the characters, always leaving the viewer to infer what's going on inside.
One thing that does carry over from the original version of Ghost in the Shell is the depth and complexity of the plot. Shirow is well known for intricate, hard-to-follow stories that blend political intrigue, science fiction, and heavy philosophical exploration. On that mark, this version of Ghost in the Shell definitely holds up, and although it is somewhat abridged from the comic version, most of the original concept is still here. There is less action, to be sure, but the politics are still present, and there's more than enough exploration of what it means to be human and the effects of technology on the human soul to keep you thinking. The only possible downside is that there may actually be too much plot--some of the intrigue (particularly the political background) is so involved that it's easy to get lost, and the philosophical discussions are rather heavy-handed.
Artistically speaking, Ghost in the Shell is beautiful. The animation is fluid, the backgrounds are (true to Shirow's style) realistic and filled with detail, the hardware is realistic, and the art is sharp and extremely well drawn. The character designs are quite realistic and interesting as well, although they look rather different from Shirow's originals. The character animation is marvelous, again showcasing pervasive attention to detail--the little things are smooth, subtle, and natural, and the motion during action scenes is even more precise and fluid. Those two action scenes (one at each end) are, like the rest of the film, somewhat subdued, but they are nonetheless spectacular. Still, Ghost in the Shell is most definitely not an action movie--despite the cyberpunk origins, it is more about philosophy than people shooting each other.
The acting on both sides of the linguistic fence is good. In the original Japanese, almost all of the casting is dead on, and the low-key performances behind Motoko and Bateau are top-notch. The English casting is also very good, although the acting is not quite of the same caliber. The Major is acted well, although I thought the performances in the dub were a little too low-key (read: robotic) for their own good.
Kenji Kawai's musical score is interesting; more AKIRA than Bubblegum Crisis, it is cerebral and surprisingly understated. Consisting mainly of traditional-sounding and somewhat surreal choir and slow drumbeats, the score is creative, unfamiliar, and a bit eerie, which fits the production quite well. More noticeable than the music is the lack thereof; many scenes (most notably the action sequences) are almost silent.
Ghost in the Shell maintains a unique feel throughout, is visually striking, and there is enough philosophy for the deepest viewer, making for an unusual and engaging movie. On the other hand, fans of the original comic (or later TV series) and people looking for cyberpunk action may well be disappointed, and the plot and philosophy may be too monotonous for others to really enjoy. Oshii fans will not be disappointed, but Shirow fans take note: If you like them just the way he wrote them, you've been warned.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
First of all, the sequel film, Innocence, is everything this movie is polished to the extreme. There are also a couple of Ghost in the Shell TV series (Stand Alone Complex) and a related movie that are much more faithful to Shirow's original, and hence less philosophical and more action-oriented than this movie. Past that, this movie has the most in common with another of director Mamoru Oshii's films, Jin Roh. It also shares many elements with two dark and philosophically heavy TV series, Serial Experiments Lain and Boogiepop Phantom. You might also give several of movies based on Shirow's works a try, though none are of the same quality (at least animation-wise) or as dark: Appleseed, Black Magic M-66 (intentionally cheesy), and Gundress (unintentionally even cheesier). The dark-future cyberpunk theme is also done in Bubblegum Crisis and the A.D. Police Files OAVs, but the latter is much more like Ghost in the Shell than the former (Bubblegum Crisis is a lot more punk than cyber, and considerably less deep).
Notes and Trivia
Ghost in the Shell was released theatrically in both the US and Japan. In fact, the dubbed version was also released on video in Japan, subtitled in Japanese.
While the film Innocence follows this one in plot, the Stand Alone Complex TV series and related movies are not directly connected, and have far more to do with the original comic than the movies (or the comic sequel).
A note about the director: Mamoru Oshii, now a renowned anime director, has been at work since the '80s, bringing a surreal touch to parts of the wacky comedy Urusei Yatsura, among other things. His style has since solidified into dark, reserved, complex stories such as this one, epitomized by his later work Jin Roh, which is in many ways the same story as Ghost in the Shell told in a different setting.
A second note about the title: Although "Ghost in the Shell" is the English title and "Koukaku Kidoutai," meaning something to the effect of "Mobile Armored Tactical Group," is the Japanese title, it would be more accurate to say that the title is both. On the original manga cover and in the movie, both titles are written (the former in English, even on the original Japanese versions), so you could probably say that either one is the title--particularly since the Japanese title uses some very obscure characters. This is kind of like another of Shirow's comics, Orion, which had that English title along with a title in Japanese.
A third note, about the video game: The old PlayStation game of the same name is worth mentioning, since it included several sequences of real cel animation. Furthermore, the animation was not taken from this movie--it was created specifically for the game. What's really interesting is that the animation and characters in the game are true to Shirow's originals--the art looks like Shirow's, and the characters all have the personalities that they did in the comic (though the actual gameplay is of debatable quality).
US DVD Review
The DVD, one of the first anime DVDs produced, has just about anything you could ask for; it includes the English Dolby 5.1 and Japanese Dolby 2.0 soundtracks, English subtitles, the theatrical trailer, and a 30-minute extra feature about the making of Ghost in the Shell (in both Japanese and English, though there are no subtitles). The illustrated menus also provide access to a Manga Video Club trailer, and a promo video of coming (non-anime) Polygram Video DVDs, plus all the text information about Ghost in the Shell that you could possibly want--there is a detailed story synopsis, notes about the director and several other members of the production team, a long glossary of terms used in the movie, illustrations of and information about the main characters, and essays on a plethora of topics. The making-of video includes interviews with some of the creators, including a rare interview with Shirow himself (audio only, of course--photos or video of him have never been published).
There is a much newer 2-disc special edition version that takes this and does it one up: Remastered anamorphic widescreen video, and an absolutely unprecedented variety of audio options: 6.1 DTS-ES in English or Japanese, Dolby 5.1 in English or Japanese, and if you want, Spanish, French, Italian, and German stereo. Woah. There's an entire second disc of biographies, character info, trailers, previews, and making-of stuff.
A combination of very graphic violence and some nudity make this more appropriate for the 16-up category.
Violence: 3 - Realistic and graphic (but relatively brief and not gratuitous) violence.
Nudity: 3 - Several brief scenes, though none are erotic (most are incidental and of a partly destroyed cyborg); there are also several scenes where the Major has a skin-colored bodysuit on that could easily be mistaken for nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 3 - A fair amount of profanity.
Staff & Cast
Note: None of the US released versions include translations of the cast; these are personally translated and there may be errors. Names are given family name first.
Original Japanese Cast
Kusanagi Motoko: Tanaka Atsuko
Batou: Ohtsuka Akio
Togusa: Yamadera Hirokazu
Ishikawa: Nakano Yutaka
Aramaki: Ohki Tamio
Nakamura: Genda Tetsuaki
Dr. Willis: Namagi [?]
Foreign Minister: Yamauchi Masato
Diplomat: Ogawara Shinji
Aida: Miyamoto Mitsuru
Garbage Collectors: Yamaji Kazuhiro, Chiba Shigeru
Coroner: Ienaka Hiroshi
Old man: Matsuo Ginzo
Criminal: Matsuyama Takashi
[?]: Odaka Mitsuyoshi
Driver: Satou Masamichi
Operator: Hayashida Atsuko
Voice: Ueda Yuuji
[?]: Kameyama Toshiki
[?]: Gotou Atsushi
Girl (Kusanagi): Sakamoto [?]
Puppet Master: Kayumi Iemasa
Director: Tanaka Seichi
Screenplay: Itou Kazunori
Script: Iou Kazuyoshi
Animation Director: Nishikubo Toshihiko
Art Director: Ogura Hiromasa
Character Designs: Okiura Hiroyuki
Mechanical Designs: Kawamori Shouji, Okiura Hiroyuki
Weapon Designs: Iso Mitsuo
Producer: Okajima Takahiro
Music: Kawai Kenji
Song: See you everyday
Composed and Arranged by: Kawai Kenji
Lyrics: Pong Chack Man
Vocals: Fang Ka Wing
Chorus: Hirotani Junko