Dystoporama Review: Ghost in the Shell (1995 Anime)   April 21st, 2017

“What’s a virtual experience mean then?”

After watching the live-action film it was based on, I went back and finally watched all of the 1995 Japanese animated movie “Ghost in the Shell.” Both movies follow similar stories, but it’s interesting to see where they diverged.

The identity and motivations of the hacker known as the Puppetmaster is different in the anime, and some of the Major’s decisions in interacting with him are not completely explained.

The Major’s back-story is also less fleshed out. There are still the same musings on what makes a person “human” and she questions her humanity and if the memories she has are real or just implanted. Some of the dialogue around these questions become heavy-handed exposition, but it was nice to see them asked. I would have preferred both films to have delved into those themes more, but the stories at least offer some interesting questions to mull over.

The city in the anime feels much more authentically Japanese. The scope of the world is fleshed out deeper as well, with agents from America shown squaring off against government officials. There is a political sub-plot with the Japanese government trying to stop defectors seeking political asylum. The movie also shows tensions between that branch of government forces and Section 9, the anti-terrorism special police unit. The plot gets a little convoluted, but everything is shown to be necessary to the film in the end. The live-action film kept some aspects of the infighting between factions, with tensions between Section 9 and rogue elements operating in Hansa robotics, but it also streamlined the story to one central plot through-line.

The anime is visually striking, even more so than the live-action film, making full use of the animated medium. There is also a wonderful sequence in the middle of the film showing a couple of minutes of life in the city and long pans across the skyline. It is used not only as a transitioning shot, but also as a visual tone poem. It shows the passing of time, but also eludes to the Major’s feeling of distance from humanity as she watches the city and its people pass by as she rides a water taxi. It’s a longer segue than would be seen in a typical Hollywood film, and it stands out for that.

Both films show a world where technology is becoming more ubiquitous and integrated, and reveals the benefits and dangers that presents. Most people have cybernetic implants, and a large portion of the population has embraced transhumanism to some extent or another. A central plot point is that anyone with cerebral augmentation, is at risk from the Puppetmaster’s attacks. A virus can travel through the network and invade their minds.

The horror of ghost-hacked humans with implanted memories is more effective in the anime. The film dwells a little longer with one suspect being interrogated by Section 9, only to realize that the reality he’d been living was a fabrication, and that he may never get his original memories back. He was given an illusion of a fake family, to manipulate him to carry out unwitting illegal actions, only to awake to the sad reality and to grieve for a wife and daughter he’d lost who had never even existed.

In the end, the films sort of complement each other. The anime, while a little more muddled in plot, has a good basis for a strong science-fiction story with some very inventive ideas. It also could have likely been one of the many pieces of culture which the Wachowskis used as inspiration for their ground-breaking film “The Matrix.” The 2017 remake of “Ghost in the Shell” is more of an action movie, with a more straight-forward plot. The anime is more cerebral in its reach but clunky in places with its execution. In contrast the live-action film is more emotional, but not as philosophically deep.

Even if neither is a perfect film, the ideas they bring to the table are interesting. Questions on life, consciousness and humanity are always intriguing. I appreciated the examinations these two films offered into the possible future worlds and the ghosts in the machines which may inhabit them.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 21st, 2017 at 4:48 am and is filed under Dystoporama, Movies and TV. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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