Until recently, anime and I had a somewhat tenuous relationship. I was never that thrilled about the often overly sexualised women, nor did I enjoy the on-the-cheap animation that was used (where three frames could render an entire two minute walking sequence.)
However, as I grew older, my tastes began to mature, computers improved enough to allow more fluid animations, and I stopped letting such petty things stop me from watching some of the shows that have made their way to the UK (although the sexualisation factor is still leaves me feeling a little iffy.)
Despite my hang-ups, there has always been one anime film that I’ve held in high regard more or less from day one, the 1995 feature, Ghost in the Shell. It was released at the same time in Japan, Europe and America in an attempt to get more people watching the film and get them into anime, albeit with limited success. The film has also recently had a poorly received live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist.
Ghost in the Shell is set in the year 2029 and technology has become part and parcel of everyday life, with a not insignificant number of people starting to sport cybernetic implants to improve themselves. The story itself focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi, a police officer working for Section 9 (the unit set up to fight cyber crime.) Major and her team are tasked with hunting down and capturing an incredibly talented hacker who goes by the moniker of Puppet Master. As they get deeper into the investigation, they start to encounter a combination of shady government departments attempting to hinder their work, as well as getting taunted by the Puppet Master himself.
Despite coming out in 1995, the film is surprisingly advanced and philosophical in its themes of transhumanism, especially as the concept at the time was in its very early infancy. Ghost in the Shell continually attempts to address the line between man and machine, alongside what constitutes a soul and living. When compared to nowadays, a lot of what is discussed can come across as both misdirected and rather basic, but when considered from within its time period, it is fascinating just how similar some of the arguments are compared to nowadays.
However, not everything about this film is perfect. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the frame rate is still a little on the low side, and if you’re watching with the English voice actors, I strongly suggest you don’t, and watch the Japanese version with subtitles instead. This is because, several of the voice actors sound like they were either bored or stoned when they read their lines. It could be an affectation that comes along with voicing characters who move very little on-screen (preventing them from acting using their bodies as well as their vocal cords), or it could help sell the idea that the protagonists are less human than their “inferior” counterparts. This is a relatively minor niggle, but it can get somewhat grating during prolonged dialogues.
To make up for the voice acting, the music in the film perfectly encapsulates the look and feel of the city as it goes about its day. There is a strong techno heart to the beat that drives the story forward, and the lyrics are beautifully rendered to the track.
Ultimately, Ghost in the Shell is a cult classic that more people need to see, especially with the new film coming out. Despite the lacklustre voice acting from the English side of the cast, everything else is superb, if a little freaky now and then.
The only question left to ask is; will the remake do just as well as the original?