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Intelligent and Moody Sci-Fi Anime Aimed at an Experienced Audience

  • Jan 6, 2009

One of the best animated films I have ever seen is a Japanese anime called KOKAKU KIDOTAI, otherwise known as "GHOST IN THE SHELL" (1995) Honestly, for those very unfamiliar with anime, its storyline can be quite difficult to follow; the maturity of its script and its psychological depth is far-reaching. Based on Masamune Shirow's manga (Japanese comic) with screenplay by Kazunoki Ito and directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film attained an award-winning worldwide acclaim not just because it revolutionized current animation standards but also because of its enormous plotline. The film heritage can be traced back to Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and the Japanese anime "Akira"; but it went on to inspire blockbuster Hollywood films such as "The Fifth Element", "Dark City" and even the Wachowski Bros'. "The Matrix". It is also the winner of the 1997 WORLD ANIMATION Celebration Awards. (Best Theatrical Film and Best Director)

2029 A.D., a time and place in an undetermined future where the fusion of humans and machines, the network and human comprehension has been attained. People have been enhanced by cybernetic implants that makes them stronger, faster, smarter. Section 9, a group of cyborg cops led by Maj. Motoko Kisangani (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka) and Batou (Akio Atsuka) are caught in political intrigue as they search for answers to a mysterious "Puppet Master" or as it would like to call himself; Project 2501. Their investigations have led them to believe that this "ghost" hacker is the one responsible for numerous attacks on public mainframes that changed financial, network manipulations. Findings have led them to conclude that the "hacker" may be an artificial computer intelligence that seeks to co-opt a synthetic body for its own needs. 

        Motoko's cyborg


This anime feature is a dramatic thrill-ride that would be an excellent introduction to Japanese animation with the depth of its script and the complexities of its plot. The story is so rich with philosophical undertones of existentialism and social relations. The cinematography is fantastic and the animated visuals is a "merging" or digitizing of traditional cell animation, computer generated graphics and live-action footage (although one would be hard-pressed to notice). The marvelous compositions and set pieces may cause one to forget that he is watching an animated film. The film is also shot with a lot of moving perspective to convey its mood. The animated invisibility (when Kusanagi gets totally naked) is a first during the time of its release While its premise is almost excellent, the visuals is also its main showstopper, even for today's standards.

The film is a philosophical movie, and while there are quite a few sequences of action, one of which highlights Kusanagi going up against a robotic tank with enormous firepower, the film is full of emotional content, very brooding and quite moody. Shall I say it even contains quite a lot of drama with a restrained amount of human (?) angst. If you approach the film as you would any other action-inspired anime then you will be lost in its translation. The film may be a little slower-paced than most anime features but I found this very inspiring and a refreshing approach. It deliberately takes its time to express its mood through its slow-revelations. It is quite ingenious for director Oshii to abandon the usual dynamics of fast-paced scenes. It allows the viewer to ponder the different existential and social points it is making and take everything in. 


                          The Puppetmaster

What makes an individual? What makes one attain individualism? Is it memories and experiences? The supposed thin line between humanity and cybernetics is drawn in the character of Maj. Kusanagi. She is a female operative who "died" before but is now able to live in an enhanced cyborg body. The main antagonist "the Puppet master" causes her to question her very existence--just how much of her is still human? How can one whose entire body is composed of cybernetics and synthetics be any different from a simple machine? Is Motoko Kusanagi a ghost in a cybernetic shell? Can a machine gain sentience through experiences and generate a "soul"? These are the complex questions that the film delves into--quite impressively I have to say.

The film's main strengths are its groundbreaking visuals, mature and complex storyline and its reliance on emotion and mood rather than a hectic screenplay. Those who are looking for the usual "shoot them up" anime feature may be a little disappointed. There is action to be had with "Ghost in the Shell" but it is NOT an action animated film but a very philosophical sci-fi drama. I only have one response to those who questions as to why Mamoru Oshii's masterpiece is so highly acclaimed, it paved the way to current animation techniques but it didn't stop there; it took its time with a mature and complex storyline that is definitely not for kids but for those esoteric few very adulterated to Japanese type of storytelling. Mamoru Oshii's "GHOST IN THE SHELL" surpasses most of Hollywood's big-budget output, BOTH in style and substance even up to this day. It wasn't a huge box-office success in its U.S. theatrical run, but nonetheless its thoughtful and interesting storyline cannot be matched by any box-office popcorn giant--its non-mainstream appeal is its greatest strength. One of the great Sci-Fi masterpieces.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4 ½+ Out of 5 Stars]

HYPE LEVEL: Deservedly High

Note: It would be better to watch this in its original Japanese language with the English Subtitles. 


Video/Audio: Digitally re-mastered Anamorphic Widescreen. Very nice transfer but some scenes look sharper than others but the overall picture is very good. There are some specks of grain probably from its original negative. 6.1 DTS/5.1 Dolby Digital Japanese and English tracks.

Disc 2: Character Dossiers/ Making of feature/Production reports (a must-see)/ Director biography/Trailers/Previews/catalogs/weblinks

Dvd cover 1-disc

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April 09, 2011
I've been meaning to watch this for a long, long time. I did watch Stand Alone Complex, and...I can't say I didn't find it interesting, but I was fairly confused more often than not. Although I do remember, liking the Laughing Man (is that right?) arc. It has been several years though so my memory is a little fuzzy. I will put this on my rental list. Thanks for the review!
July 05, 2011
seen it yet, Steph?
July 05, 2011
Not yet. I kinda got preoccupied with other things. I'm working on a mental write up right now for a couple of things. I'll be taking down my review of Gundam 00 and doing a new one, and I'm also trying to finish (I think?) Baccano!
October 21, 2010
one of the best films not just animes ever.
July 15, 2010
Excellent review!!! This is and still is one of my favorite anime films sadly I have not seen it in almost a decade so I do not remember anything about it I think I will give this a second look again.
July 16, 2010
Thanks for the read, Lopez. This movie is one of quintessential sci-fi movies of all time. I hope you see it again and do a review--NOTE: avoid GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0- the version with CGI enhancements. For a movie like this, you do not need the retouches.
January 09, 2009
T-man, exactly my intention; YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE THIS!!
More Ghost in the Shell (original m... reviews
review by . July 04, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
Before I go off reviewing this anime masterpiece, I'll share my personal history with Ghost in the Shell, which dates back nine years ago. Back in July of 2002, I had a bug to watch anime that came out of nowhere. I went to the nearest Blockbuster and gazed at their meager selection of anime and the two VHS tapes that caught my attention the most were Akira (because I heard good buzz from friends) and Ghost in the Shell. I noticed Ghost in the Shell because the tape box had a naked cyborg …
review by . May 18, 2009
The best description I encountered so far of Ghost in the Shell is that it is "an action flick for scholars." I'm no scholar, so I forgive myself for not recognizing the virtues of this movie on the first viewing. I struggled to follow the story, no doubt due to my slow uncyberized brain that all the characters in the movie seem to have. But also because the plot remarkably dense, and almost completely impenetrable.    I gave up on the movie until I came across an interview with …
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About this movie



Genre: Animation
DVD Release Date: March 31, 1998
Runtime: 82 minutes
Studio: Palm Pictures

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