"the animation is outstanding, the action is fast and furious, and the fantastic music adds layers to a film already drenched in atmosphere"
The world of anime is a genre often overlooked by the mainstream filmgoer, yet it is filled with works deemed by fans as iconic as any conventional film. One such film is 1995’s Ghost in the Shell; a film often regarded one of most iconic works of anime ever produced.
It’s 2029 and much of humanity goes about their lives interacting with a vast electronic network through robotic bodies dubbed “shells” that possess their consciousness dubbed “ghosts”. In this futuristic world, the film follows the agents of Section 9, an elite law enforcement unit led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who are on the hunt for a mysterious hacker dubbed “The Puppet Master”.
In an artistic sense, this film is a triumph from start to finish, being packed with fantastic animation, music and action. The animation on display is outstanding and still looks fantastic even over 20 years after the initial release. Two moments that really stood out for me comes during the opening credits, when Kusanagi's body is being constructed, with the glossy plastic breaking away like paper as her creation is complete. The other comes towards the end when she attempts to use her superhuman strength to open a tank hatch, but the sheer strain of the task distorts her body until it physically “breaks” it apart, with her limbs shattering in a fashion that is both grotesque and visually stunning.
The action sequences are fast-paced and brilliantly executed with some being beautiful to watch, particularly a fight in a puddle between an assassin and an invisible Kusanagi, with even the smallest water drops being animated to stunning effect.
The film is rich in atmosphere, with the combination of imagery and composer Kenji Kawai's fantastic musical score making for some of the coolest moments I’ve ever seen in an animated film or even a live action film. A short wordless sequence, in which our heroes attempt to track down escaped villains in the rain swept city, was a standout for me, with the soft sounds of a guitar perfectly married with the dark foreboding look of the cityscape.
The plot of the film is where the film really loses me, primarily because I honestly struggled to follow it, despite going back and re-watching portions of it. Much of the film being devoted to philosophical discussions and monologues on ideas like what it means to be human and individualism, while also lightly touching on themes like gender and artificial intelligence.
While I appreciate the film talking about these themes and while they add layers of substance to what easily could have been a by the numbers sci-fi action film, it can often feel a tad heavy handed with the dialogue becoming somewhat convoluted when it attempts to communicate the characters feelings on such topics.
The voice acting is also another area in which the film suffers, with the acting in the dubbed version I watched often varying in quality from character to character. For example, the voice acting for the character of Batou is some of the best in the film, not perfect but effective enough to make the character feel alive.
Whereas on the other hand the voice actress for our cyborg heroine sounds not so much robotic, which would be appropriate, but rather she sounds downright bored delivering her lines with the enthusiasm of someone forced to look at a book about wallpaper glues. This is one film that I recommend you maybe try and seek out a subtitled Japanese version instead.
As I’ve probably mentioned before in a past review, I’m not an anime fan, but having said that I did find Ghost in the Shell to be a fascinating watch. While I was frustrated by the difficult to follow plot and the wobbly voice acting, I can’t deny the artistic brilliance on display.
The animation is outstanding, the action is fast and furious, and the fantastic music adds layers to a film already drenched in atmosphere. Even the themes, while a bit heavy handed, are still fascinating enough to keep you thinking after the credits roll.
While Ghost in the Shell is not likely to turn me into a raving anime fan overnight, it has certainly convinced me that this genre has much deeper stories to offer than the likes of Pokémon or Dragon Ball Z. Now let’s just see how well the controversial upcoming Hollywood adaptation is able to capture the essence of this flawed but stunning anime classic.