AKA Armored Riot Police
Starring Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ohtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi, Kōichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Ohki
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
It’s hard to imagine Ghost in the Shell as old. But here it is, nearly 20 years later, and the film still feels unrelentingly futuristic, far more than other science fiction films of the time like Total Recall, or even The Matrix which this film inspired. It probably has to do with Masamune Shirow, the series’s original creator, being so in touch with computer technology and engineering. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t just feel futuristic; it feels very real and absolutely believable. And that’s what makes it all the more frightening.
It isn’t a horror film by any means, but the concept of getting brainwashed by a computer hacker is scary as hell. We like to think of our souls, our personal identity, as something beyond the ability of others to touch, but not in this film. This is a future where your memories can be rewritten at any time, and “ghost hacking” is as common as computer viruses are today. For my money, that is far more frightening than any boogeyman jumping out of the shadows.
It also has a large focus on evolution which is easy to lose sight of underneath all the other concerns of the film, but it’s at the heart of everything that happens. The movie isn’t just about individual identity, but also what it means to be human at all and what the definition of life in general is. The film is not so much about the police case that the plot focuses on, but rather on what humanity is becoming, and what else is going to evolve with us. When you look for it, the evolutionary themes are clear, especially in the big showdown at the end of the film, which takes place in some kind of derelict natural history museum, with an evolutionary chart as the backdrop for the fight.
It’s also an incredibly gorgeous film, not just in the directing, but in the animation as well. This is some top-notch stuff, and even the minor elements that most anime films would slack off on are treated with the same care and attention as the more visceral combat scenes. There’s a bit of light CG here and there, but nothing that ruins the film, or even detracts at all from the feel of the film. Everything is fluid and graceful, and the backgrounds are richly detailed and bring the film to life. In fact the background art is so good that it reminded me a bit of Makoto Shinkai, though they are far darker and drearier than anything in a Shinkai film.
Ghost in the Shell is fantastic, and deserves every bit of the hype surrounding it. It’s a great futuristic action film, it’s a great intellectual thriller, and it avoids the sluggish pacing that so often brings down other Mamoru Oshii films. Old it may well be, but it never feels like it. If you haven’t seen this one already, you really need to.