If your next viewing of Ghost in the Shell is your first, it likely will not be your last. The 1995 anime movie, based on the manga series of the same name, is confusing and doesn’t offer first-time viewers the easiest of landings into a complex universe. But if you’re ever lost along the way, the visually stunning film offers a unique animation style that will keep you coming back.
Whether you’ve seen it or not, Ghost in the Shell lives on today in its reputation. Everyone from James Cameron to the Wachowskis says the movie is an influence on their work — which eventually led to a widely panned American remake starring Scarlett Johansson. The original, directed by Mamoru Oshii, stands the test of time in ways that its copycat never will.
That's why you need to watch this anime sci-fi masterpiece now on Amazon Prime. Now convinced? Keep reading...
The movie's opening text explains that the lines between humans and technology are blurring, but not yet at the point where cities and states disappear. It’s along these lines that Ghost in the Shell runs, one where nations can barely control the technology they wield for their own advantage.
Recounting the intricacies of the plot is a challenge, but the sum is that “ghost” loosely refers to a human soul, while a “shell” is the body, which can more or less be interchanged at will. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a field commander for a Japanese FBI/MI5-style domestic organization called Public Security Section 9, is augmented to the extent that she is better considered a cyborg, rather than a human.
But as this cybernetic society marches on, problems with the technology reveal themselves. A ghost can be hacked, giving the hacker control of a shell. That leads to sudden political assassinations, which has Kusanagi and her Section 9 team tracking down hackers driving around the city in a garbage truck.
But the team soon shifts towards a greater threat: The Puppetmaster. An entity that was born within computers, it is seeking a shell and wants to acquire one however it can.
This information comes at you rapid-fire in Ghost in the Shell, and not all of it is about plot points. The film occasionally pauses with philosophical discussions about the nature of existence, which are easy to get lost in.
It also, thankfully, pauses to give viewers a chance to admire its stunning animation. Ghost in the Shell uses what’s known as "digitally generated animation," a combination of traditional cel animation and computer graphics. From stealth tech to reflections in glass buildings to the simple storefronts side-by-side, each shot manages to be jaw-dropping in its own way.
It often feels like this movie is trying to pack in as much as possible, which can happen when you’re trying to adapt a sprawling and complex work for the screen (see also Battle Angel: Alita). It might be helpful to read some of the manga first, but regardless, it is absolutely worth watching this movie. More than just an influential part of history, Ghost in the Shell will take your breath away.