GHOST IN THE SHELL. Timeless cyberpunk masterpiece

Some time ego, the cover of Total Film magazine alarmed with the headline: “Ghost In The Shell: The Next-Gen Matrix,” which can easily be compared to comments like: “I don’t

Jarosław Kowal

23 August 2023

ghost in the shell

…know who this Paul McCartney is, but thanks to Kanye, he’ll surely have a great career,” after the former Beatles recorded a duet with the notorious rapper.

As the rumor goes, Lana and Lilly (then still Larry and Andy) Wachowski appeared before producers at the end of the last century with a copy of Ghost In The Shell and declared, “We want to make a film like this.” Fortunately, the result is a completely separate, original story, but all you need to do is look at the green digits flickering on the screen, the subtle details like plugs in characters’ bodies, or nearly identical action scenes to dispel any illusions about which cyberpunk legend inspired the other.

Ghost In The Shell is, of course, not the first vision of a futuristic world where cybernetics has become the most rapidly developing industry. Prior to it, there was already Blade Runner, Akira, as well as the comic Ronin or the book trilogy by William Gibson, consisting of Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. So why, after over two decades since its release, does the film directed by Mamoru Oshii still strongly stimulate the fantasies of subsequent filmmakers? Great duels; flawless animation; beautiful music that’s hard to get out of your head? Each of these elements provides intense sensory experiences, but it’s the captivating storyline that makes Ghost In The Shell completely absorbing.

ghost in the shell

Among younger viewers, the Stand Alone Complex series from 2002 or even the original manga drawn by Masamune Shirow is more popular. The reason is easiest to explain using the example of the main character in each of these stories – Major Motoko Kusanagi. In the series, she fights crime while wearing almost only lingerie; in the comic, she sometimes has purely comedic moments; in Oshii’s film, she not only doesn’t smile, but doesn’t even blink. The director utilized the uncanny valley phenomenon, which states that too close a resemblance between a machine and a human creates discomfort or even fear. In this interpretation, Kusanagi is a serious, completely dehumanized character, evoking unease but also prompting philosophical contemplation about the nature of humanity. The abrupt halt of action in the finale, replaced by lengthy dialogues, may be considered boring by those accustomed to stereotypical American cinema, but it’s precisely this focus on substance that makes Ghost In The Shell a production with a “soul,” rather than the “spirit” of a bygone era.

ghost in the shell

However, the film isn’t a film just to enchant with its story; that’s what audio dramas are for. Every time I watched Ghost In The Shell (which is at least ten times), I couldn’t help but marvel at how precisely, meticulously, and smoothly the scene of creating a cyborg alongside the opening credits was executed. Only the Japanese still possess such artistry, and in contrast, it’s enough to note that in the same year in the West, popular animations included Pocahontas, Goofy on Vacation, or The Lion King. The difference undoubtedly has cultural roots – in the Land of the Rising Sun, animated films have always been treated on par with live-action productions. So it’s no wonder that Mamoru Oshii even bothered to borrow an arsenal and test it in uninhabited territory, only to then present the operation of weapons and rockets in his film with the utmost realism.

ghost in the shell

Is there anything that could be criticized about Ghost In The Shell? I contemplated the final paragraph of this text for a while, but ultimately, I can’t find any flaws in Oshii’s work. There’s no conflict between a lot of action and a substantial amount of reflective content; there are no longueurs (the whole thing lasts less than an hour and a half), and the audiovisual presentation, even after twenty years, is one of the most flawless in the history of anime or even film in general. Rupert Sanders faced an incredibly challenging task in his live action remake – perfection cannot be improved upon.