I want to talk about Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Having just seen the movie today for the first time, I have to say this film was not what I expected based on what I'd heard. To me it was neither a cyberpunk action film, nor a profoundly philosophical look at the human condition with "so deep" undertones and underlying metaphors. Instead it was an unsettling, creepy, nightmarish, uncanny valley-esque horror film in a cyberpunk setting.

There's one thing I've come to appreciate especially from movies in the last few years, and that's atmosphere. When a movie manages to truly form a sense of place, sensibility or a certain emotion, I often end up loving them, even if the plot is weak. And this movie is one of the strongest examples of such I've yet come across. The foremost words that come to mind from this movie are dread and unease. In the same vein with films like Rosemary's Baby, and the best works of H.P. Lovecraft, Ghost in the Shell forms an air of things being just slightly twisted, off kilter, or wrong in a certain way that retains a sense of reality and place, but leaves the viewer with a lingering sensation of unease and nervousness. Throughout the movie there's a constant feeling that at any time things could go wrong in horrifying, yet unexplainable ways.

It's hard to list all the things that come together to create this. It's a sum of many parts: Mokoto's slightly dead eyes. The lack of music, and when it's used, it's to a hauntingly jarring effect, like in the battle scene in the abandoned museum. The way the characters talk: at first it feels completely unnatural, with the characters seemingly explaining the plot and world to each other in completely inorganic ways, but then you remember that these characters are by definition inorganic. The film being mostly coated in steely, cold blues and unnatural neon lights. The very strong evoking of the uncanny valley in both visuals and story: the short scene of the hacker being interrogated, and having been implanted with fake memories instilled a level of unease I haven't felt in movies for years. Or at the end when the dead-eyed, mutilated corpse of a beautiful young woman starts talking in the voice of an old man.

After finishing the film I thought about reading the manga, but the more I think about it, the less I want to. Not having known very much about the film prior to viewing, and even less about the source material, I'm kind of tempted to leave it that way. I fear that getting the proper context, as well as the "before and after" of this story would in a way ruin the experience of the film. There's a certain intrigue to looking at the film as a complete standalone: like a relic from an alien world that somehow made its way to earth.

These are some initial thoughts I just wanted to throw out. We followed the film up with the first episode of Serial Experiments Lain, about which my friend had been raving for years, and which lives the same vein of strange creepiness. After watching it I finally realized that I utterly adore these kind of fictional works that give off this sense of irrational dread that leaves you shivering for days, yet unable to explain what about it is so jarring and repellant.

What the film certainly got me thinking about was that why of all films was this made into a hundred million dollar Hollywood blockbuster. Aside from the action scenes, and a few setpiece moments, I don't really get what there is to be improved about this film with a larger production behind it. Maybe it was just for the visual flair, and the fact that Hollywood will dig up any brand recognition it can find. But as the film stands, it's already essentially perfect in its presentation.

That's a summation I can get behind. Well said.

I watched it for the first time a few years back as well and even as someone who generally isn't into anime, I quite liked Ghost in the Shell. For one it's absolutely gorgeous, easily the most visually appealing animated movie I've ever seen, and two like you say it has a great sense of place and atmosphere. Those slow establishing shots where you're just given an opportunity to look at this brilliantly drawn world are breathtaking, and the action when it does happen is insanely intense.

Only glaring flaw? Plot is pretty muddled. I get what the story was going for, but as someone already familiar with the genre and its tropes it's also a story I've seen and read done better in the past. Thankfully what the movie lacks in substance it more than makes up for with sheer style, which I love.

Also why Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of the only anime shows I've ever fully watched and would recommend. Compared to the movie the show looks like absolute ass, seriously, it looks crap and the character design for Major especially is just dreadful. What the hell were they thinking with that outfit? But even so it's got a compelling unique plot while still maintaining the ambiance and worldbuilding which made the movie so great, even if it's considerably less visually impressive while doing so.

I've heard that it's all based on a comic series but I'm really not into japanese comics so I'll give that a pass. Meanwhile from what I've gathered aside from the original movie and Stand Alone Complex season 1 and 2, the rest of the stuff bearing the Gits brand is pretty shit. Shame that. Movie and the show are good though!

Incidentally the show and movie are unrelated plot-wise and each stand alone (heh!) so you can watch one without having watched the other and so forth. Same characters and world, completely different 'timeline' and series of events.

Argh ... no. It's not cyberpunk. Akira is more cyberpunk than Ghost in the Shell will ever be in any iteration. Cyberpunk is one the last big; "Everybody seems to like it, but nobody seems to implement it well..." And I think part and parcel of this is because, yeah, there'll be people like me that refuse to call it cyberpunk. Ghost in the Shell is another example of people thinking it's trying to tell a far deeper story though it's not. It really isn't. It may have tried, but it comes off as obtuse to general entertainment or not living up to its means to communicate what it's trying to say.

And it's not simply because I don't really like anime. As above, I'm fine with Akira ... I'd be fine with people calling that cyberpunk. And the reason being is because Akira did what Ghost inthe Shell tried and failed at. Vertical imagery that tells a story about decay and bleeds social collapse theories of the future. Akira (movie) has sweeping vistas of neon bright streets and high corporatism that effortlessly pans down to show broken asphalt, burnt out cars, open gang warfare, terrorism (far more biting and perhaps realistic depiction of it that was so nuanced you could almost see it happening in the West), overt police violence and their inability to 'stem the tide' of chaos.

The protagonists are living examples of that; borderline murderous thugs who by all measure belong behind bars ... but there isn't that sense of revulsion we should feel because they are the product of the world, not their own inherent madness and malice.

Ghost in the Shell feels purposely, unceremoniously hollow to all that. Ghost in the Shell (movie) seems almost hopeful... almost grand... almost Wonderland .... and that's why I don't like it. It could have told a far more personal story. While one can level this accusation at Akira I feel like they are missing the plot. Akira is merely meant to show the corporate idea of the potential evolution of humanity. How corporate interests with corrupt government intow will not merely attempt to control, but dictate the growth of the human being. Akira told a story of how that will fundamentally backfire. Spectacularly backfire. That the human is capable of madness well beyond any means of shackling for too long. No number crunching or profit margins will allow for the total capacity for the human to scream at otherwise impossible odds and bring the world down with it. That by making peace with that, we find hope.

Kaneda's world is almost beautiful by the end. He's lost nearly all his friends, he should be traumatized... broken ... and the images of our inevitable destruction should be despair inducing... yet it isn't. It's beautiful in its devastation because, at least for now, there's nothing left to manipulate them.

bartholen:

What the film certainly got me thinking about was that why of all films was this made into a hundred million dollar Hollywood blockbuster. Aside from the action scenes, and a few setpiece moments, I don't really get what there is to be improved about this film with a larger production behind it. Maybe it was just for the visual flair, and the fact that Hollywood will dig up any brand recognition it can find. But as the film stands, it's already essentially perfect in its presentation.

Because this was one of THE films when anime was just beginning to become more popular. This and Akira were generally recommended as the "essential" anime movies. The anime Citizen Kane or something.

And now people who grew up with GitS and Akira and Cowboy Bebop are now in the position to make movies about them.

bartholen:
After finishing the film I thought about reading the manga, but the more I think about it, the less I want to. Not having known very much about the film prior to viewing, and even less about the source material, I'm kind of tempted to leave it that way. I fear that getting the proper context, as well as the "before and after" of this story would in a way ruin the experience of the film. There's a certain intrigue to looking at the film as a complete standalone: like a relic from an alien world that somehow made its way to earth.

While it's been a long time since I've read GITS, trust me, you are unlikely to get the "proper context", assuming there is one. I can't say I've ever read a Shirow manga that was particularly coherent across the whole volume and GITS was very much the worst of the lot. It's kind of like watching an episodic police procedural series like CSI or something, the episodes make sense, but overall it doesn't feel particularly interconnected with an overarching plot.

I don't see the film in the same way as previous posters. I very much liked the atmosphere, but I didn't find it particularly unsettling or philosophical. Though, I don't see those as the central points of the film, so it didn't need to be.

I never felt a sense of a dread in the film, apart from where Kusanagi takes on the tank, but there is a cold, inhuman atmosphere to it that feels unnerving.

I've seen video analysis on the movie talking about how it shows technology being celebrated and something to not be scared of. But I never got that sense when watching it. The world that it portrays is one that's sterile and unfeeling due to cybernetics invading our body and soul. It can talk, talk, talk about how Kusanagi and the Puppet Master merging is the best of both worlds and how it will allow both of them to go beyond themselves, but in the end nothing feels any different -- It's still the same cold, bleak atmosphere.

Ah, GitS. I acquired in a box set with Akira and Ninja Scroll in a box set a few years back. I've watched it twice, once alone and once with a friend, and both times I was both impressed and seriously unsatisfied. The artwork, cinematography, and atmosphere are great. It's actual state as a piece of narrative fiction is shit. It's one of the few films I've ever watched that's actually shorter than it should be; it feels like the entire second act is missing. This leaves the plot to be covered in a few lines of exposition and as a result it feels extremely low stakes. It also means there's very little time for any interesting ideas to be properly explored.

Quite enjoyed GitS. I've seen the movie and both seasons of SAC. It does an exceptional job creating a believable world which feels more relevant today despite being made over 2 decades ago. The technology to me felt like it had incredible promise that could enhance, heal and better people in unlimited ways but exploitation and misuse also predicted a slow descent into dystopia. However, I think GitS really portrayed the world that it could go either way. Technology is nothing to be afraid of, but in the wrong hands it can become quite scary. The alternative to GitS more invasive technology, being left to the whims of an indifferent and fragile biology, is more depressing I think. I personally would consider that it is our consciousness that makes us human, not so much our biological 'shell'. Ofcourse that's an oversimplification as consciousness is made up of thousands of communicating nerve cells so the separation of body and mind isn't as cut and dry but at the same token are humans no more than nature computing with meat. You could say some of the soul searching of GitS almost brings evolution and technological progress full circle. :p

The one anime with similar themes I personally found relentlessly bleak was Texhnolyze. It has similar cyberpunk influences as GitS with the difference that Texhnolyze is absolutely harrowing in what almost seems like an autopsy on the human condition. It's probably also the most impressive piece of fiction I've ever seen, anime or otherwise.

stroopwafel:

The one anime with similar themes I personally found relentlessly bleak was Texhnolyze. It has similar cyberpunk influences as GitS with the difference that Texhnolyze is absolutely harrowing in what almost seems like an autopsy on the human condition. It's probably also the most impressive piece of fiction I've ever seen, anime or otherwise.

That's another series I've wanted to watch for years, but it's extremely elusive. I can't find any good streams for it online, let alone any legal ways of watching it.

Zykon TheLich:
While it's been a long time since I've read GITS, trust me, you are unlikely to get the "proper context", assuming there is one. I can't say I've ever read a Shirow manga that was particularly coherent across the whole volume and GITS was very much the worst of the lot. It's kind of like watching an episodic police procedural series like CSI or something, the episodes make sense, but overall it doesn't feel particularly interconnected with an overarching plot.

Which is not all that surprising. Shirow is arguably more of an artist then a writer, and when push comes to shove, he'd rather be drawing erotic art. Which he did and presumably still does.

If you do try Stand Alone Complex, be aware that they do a season long arc but roughly every second episode contributes to the arc. Some people prefer the arc, others the stand alone episode. (I'm more of the former and it frustrated me that I was wasting time with irrelevant episodes.)

I think of it as a very "convenient" movie for its time, on a number of levels. It very conveniently came out at a time when cyberspace was starting to take shape, so it caught everyone's attention. Everyone talks to each other via telepathy, which conveniently saves on animation (seriously, 20% of the movie must be stills with voices dubbed on top). Dialogue is also mostly just explaining what just happened and what's about to happen - very convenient. The protagonist gets her powers from being nekkid, which is also very convenient. And so on.

Johnny Novgorod:
I think of it as a very "convenient" movie for its time, on a number of levels. It very conveniently came out at a time when cyberspace was starting to take shape, so it caught everyone's attention. Everyone talks to each other via telepathy, which conveniently saves on animation (seriously, 20% of the movie must be stills with voices dubbed on top). Dialogue is also mostly just explaining what just happened and what's about to happen - very convenient. The protagonist gets her powers from being nekkid, which is also very convenient. And so on.

This caught my eye as well. For all the phenomenal animation in the film there's almost an equal amount of blatantly cheap animation tricks in it. I remember one scene in particular that was like a minute long still shot of some robotics with just voiceover in the background. And for all the talk about how supposedly deep, intelligent, philosophical and oh so important the film is supposed to be, the writing is plain laughably clumsy in places. Again, for a film with so many stretches without a single word of dialogue, all the important "what is human ooh look at me all artsy fartsy" stuff is essentially delivered through "tell, don't show" monologuing.

As for the nudity, I didn't get the feeling it was supposed to be titillating in the slightest. The whole film has, as previously mentioned, a sort of cold, detached and sterile air to it, and a lot of the nudity is juxtaposed against other elements that remove any sexiness from it. Such as when Mokoto's body breaks apart when she's trying to pull the lid off the tank, or the naked body of the beautiful, curvy blonde... who's had most of her limbs torn off with wiring showing through them, talking with the voice of an old man while staring with dead eyes. Then again, knowing that Shirow's almost as known for his porn works as for his actual stories, it's kinda hard to judge.

I didn't find it unnerving like you did. I did find the characters very animatronic, but that was by design. Chris Stuckman had a review of the movie, and he had a good take on why the Major was like that. That she was basically having an existential crisis, and wasn't really sure what she was anymore. So that's why she was always seeming so disconnected, because she was. She didn't know how to feel in any given situation, and was trying to figure out what she was.

I personally found the "sideplot" about the garbage driver to be very disturbing however, and I found it really funny, that in the movie, they just sort of glossed over this, like it was a common occurrence. The new movie with ScarJo, focused more on that plot thread I think, than the actual Puppetmaster storyline. And frankly, I'm glad. I didn't really find the Puppetmaster all that compelling, so his removal in the new film was an improvement in my opinion.

As to why they redid it, I think you answered your own question. That Hollywood will reboot anything they think has market penetration, and can make them money. I'm not sure if the cyberpunk genre in general, has a good track record at the box office, but I know they are the kinds of movies that I personally am more interested in seeing.

I do find it interesting that you came away with a totally different feeling than I did. You had dread and forboding, I had....well honestly I don't recall, as I saw it shortly after it was released in 95, so it's been a few decades since I last remember seeing it. I thought it was interesting, but I mostly thought it was WAY to exposition heavy, with long shots of characters staring at the screen, talking, while they slowly adjusted the zoom focus on them, making the background slowly fade in and out. It took me out of any serious suspense, and it felt more of a cool look into one persons idea of how technology would develop.

*shrugs* I dunno, I just have consumed way too much Cyberpunk and Shadowrun, and William Gibson over the years to really blink at the implications that GitS introduced. I've read worse in other sources, so it was just another for the pile.

Chimpzy:
Which is not all that surprising. Shirow is arguably more of an artist then a writer, and when push comes to shove, he'd rather be drawing erotic art. Which he did and presumably still does.

I don't think there's much need for any argument over that at all. Once he got well known enough he just started pumping out artbooks. I'm pretty sure I read him saying he was more of an illustrator in the Appleseed databook or an Intron Depot or somesuch. Or that could be bullshit, I haven't read anything much manga related since the late 90's, so my brain could be playing tricks on me.
I did look up what he was doing these days and one of the first pics to come up was of a cowgirl (Stetson, chaps etc) fucking a horse man (mane, hooves etc), and some archeologist chick being gangbanged by a bunch of Anubii so I guess you're right on that last one.

Addendum_Forthcoming:
Argh ... no. It's not cyberpunk. Akira is more cyberpunk than Ghost in the Shell will ever be in any iteration. Cyberpunk is one the last big; "Everybody seems to like it, but nobody seems to implement it well..." And I think part and parcel of this is because, yeah, there'll be people like me that refuse to call it cyberpunk. Ghost in the Shell is another example of people thinking it's trying to tell a far deeper story though it's not. It really isn't. It may have tried, but it comes off as obtuse to general entertainment or not living up to its means to communicate what it's trying to say.

And it's not simply because I don't really like anime. As above, I'm fine with Akira ... I'd be fine with people calling that cyberpunk. And the reason being is because Akira did what Ghost inthe Shell tried and failed at. Vertical imagery that tells a story about decay and bleeds social collapse theories of the future. Akira (movie) has sweeping vistas of neon bright streets and high corporatism that effortlessly pans down to show broken asphalt, burnt out cars, open gang warfare, terrorism (far more biting and perhaps realistic depiction of it that was so nuanced you could almost see it happening in the West), overt police violence and their inability to 'stem the tide' of chaos.

The protagonists are living examples of that; borderline murderous thugs who by all measure belong behind bars ... but there isn't that sense of revulsion we should feel because they are the product of the world, not their own inherent madness and malice.

Ghost in the Shell feels purposely, unceremoniously hollow to all that. Ghost in the Shell (movie) seems almost hopeful... almost grand... almost Wonderland .... and that's why I don't like it. It could have told a far more personal story. While one can level this accusation at Akira I feel like they are missing the plot. Akira is merely meant to show the corporate idea of the potential evolution of humanity. How corporate interests with corrupt government intow will not merely attempt to control, but dictate the growth of the human being. Akira told a story of how that will fundamentally backfire. Spectacularly backfire. That the human is capable of madness well beyond any means of shackling for too long. No number crunching or profit margins will allow for the total capacity for the human to scream at otherwise impossible odds and bring the world down with it. That by making peace with that, we find hope.

Kaneda's world is almost beautiful by the end. He's lost nearly all his friends, he should be traumatized... broken ... and the images of our inevitable destruction should be despair inducing... yet it isn't. It's beautiful in its devastation because, at least for now, there's nothing left to manipulate them.

If you want to get really technical and academic, Ghost in a Shell normally classed as Post-Cyberpunk, its world is less of a pure corporatist dystopia, but dealing with the rapid evolution of technology and it's possible effects are still its central themes. The large mega-corps and government corruption are present, but not all-consuming like in traditional cyberpunk; the technological advances also seem to be more widespread leading to a less shitty society but still pockets of massive inequality and a middle class traditional cyberpunk posits will not exist. It takes a more nuanced (and arguably more realistic) approach to the future of technology rather than, shits fucked, mega-corps own us all. So while not "traditional cyberpunk" arguing otherwise I feel is kind of pedantic for general discussions, postcyberpunk is not something most people notice, like variants on types of metal music, the differences aren't readily apparent unless you are already an avid fan. I would be curious as to what you would call Ghost in a Shell more broadly if not cyberpunk though.

Daymo:

If you want to get really technical and academic, Ghost in a Shell normally classed as Post-Cyberpunk, its world is less of a pure corporatist dystopia, but dealing with the rapid evolution of technology and it's possible effects are still its central themes. The large mega-corps and government corruption are present, but not all-consuming like in traditional cyberpunk; the technological advances also seem to be more widespread leading to a less shitty society but still pockets of massive inequality and a middle class traditional cyberpunk posits will not exist. It takes a more nuanced (and arguably more realistic) approach to the future of technology rather than, shits fucked, mega-corps own us all. So while not "traditional cyberpunk" arguing otherwise I feel is kind of pedantic for general discussions, postcyberpunk is not something most people notice, like variants on types of metal music, the differences aren't readily apparent unless you are already an avid fan. I would be curious as to what you would call Ghost in a Shell more broadly if not cyberpunk though.

In short? Drama ... though it kinda does that bad as well. I've seen the movie and pieces of its serial spin-offs. And I really have little love for it. Also, I'd forgive it for its lack of social focus if it could at least properly describe the world they live in. I mean the middle class is already an endangered species. The definitions of middle class haven't changed since the 80s in places like the U.S. 40k~80k PA. I know people in Australia at near poverty earning the lower bracket of those amounts because of one bad event that costs them their savings or imparts a large debt. That's all it takes. Moreover, the idea of middle class has always been a Western one. It existed largely nowhere else, mostly continues to exist nowhere else.

I don't blame Asian shows not focussing on the economic situation, because just like most Asian countries .... you're well-off or you're not and there's far fewer guarantees than in the majority of Western countries. But that being said GitS goes out of the way of telling ostensibly what is a police drama, without exploring proper any idea of sociological critique of what these government endorsed super killers are trying to protect.

Akira at least does that. Hell, Patlabor does that (Patlabor 2 being one of the best movies of all time) ... probably the best example of what a civil war and coup would actually look like in an advanced, Western society. An honest look of how Japanese governmental corruption and weakness has bred this situation where multifactional organizations are left incapacitated to act with the idea they don't want to be a star in the theatrical dismantling of civil society. Left merely trying to flex their muscles, but in truth don't want to be seen as openly belligerent and invite a Kierkegaardian 'abyss'.

The movie wonderfully encapsulates and answer the question; "What is peace and prosperity? Can it simply be a mirage?"

GitS is easily one of his *worst work*. Yet for some strange reason people are telling him it's what the public wants ... and that's sad. Instead of comparing GitS to cyberpunk (which it isn'r) ... try comparing GitS to Patlabor 2 to see what a good grasp of sociological critique does to truly answer questions relative to the nature of humanity. GitS is just awful on every level. The drama is off, the characters are somehow bleaker than when stuff is going down (what I call the reliance on frenetic energy to compensate for meaningless characters) ... the political subtext is garbage ... the sociological critique is utterly missing ... and the philosophical questions aren't even questions. It's mindless pap.

I wouldn't care so much if GotS was any other movie. But Oshii has *skills* of which are absent in it. I feel like he was chained to an utterly stupid theme and characterization of people in the narrative. If given artistic liberty .... he'd probably can most of the characters and the 'commentary' it tries to make and start from scratch. GitS feels bad by nearly every other movie Oshii has made. Seriously, get all of his directed works and watch them... then tell me what movies speaks the least to his capacity for narrative.

I would like to write off GitS as simply his 'bad film' .... but people have made it popular to the exclusion of his other works. And studios have *picked up on that*! GitS is the least visionary of his works, yet it's thr largest commercial entity in his portfolio... another tragic case of the market dominating the artist. But I implore people ... buy a copy of his other works... see what Oshii has to offer in the strange, phantasmic, and truly memorable characterization of humans at the center of their own worlds. Then realize why GitS is consumerist crap with a paint thin veneer of artistic heritage.

When I watched the movie a few months back, about 3 or 4 now, I realized something very interesting: This movie did not age very well. I won't say it's a bad movie, but every theme that it explores has been explored since and to a much deeper extent. It still set the bar for what a sci-fi movie with digital consciousness concepts would cover, but it hasn't held up in how effectively it covers those themes. The people who analyze it today often raise more questions than I think the movie itself raised or even considered. One question was "What truly defines who we are as people, because if our memories can be altered and our actions can be erased, what's left?" After reviewing what the movie talked about and what I know, I figured that nothing can truly define what kind of people we are and moved on.

 

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