“I just have a whisper…A whisper from my ghost.”
Ghost in the Shell (1995), directed by Mamoru Oshii, dives into the intricate and philosophical exploration of self-identity and belonging in an evolving technological world. The film follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg special agent, as she pursues a terrorist who has been hacking into the programs of other cyborgs. Throughout her journey, Agent Kusanagi also struggles to find the answer to the question of if she is in possession of a soul, or as she calls it ‘a ghost.’ Often considered one of the greatest anime movies of all time, Ghost in the Shell has inspired other science fiction films such as the Wachowskis’ classic, The Matrix (1999), and James Cameron’s Avatar (2009).
One of the things one notices right away is the visual style of the film. Truly reminiscent of Blade Runner (1982), Ghost in the Shell envelops the characteristic, noir tone and familiarity of alienation. The stunning animation has aged so well that it’s shocking to know that this movie was released more than 20 years ago. The cool color palettes that often consist of blues and purples help to build the atmosphere in which the spiritual and the harshness of technology are trying to merge into one co-existence. Constant pairing of technology with nature in multiple shots, especially with water in the film, seems to depict this relationship as well. We see this struggle especially present in Major, whose cyborg body, or ‘shell,’ seems to limit her own identity, which she hopes is as natural as that of a human being.
While the plot is quite straightforward, it can get quite a bit confusing at moments since it transitions back and forth from the overarching plot to the personal conflict Major has with herself. So much is layered within one scene that it will take more than one viewing to digest it all. While it can appear to drag on at moments, that does not take away from the overall enjoyment of the film. The climax is by far the best scene, and it will leave you with more questions than answers. It fully encompasses what the film had been trying to achieve from the moment it opens with Major looking out into the city.Major Motoko Kusanagi is quite an interesting character in the sense that the film explores multiple themes through her. There’s so much to uncover and dig your teeth into, but one theme that personally caught my attention the most is Belonging. The desire to be understood by those around her is reflected in Major’s desire to understand her ghost. With a greater understanding of her ghost, Major hopes to achieve a sense of belonging in a world that doesn’t necessarily see her as fully cyborg nor fully human. The famous ferry scene visually portrays this. Major sees life pass her by and is overcome by the feelings of disconnect from the world. Life around her seems to go on even though her feeling of isolation is what appears to connect her to humanity; but she feels as though her life, in particular, is completely different as she is a cyborg. Do these personal and relatable feelings of seclusion make her more human than what she believes? Does her self-identity rely more on the feeling of belonging to those around her than what her own personal being depicts of her? These are some of the many questions this film asks not only of Major, but of the viewer as well.
The main song of the film, “Making of a Cyborg,” which is heard in the iconic Shelling scene and in the previously mentioned Ferry scene, has an eerie yet calming quality to it. To utilize a song that is sung in ancient Japanese in a very futuristic sci-fi film might seem odd to some, but considering the constant pattern of pairing things that appear to be at odds with each other within the film, it’s quite perfect. It’s almost like a serenade to the longing of something that was lost but one cannot place a name on it. It is a beautiful song that carries the heavy emotions of the movie wonderfully.
Ghost in the Shell is a thought-provoking, riveting and haunting film that portrays the human longing of a self-realized identity and the desire to belong in the vast harmony of the world. It’s a Sci-Fi movie that excels in reflecting a part of the human experience through the eyes of an unlikely source which speaks volumes about the film’s artistic intricacy. Any fan of anime or of science fiction, in general, should definitely check it out!