Great Science-Fiction asks questions about what is going on in the time that they are made and gives us a vision of what all that will lead to. Now that it is over twenty years old, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell remains as a pinnacle of great science fiction by still being so relevant because it’s questions are still being asked now.
In the year 2029, the world’s international tensions are still high and the police still do their best to keep the world in as much order as they can. However technology has upped the game, now there is virtual hacking and information deliverance and speed is the name of the game. Just being human won’t cut it anymore so both sides now come with enhancements. They can now trade-in their organic parts and have them replaced with cybernetic upgrades. A brain that can have instant access to the police data logs or act as a radio, more powerful limbs etc. But there are some that are cybernetic from the ground-up. Enter The Major,a woman by appearance but everything from her hair, eyes to her brain has been manufactured. She even comes equipped camouflage capabilities that allows her to disappear.
Probably one of the biggest distinguishing aspects of the movie as well as whats played a part in making it so popular as well as recognizable is the choice to have it main character appear nude for a significant chunk of the movie. On one side, sex sells and there are undoubtedly many that simply come for the exposed breasts. However there are many intellectuals that still find merit in the movie beyond that choice. But lest focus on this part of it. Our opening sequence is the Major being built, the cybernetics, then the fake flesh, then finally the artificial skin. Early on we know that this is not a real woman before us, at least in body , you can observe at her sexualized proportions and say “That was definitely designed by a man” but here it literal on both sides, which adds to it.
Japanese animation operates at a different mentality than what the West will be used to with the Disney movies. First of all they make their movies at a lover frame rate, the West have twenty-four frames a second, while the East have sixteen, this means that they are allowed to have more moments quiet behavior rather than being in constant Ballet mode.They also don’t feel the need to have the characters in constant motion. Sometimes, or even many times they will land on a piece of framing and cinematography and have that be the shot throughout the scene, or for an extended time. It is a method of film-making that is primarily cost effective but can lead to moment of greater poignancy.
Much like Akira and Blade Runner the movie presents us with a city that is like the ones we have now, however elevated through the increase of technology. The building are more higher and technologically designed and advertisements are also everywhere however they are no longer flat projections, they have become three dimensional holograms and move around the building themselves (some even as bug as the buildings). In the slums every inch is used up to accommodate the mass population and is trash heavy and rustic.
We quickly learn that a terrorist is in Japan, one named The Puppet-Master. Who exactly he is nobody knows. They track down an inadvertent accomplice who’s a trash man trying to make money to help-out his daughter, however when they take him in it’s revealed that he has never been married and never had a daughter. This is a world where the enemy can manipulate civilians memories to make them do their tasks. It’s then quickly revealed that The Puppet-Master is actually an artificial intelligence, they simply call it him and he due to typical language conventions. What it really, or at least physically is, is electronic information.
The main theme, or at least the most prominent theme of the movie is what lies beneath. It is about pealing back the layers of what something seemingly is and getting to some sense of truth.
There is a sequence in this movie that consists of images, music and no dialog. It is shots of the city, the major moving through it, while passing she catches a glimpse of someone that resembles her at a restaurant. Nothing really comes of it and it’s not mentioned again but it plants the seeds for so many ideas. Was that a real person that the Major was based on? Is that another cyborg and her face is simply one of many identical ones? Was that even real or was that us getting a view into her imagination? I don’t know. I don’t need to know, because a crystal clear explanation would subtract from the interesting questions that I and/or someone else will come to through the watching and then we can discuss. It is the kind of scene where the robot part of your brain will tell you that it is inconsequential and should be cut, but the emotional, curious side needs it there.
With the heavy science fiction theme and images you would expect the musical score to be some kind of techno/synth style, but no. The score by Kenji Kawai is one of human chanting and traditional instruments. Nothing synthetic. A musical score can be considered the emotional layering on-top a movie, or its spirit.
The main theme, or at least the most prominent theme of the movie is what lies beneath. It is about pealing back the layers of what something seemingly is and getting to some sense of truth. Throughout the movie The Major keeps referring to “Twitch in my Ghost.” In context they are basically instincts, but it is what cannot be programed or truly logically explained in that machine way. They are those abstract feelings that have immense power over our decisions.
The Puppet-Master arranges for his body to be stolen out of the police headquarters. The team peruses and eventually, it’s just the two of them. Finally comes the encounter between The Major and The Puppet-master, taking place in some kind of old dance hall. He has gained control over a tank, which in this day and age is shaped more like a beetle. She dodges and shoots what she can but the armor is too tough, so she distracts it and then gets on-top if it in an attempt to rip off its panel. She pushes her artificial body to the limits and beyond, contorting her body to become incredibly butch in appearance, but even that is not enough, her circuits themselves rip out, leaving her limbless and only a torso.
It looks like the end but one of her colleague arrives to put the tank out of business. What is left is two beings that are no longer capable of psychical movement, only thought. In their time conversing The Puppet-Master proposes a merging to the Major, a merging of their minds.
With The Puppet-Master and The Major merged what we have now is something new. With her adult body destroyed in the fight the only replacement that could be found is a child’s one. Neither entirely him not her, their child? Where will she go now and what lies ahead of her? I don’t know. In the beginning the movie asks the question what makes us human, or what makes something living, at the end resolutions are made like any satisfying narrative but the really big one goes unanswered because it will never be answered.
In order for a ghost to be made something must first be living, right? Something must be there is whatever physical entity harbors it. Japan has a different relationship with technology than other countries. It’s more harmonious, encouraged and celebrated, they don’t fear or distrust the progress that’s been made, they’re quite proud of it. Ghost in the Shell is intricately detailed in many regards but it also operates so much in the blank spaces, leaving the audience to guess and fill in the blanks on their own steam. If you want something to flat out give you all the answered there are many other mediums that can give it to you like that. But a movie should have faith in it’s audience and that they can work things out for themselves. Besides, these questions can never be properly answered.