HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Visually stunning and thematically complex, 1995's intensely cinematic GHOST IN THE SHELL (Anchor Bay, 25th Anniversary Edition) is the kind of dazzling, "hard" sci-fi that doesn't hit the screen very often, and when it does it's often in the form of anime.

While obviously influenced by such films as BLADE RUNNER and that other anime classic AKIRA, GHOST has its own style and ambience that are often mesmerizing. After a pre-titles action sequence that's like something out of a futuristic Bond movie, the main titles show our young heroine, Major Motoko Kusanagi, during the laboratory creation of her cybernetic body in a womblike pool of chemicals.

She then rises naked from it as a sort of placental crust cracks off her body, while Kenji Kawai's ethereal musical score begins to weave its web. And thus we're given a preview of the mind-expanding artistic potential the film will go on to almost effortlessly fulfill.

As with a lot of serious anime, the overly-complicated and sometimes hard to follow plot is mainly a springboard for wildly imaginative, often impressionistic flights of artistic fancy along with some thought-provoking ideas. Set in 2029, the story concerns two secret government agencies whose conflicting agendas will clash in potentially devastating ways.

Major Kusanagi of the Internal Bureau of Investigations is tasked to track down a mysterious villain known as the Puppet Master, a kind of sentient computer virus who can infiltrate the mind of any human whose cyber-enhanced brain is hooked into the system, taking over their will and giving them false memories.

Major Kusanagi is aided in her mission by a hulking, gray-haired mentor named Batou and brawny but easygoing Togusa, who all take part in a frentic chase scene early on which explores just how imaginatively this medium can be used in depicting bullet-riddled vehicular mayhem with the power to thrill in ways that live-action films rarely can. (THE MATRIX and THE FIFTH ELEMENT, on which this film is a distinct influence, come close.)

As the secrets behind the Puppet Master unfold (which I can't reveal without spoiling some of the film's most compelling surprises), GHOST IN THE SHELL offers a seemingly endless procession of eye-pleasing and mind-expanding sci-fi sights, sounds, and concepts. Every once in a while, there's a montage of images that the viewer gets lost in, or a deep, intimate conversation about mortality that can only be engaged in by a couple of cyborgs whose consciousness resides within cybernetic brains.

Kusanagi is particularly contemplative regarding identity since both her body and brain are almost entirely synthetic. Is she even human at all anymore? And since she's connected to the 'net like any other computer, her mind is vulnerable to being hacked by the Puppet Master at any time--if it hasn't been already.

How does she know her memories are real, or that what's she is experiencing at present is really happening? Her potential invasion and subjugation by an unseen force is one of the film's major dramatic concerns, which will eventually lead to an ending which, while somewhat unexpectedly low-key, is intellectually stimulating to say the least.

Directed by Mamoru Oshii (AVALON, ASSAULT GIRLS), the visuals are the work of animators from Production I.G. (BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE, KAIDOHMARU, KILL BILL). The story is based upon Masamune Shirow's original manga. While I usually prefer straight cel animation to a cel-CGI mixture, the digital stuff is used sparingly--mainly for computer readouts and such--and the overall effect is just so eye-pleasing and finely-rendered that it's visually irresistible.

The Blu-ray disc from Anchor Bay and Starz is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 English and 2.0 Japanese audio and English subtitles. The disc is barebones with no bonus features. The disc case contains an illustrated booklet with a Mamoru Oshii interview and two essays, "The World of Ghost in the Shell" and "The Impact of Ghost in the Shell."

Not a children's "cartoon" by any means (it, as they say, "contains violence, nudity, and adult themes"), GHOST IN THE SHELL lavishes the viewer with moments of beauty and contemplation which explore the emotional limits of animation while also generating explosive, edge-of-your-seat action. Like all really good science-fiction, it's both visceral and sublime.

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