In the year 2029, the barriers of our world have been broken down by the net and by cybernetics, but this brings new vulnerability to humans in the form of brain-hacking. When a highly-wanted hacker known as 'The Puppetmaster' begins involving them in politics, Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, are called in to investigate and stop the Puppetmaster.
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I was born the very same year this film was released - 1995. And is one of my favourite films from 1995, alongside Goldeneye. In fact, Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii is perhaps one of the greatest anime films to have ever been produced.
In the year 2029, Major Motoko Kusanagi (Mimi Woods) of the Sector 9 Security Service is a cyborg with very human traits. She eats, sleeps, breathes, and even talks like a human, but in a society where cyborgs are replacing humans for government work, cyborgs are being repulsed by the masses. As such, anarchy breaks out.
The Puppet Master - a master hacker who is a cyborg itself - breaks loose and starts to hack the humans' 'ghosts'; their minds which carry their memories and thoughts, and the Puppet Master manipulates these thoughts and memories as he sees fit. However, it is caught in a road accident, with the appearance of a nude woman. Because of this, the Puppet Master is incomplete, but still alive.
It is up to Major Kusanagi and her right hand men Batou (Richard Epcar) and Togusa (Christopher Joyce) to stop the Puppet Master's terror and save the masses from the ghost hacks.
This film was highly acclaimed by James Cameron himself, saying that this film was "the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence." I agree with his comments, as the film was one of pure genius and passion. Even the directors of The Matrix said that this film was what inspired their film.
The plot it unlike most anime plots for the time. It's generic now, but at the time no-one had thought of something like this. Now, cyborg-cop plots are incorporated in The Matrix, or Deus Ex. I guess it could be said this IS Deus Ex.
The animation, for example, is so fluid, you can barely tell when the frames are passing, it is that smooth. And unlike most anime, where the body is anatomically changed for the anime stereotype of cuteness, this film breaks this concept of that by having everything anatomically correct, from head to toe. Though, there are some characters in the film whose fingers split up into multiple prongs to type faster.
Ghost in the Shell does have a tendency for the main character, Major Kusanagi, to strip down naked during some scenes, though most of these are for what missions she is undertaking. These usually include the stealth missions. Her cybernetic body allows her to use equipment which changes her in ways, such as making her invisible, enhancing her muscles, etcetera.
The music is magical. It's on the level of Akira, with its score. It was composed by Kenji Kawai, and features female chanting and vocals, and percussion used in Shinto prayer (taiko drums). The lyrics of the intro song 'Making of a Cyborg' are sung in ancient Japanese, and are pretty much different to what Japanese now (even though the movie isn't even set in Japan, but rather in Hong Kong, so Chinese would've fit a little better). Even so, the soundtrack is still amazing.
This is one of the first anime films to successfully cross anime with computer graphics (the first being Macross Plus), and was one of the first successful attempts at doing so. There is nary a problem with the CGI/anime crossover here, and it's great that it tried to mix the two together. In fact, I'm willing to say that the two complement formats each other brilliantly.
Despite it winning some Academy Awards and being nominated for some as well, this film didn't popularise anime as a genre. I assume the reason for that is because it was too un-Western and too alien to most Western places. Sure, Akira kick-started the engine of anime popularity in Western nations (and it was released 7-8 years before Ghost in the Shell, too), but it still fell slightly short of popularising the anime genre. However, Ghost in the Shell itself is one of the more popular anime films out, so while it failed to popularise the genre, it was still pretty popular, and has a good fan base.
The film was based loosely off the manga, by Masamune Shirow, and featured a lot of key scenes from the mangaexcluded from the film. As such, this spawned a TV series called "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex". The series sticks a lot closer to the manga, and the film itself got a sequel - Innocence - as well as a remake, called "Ghost in the Shell 2.0", which reused the voices, but also remade the entire movie, by upgrading the computer graphics, and bettered the quality of the characters' designs. However, the remake was lesser favoured than the original, so it may not be worth seeing, unless you want to.
Usually, English dubs in anime are hit and miss. Examples of good dubs are Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Azumanga Daioh (different genre, still anime). Examples of bad dubs include the original English Akira dub, and One Piece (again, different genre but still anime). Ghost in the Shell is a great dub, and the voice acting fits most of the situations better than some other anime, although there is a little vocal hyperbole at points, where the voices are a little too deep, or exaggerated to make it look as though they were the tough guys. It's a good dub, but a little too exaggerated. Strangely enough the voice actor Mimi Woods, who was Kusanagi's voice actor, appeared in almost nothing after this work.
Overall, I give Ghost in the Shell 92% - it's a thrill from start to finish, and has that undeniable classic feeling to it that you don't really notice in other anime. It's great, and it's pretty great to watch. Just don't go getting your ghost hacked.