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Ghost In The Shell - Koukaku Kidoutai (Ishii Mamoru 1995)


Ghost In The Shell
[Koukaku Kidoutai]

Genre: Matrix Meets Blade Runner in an Existential Spiral

review in one breath

This "cyber-punk" animation follows the human-machine hybrids Major Kusanagi and Batou of the Anti-Terrorism Unit as they pursue a mysterious and formidable hacker known as the Puppet Master. In this futuristic world where computers blend effortlessly with the human psyche, human strength can be multiplied many times through robotic enhancements. Of course, it also means that one's mind is only as safe as the cyber-security surrounding it. This is a highly memorable film which held significant impact upon the anime community.


This full length anime film is already more than a decade old and is thoroughly familiar to ardent fans of Japanese animation. Nevertheless I venture to add it to SaruDama's reviews due to my increasing fascination with the fictional worlds of manga artist Masamune Shirou upon whose work this is based.

This 1995 anime is directed by Ishii Mamoru who will also direct Masamune's 2004 sequel Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. Although the animation here is traditionally rendered, the world created within consists of a visually stunning apocalyptic vision where technology and the human psyche have reached compatibility.

The storyline here is complicated and interesting, involving cyber-terror and mind-hacks, but the film's strongest aspects are its visual presentation of the future of the world and its philosophical contemplations on the meaning of life.

What, for example, differentiates artificial intelligence from human intelligence to the degree that humans can so easily discard or terminate the former? What constitutes human life if both the physical body and the mind's past memories are technological transplants? What, in essence, constitutes individuality?

Yes, that is heavy stuff, I know, but these questions are not only explored herein but serve as the very foundation of the narrative's progression.

You will immediately notice parallels to Matrix (which was released four years later) such as the computer jack-ins at the back of the neck and the ability to merge Reality with a cyber-Reality. And indeed much of the philosophical quandary here also emerges throughout the entire Matrix Trilogy.

And lastly, the depiction of the future provided here is reminiscent of that in Blade Runner (which was produced six years prior to this). Radically urbanized megalopolises span upward as much as they do outward, stacked with people, commerce, pollution and decrepitude in a strange blend of haunting beauty. Here, however, the major elements of civilization are all Asian, a mix of Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

Content-wise this is fairly mature stuff, with a respectable fare of (buxom android) nudity and graphically exploding heads and torsos. Add all that to the philosophical meta-narrative here and you're mind will be working as fast as your eyes and pulse.


This provides a thoroughly entertaining and memorable experience and offers a satisfying vision of sci-fi apocalypticism. Given the fact that we are all now children of the Matrix and Blade Runner, much of what you see here will not be foreign, though it will undoubtedly add to your imaginative vision of the dark future awaiting us.

Version reviewed: Region 1 subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
First animation film to be simultaneously released in Japan, Europe and USA. Plenty of graphic (mega)gun violence, limb twisting and head exploding. If the beautiful girl standing next to you suddenly takes her clothes off, be prepared for an ass-whooping. Dark and contemplative vision of the future wherein man's use of technology takes on a mind of its own.

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