My first movie review.
Lately I have been watching a fair amount of anime, consisting of Trigun and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which is a spin off series of the movie I am reviewing here. GiTS: SAC is a very well written and well animated series that merits an 8.5/10, and Trigun is also good, with the exception of incredibly goofy faces and comic relief that isn't very comic. I am willing to sit through these parts of Trigun because of its originality and a compelling story that has started to become profoundly thought provoking and moving. (Once I finish Trigun I will review the series here). I am not a fan of all anime, but I'm not going to deny that some of the best stories I've seen have come from this genre.
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell takes place in a cyberpunk near-future in which computers and the internet permeate every section of society, so much that many people have become cyborgs, from the simplest cyber implant to having fully cybernetic bodies with only their brains remaining. The protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is one such full body cyborg. She works for Section 9, a group of government operatives who fight cybercrime and cyberterrorism. The movie chronicles Motoko's journey as she encounters the elusive Puppet Master hacker, one of the most notorious criminals in this fictional world. The Puppet Master has been hacking the minds of cyborgs, completely erasing memories and forcing people to do his bidding, and things become murky very fast.
While the film is an action flick, it is also a philosophy flick. The central subtext revolves around the question of how a living organism is defined in the context of a world plagued by an overflow of data and computers that have begun replacing many of humanity's biological and mental functions. Many of the character's conversations focus around this topic as the events of the movie unfold. I will say that the subtext and the story both blend together quite well, as the two never seem to overpower the other. I can't comment too much more on the subtext because a lot of it I have yet to understand fully, and because spoiling it for you readers would rob you of some of the experience gained from watching the film.
As an animated film, and a Japanese one at that, it is very important to say this: Many Americans, especially young ones, who are out of the loop assume that all anime is either targeted at children or contains artwork that is unrealistic and insanely zany. Most of this results from the exposure of the few animes commonly known to people outside of the fan-base in the United States, such as Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh. While there are a lot of animes that fit this description, it is not true of all of them, especially Ghost in the Shell. Much like the movies of Hayao Miyazaki and the landmark animated Akira, Ghost in the Shell contains the most breathtaking examples of hand drawn animation in any medium, with only some bolstering from CGI. I don't know how many people slaved on to create the artwork or for how long, but they all should get a raise for what they have accomplished. Mind blowing is the least I can say, and refreshingly it is free of goofy faces. All of the aforementioned aspects of the film come together very well under Mamoru Oshii's direction and Kazunori It 's screenplay.
Even finely crafted films have their faults, and Ghost in the Shell has a few but not many. I personally found the story a little hard to follow at points due to the amount of information that was conveyed very quickly, but by the end the story made sense in a way that didn't feel like I had been pandered to. This is still probably more my fault than that of the filmmakers. Another point is that very little is learned about the characters in the course of the movie, which is a shame given how fascinating the world and the actions of the characters are. This is most likely due to adapting the manga into an 82 minute movie that could have been seven or eight minutes longer without overstaying its welcome. However, the TV show, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, remedies this with episodes that tell us more about the world and the characters, albeit in a story with no connection to that of the movie.
The final and perhaps most significant flaw of the film is the large and distracting amount of explicit female nudity. While none of it is in a sexual context and all of the nudity is technically that of cyborgs or robots built in the likeness of women, it still says a lot when all I see are boobs that can't be avoided because the protagonist needs to cloak with Thermo-Optics. She literally has to bare all to turn invisible. When one sees male characters in the movie cloak, they don't even need to unbutton their shirts, let alone flash their privates. This was probably done to appeal to pimpled teenage boys, which I think could kill the movie for a lot of people who aren't as accustomed to nudity in film or are unable to look past that and see how intelligent and well made the film actually is. And it is these aspects that many of the "teens" I mentioned would either not understand or just not care about.
Nudity aside, this is still a very good movie and I would recommend this to anyone who wants to try anime, cyberpunk, or just wants to try a good movie that isn't what Hollywood churns out every few months.If you're picky about objectionable content in movies, you may want to give this one a pass due to not just nudity but language and graphic violence (a man is shot in the face and his head explodes). Still, a well-earned 8.5/10. My score might even go up when I view it a second time.