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Ghost in the Shell (1995)

March 18, 2010

8/10 Robocops

Still pretty kickass after all these years.

Ghost in the Shell is about an android cop with a human brain working the streets of a future Japan and trying to make sense out of an identity crisis she’s going through, you know, since she’s half-human, half-robot, that kinda stuff. Not long after we meet her, a cyber-criminal starts hacking into people’s heads, getting them to do as he pleases and creating wide-spread panic amongst the government and military, and our Major Kusanagi is tasked with hunting that jerk down before any more fools get their heads screwed up.

So, it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed an anime movie, then again, I find it harder and harder to admit to my friends that even after graduating from the sixth grade and gaving up Magic: The Gathering like the hardcore nerd I was, I do in fact still like the occasional anime movie. But some things never change, and animated or not, good movies are hard to ignore.

Once a nerd, always a nerd. That’s just how it goes, folks.

So, Ghost in the Shell is generally regarded as one of the essential anime movies out there, ranking somewhere below Akira and Spirited Away as the Holy Grails of the genre. There are a lot of things this movie does well, but I think the reason it’s garnered the status it has is pretty much due to how utterly complex, epic and mature it is, far more so than one would expect from its poster of a bare-ass Major holding a glock with shades on.

It won’t take long to realize that this is no cartoon and that the kiddies in the audience should probably change the channel back to Spongebob before they get traumatized any further. It can be brutally violent (and after a guy’s entire torso blows up within the first five minutes you’ll probably know exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into), there’s a hefty amount of android nudity (which is still weird to see in any animated movie, “real” boobs or robo-boobs) and even if all that stuff doesn’t ruffle your feathers, you’re still gonna have a hell of a time trying to figure out what the eff is going on.

As much as Ghost in the Shell is a wild action movie, this sucker is not the kind of thing that you can sit back idly and half-watch if you hope to have any understanding of what’s happening from one scene to the next. It’s very dialogue-heavy, the story and the said dialogue that tells it all is almost too heady for its own good, but even though there’s a huge chance you’re gonna be lost along the way or lost altogether, a lot of the ideas and concepts about personal identity and what it means to be human are not the kind of things you expect to find out of most sci-fi movies, let alone an anime sci-fi movie.

In a nutshell, it’s a thinking-man’s action movie, or, at the very least, a listening-man’s action movie.

The visuals are also gorgeous, and not just in the quality of the artwork and overall animations, but also in the little details that makes this neo-Japan so convincing. Instead of throwing in flying cars or robot butlers, everything’s got this “more than meets the eye” (insert Transformers comment here) vibe to it where it takes familiar staples in our everyday world and turns them into something new. The one example of this that I always thought was so effing great was when one of the characters sits down at a computer, hovers his fingers over the keyboard – seems normal enough – and then all of a sudden this happens and the dude starts typing at 1 trillion WPM.

That shit is cool.

It’s details like this that make it work as a sci-fi movie, it’s the lack of restrictions like physics and pain that make it work as an action movie – one that would be pretty tough to recreate plausibly with real people – and it’s the reflective, serious and highly intelligent script that makes it work as detective story.

This is one smart, badass movie, but if you’re not into anime, I’m still not really sure this is the best place to start; but then again, the actions scenes really are freakin’ awesome. There’s a lot of Matrix in here, there’s also a lot of Blade Runner and if you can get past the bloody messes and write off the boobies as horny Japanese animators being horny Japanese animators, then who knows, you might just totally dig it. Moves a little slow in the first hour, but just slap yourself around and pay attention, Ghost in the Shell has story worth getting.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2010 12:55 am

    I actually really enjoyed this movie both in Japanese and with English dubs (big language enthusiast talking here) That being said, the story is what really got me hooked. Ghost in the Shell is clearly–at least to me–all about questioning what it is that actually makes up a human being; how far removed can we go, how many body parts can we take away, before we are not actually human at all? Are the memories the stuff of importance? Are the physical forms? Is it our capacity to think and act creatively or to love?

    All of these questions are, yes, what make this movie my “thinking-man’s action movie”

    Thanks for the no-crap review~


    • March 18, 2010 7:29 am

      Yeah, I’ve only ever seen it in English dubs (which usually isn’t the way to go) but they’re pretty good here except for the occasional lengthy silence in conversation. Glad you liked this, man. Good stuff, deserves more mainstream attention.

      Thanks for commenting and keep on keepin’ on!

  2. March 18, 2010 5:18 am

    My buddy was watching this for the first time last night: “Ghost in the Shell? More like Tits in the Shell!”.

    It’s a good film, but like you say, it’s pretty damn nuts. My favourite thing in the Anime category by a country mile is Cowboy Bebop. The movie’s sweet but the series absolutely owns! Definitely worth hunting down.

    • March 18, 2010 7:25 am

      Dude, you are preaching to the choir. Bebop is hands-down the best anime series of all-time and the movie also kicks a whole lot of ass. Need to watch it again to give it the review it deserves, that should be happening soon.

  3. March 18, 2010 1:25 pm

    Ghost Writer? Ghost in the Shell?
    looking forward to tomorrow’s review of Ghost Rider and Monday’s on Ghost, AR

  4. March 18, 2010 4:55 pm

    You ever tried Lain? 113 episode series — fantabulous . . . . . I haven’t seen the full-lenght GITS, but the 1/2 hour one ro0cked my damn world.

    • March 18, 2010 5:44 pm

      Heard about it back in the day, never got around to watching it. Will check it out. Yeah, Stand Alone Complex is good stuff, heady as fuck though.

  5. March 18, 2010 10:31 pm

    Speaking of television everyone has to watch Breaking Bad on Sunday night @ 10.

    • March 19, 2010 7:49 am

      Been meaning to watch the first season for ages now. Looks good.

  6. March 19, 2010 2:32 pm

    Wow, talk about flashbacks……….yes……….flashbacks………

    I’m okay with horny Japanese animators, it is what sets them apart from the tight asses of American conservatism. Boo!

    I have this on VHS. I really need to watch it, it’s been too many years. THanks for doing the review, I had forgotten.

    • March 19, 2010 2:42 pm

      Definitely a movie worth rediscovering. Happy to be the catalyst in this situation.

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