Movie Review : Ghost in the Shell (1995)
An American adaptation of Masamune Shirow's iconic graphic novel Ghost in the Shell will be in our theater this Friday and no one knows whether they should be afraid or not. The original material is revered by cyberpunk fans and widely-considered to be the most complex and profound narrative in the genre, so people are afraid Hollywood will fuck it up. It's understandable. I don't have much hope myself, but I re-immersed myself in the original anime adaptation by cult director Mamoru Oshii in order to set clear expectations.
The goal of this exercise is to make you appreciate how smart and nuanced Oshii's movie is, so you don't have to expect that from the upcoming one.
The original Ghost in the Shell movie is the story of Motoko Kasunagi, a police major and squad leader of Section 9 of Public Security's assault team. She's what you COULD call an android, although the distinction between human and machine isn't quite clear in the movie. She has a synthetic body (a "shell") which allows her to connect to a complex internet-like network that regiments human life in 2029. Motoko and Section 9 are mandated by the government to capture a hacker called the Puppet Master, who's capable of hacking into people's consciousness and commit crimes through their bodies. He proves to be an elusive foe, though and trying to anticipate his next move proves to be next to impossible. The only thing Section 9 can do is follow his trail and try to understand what he wants.
Ghost in the Shell is not a very "cinematographic" movie. It looks beautiful for an anime drawn in 1995, but it requires insane levels of attention to detail from the audience. If you zone out for 30 seconds, you're in trouble. There's this great scene in the middle where Section 9 is confronting the Puppet Master for the first time, which is completely static. It's just people standing there, having an intellectual argument over the definition of what's legally alive. Mamoru Oshii's movie is not particularly slow or unstylish, but it doesn't care for the same variables an 83 minutes movies usually cares about. The plot of a 400 pages novel is somehow jammed into Ghost in the Shell and it's quite elating if you can keep up. If you watch it with a group of friends, there WILL be at least one person who will claim they had no idea what they just saw. I'm warning you in advance.
Ghost in the Shell is trying to imagine a somewhat reasonable post-human future with the multiple ethical issues it entails. A future where the line between humans and sentient machines has been blurred by progress. Humans are replacing their organic body with durable and convenient "shells", which raised the question: when do you stop being human and when do you start being machine? This is what the movie is interested in, which transpires through Batou's fascination with Motoko. I loved the argument Ghost in the Shell makes about programming, comparing it to human DNA. Every movie about sentient machines has them rewriting their code in order to eliminate human race, but one doesn't rewrite his/her code like people don't rewrite their DNA. Ghandi could not self-consciously decide to rewrite his DNA to become a dictator. Ghost in the Shell is COMPLETELY on the other side of this whole nature vs. nurture argument and makes a compelling argument for it, which is a nice change of pace.
Do humans and machines necessarily have to be enemies? Where do you draw the line between freedom for your "own kind" and control over others? Ghost in the Shell is a paradigm shifting science fiction movie that laid the groundwork for a nuanced post-human future that introduces new ethical dilemmas and it's probably more pertinent in 2017 than it was in 1995. It would be unfair to expect the new movie to live up to this level of sophistication, but is it also going to challenge the morals we're so hell-bent on living by? One can only hope it'll have the courage to cross that line.