Ghost in the Shell (1995) – Review

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Featuring the Voice Talents of (Dubbed in English): Richard Epcar, Mimi Woods, William Knight, Tom Wyner, Christopher Joyce, Michael Sorich, Simon Prescott
Based on the Manga of the same name by: Masamune Shirow
Written for the screen by: Kazunori Ito
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Rotten Tomatoes Percentage: 95%
IMDb Score: 8.0

This film was not rated by the MPAA. This film contains stylized animation of gore, stylized violence, scenes of female nudity and strong language.

This is going to be a weird review. Mainly because I’ve already seen the sequel to this movie, Innocence, way back when it was released in the early 00’s, but have just gotten around to watching the first movie. It’s strange but this just became the time I watched this movie, who many animation lovers, japanese anime lovers and just film buffs in general consider to be one of the best animated films ever produced.

Ghost in the Shell was released at a time when only Akira and My Neighbor Totoro really got a hold of both both audiences who sought out the film and critics who championed the film. Over the years, the movie has garnered a large following from both the anime community and non-anime loving alike, praising it for its imaginative story, plot and characters.

That was 1995. This is now 20 years later. Does the film hold up? Is it still a classic of animation or, like Akira, a relic of what Japanese anime used to be?

Major Motoko Kusanagi and her partner Baito are cyborgs who work for Section 9, a government funded branch that polices the incredible information infrastructure that is currently dominating the world in 2029. Kusanagi’s main target is the Puppet Master: an incredible hacker who can hack into cyborgs to erase their identities.

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In 1995, it’s easy to see why this movie impressed so many people. It reminds me a lot of the craze going along with The Matrix in 1999, where people were floored with the use of camerawork, CGI and its creative and original script.

The problem with The Matrix is that once you strip away the CGI and its technical work, the movie just doesn’t hold up and has plenty of crazy holes and rather one-dimensional character development.

Ghost in the Shell has different problems, but it doesn’t negate the good things the movie does. In fact, age only helps show that the film has a very solid foundation that, honestly, I wish it went deeper into. 

It’s here where I’ll note that the film I am reviewing is the original 1995 English Dubbed version. I know there is a remake now that was redone this year, but this is the original film that was released in America. But, the problems more than likely won’t have much to do with the localization of the English/Japanese Subtitle divide.

The film is buoyed by this sense of place that, honestly, feels a lot like the world we live in today. Information is everywhere, the need for security, cyber-terrorism: for a film and manga that was created well before the internet flourished, the movie is so spot on with it’s science elements that the fictional elements seem believable in comparison to others future based movies.

This grounded future help get the true theme of the movie out in a way that feels natural. The film, oddly enough, has a theme that still lingers today in our digital age: what is identity?

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The inner theme is also complimented with excellent animation work and exciting action sequences. The invisibility cloak fight with the Major and a criminal she was outrunning is an exceptionally well detailed fight with exciting sequences.

In fact, the whole film is very well paced. The film is less than 90 minutes long, but it still feels like a full fleshed, well rounded movie that was very satisfying to watch. In the end, it didn’t feel like quick and dirty entertainment: it felt like a wholly complete film that set out to what it was going to do.

That being said, there are some gripes I have with the film.

One is a common trope of Japanese animation in the 80’s and 90’s: the pointless and strange need for female nudity. Nudity in itself is mostly gratuitous, if only as a need to be authentic. Yet, the film seems to love to show the full frontal female body. The nudity isn’t incredibly detailed (the pubic area of the main character and another female character is shown a few times), but it just comes off as unnecessary.

For example: The Major is shown completely nude in the first 6 minutes during a credit sequence. Why? Not really sure. In order to fight people while invisible, she has to tear off all of her clothes, strip down naked and then when she comes back, she’s completely nude. This is despite the fact that they have shown earlier that there are clothes that can cloak you completely in this universe.

The nudity in this movie is pretty pointless and it can be distracting and quite odd when it shows up.

The other problem is that it just felt like there should have been more to this movie. This may be a good problem to have, especially for a series that has had multiple branches of film and TV shows, but for a film that introduces and creates this impressive and eye-catching world, it doesn’t do much other than just give the film an impressive window dressing.

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Yet, what becomes most impressive is that an animated film from 20 years ago still stand well to this day. When it’s problems end up being because of standard tropes from that time and that I wanted more of this world, it just shows the excellent work done creating the world.

If you haven’t seen this film and you love science fiction (like The Matrix), you deserve a shot to watch this animated film.

4/5 – Excellent animation, great story and great setting. It’s lack of depth and it’s female nudity tropes push it back a little.

The Wiz Says #37

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