What, my friends, to make of Ghost in the Shell? A film directed by Mamoru Oshii and based on the manga art of Masamune Shirow, this Japanimation effort recalls the existential pain and ambiguity of 1988’s Akira. The plot of Ghost in the Shell is not something one can easily summarize because it exists in a kind of anime hyperspace to which only the creative team by Ghost can travel. In other words, it has more folds than a katana, but emerges equally sharp, and beautiful.
OK, that won’t do. Let me snip this plot set-up from Wikipedia:
Ghost in the Shell is an existentialist search for meaning set in the 21st century. Superficially, it is a futuristic spy thriller dealing with the exploits of Motoko Kusanagi, a member of the covert operations section of the Japanese National Public Safety Commission, Section 9, which specializes in fighting technology-related crime. Although supposedly equal to all other members, Kusanagi fills the leadership role in the team, and is usually referred to as “Major” due to her past rank in the armed forces. She is capable of superhuman feats, and cybernetically specialized for her job; her body is almost completely mechanized, save her brain and a single spinal cord segment.
Ghost abounds with shoot-from-the-hip visuals reminiscent of Bladerunner. Indeed, it draws upon some of the cyberpunk classics — Neuromancer, for a start — and flogs its central with gusto: artificial intelligence as a dehumanising force. What are the implications of mimetic beings that, we know, do not contain biological matter, but do exhibit the properties we associate with humanity, such as language, emotional behaviour, and so on? Ghost chicanes around these issues even as it dips into the strange wells of manga-strength nudity and violence. It does not suggest any answers, but that’s OK. There might be no answers. And it ended somewhat abruptly. But I’d recommend the film as an intelligent stab at the back of humanity.