Ghost in the Shell
Kazunori Ito (Manga: Masamune Shirow)
Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Yutaka Nakano, Tamio Oki, Tessho Genada
Never quite reaching the level of popularity in the United States as it has in its home country, Japanese animation, affectionally referred to as anime by its fans, has been expanding at a breakneck pace since its emergence into the global marketplace in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the movies that helped bridge the gap with audiences is Ghost in the Shell, an animated science fiction action film that has developed a cult following and remains one of the most widely visible examples of what the medium has to offer.
Anime is not an animation style for everyone. Composed of unrealistic human facial features like big eyes and small mouths, motion trails, and other exaggerated excess, many fans emerged out of the use of such styles in Saturday morning cartoons in the 1980s where such irrationality was lost on the young children who consumed it. Such styles often diminish the impact of more serious narratives, which is one of the reasons anime hasn’t found as much success at the box office.
Ghost in the Shell‘s cyberpunk roots are drawn right out of Philip K. Dick’s world of sci-fi adventures. In this case, we’re set in a distant future where a person’s mind can be re-written and re-programmed with the user’s permission, or even without it. Based on Masamune Shirow’s popular manga series of the same name, the story gives director Mamoru Oshii the foundation for a film that requires contemplation of the moral imperatives discussed in the film. Such heady topics aren’t easily tackled in the animation medium and while the ideas presented are fascinating, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, especially from non-fans of this style of animation.
With the animation feeling rushed and unrealistic, it makes the viewer’s job difficult parsing out the weighty concepts from the distracting artistic form. The vocal work, even discounting the translation-based out-of-sync lip movements, is less than impressive. Mimi Woods as Motoko Kusanagi is the only one who avoids those issues. The animation is solid in places, amateurish in others, and the story feels like it abruptly ends. There are some compelling scenes that work visually in spite of all this, making it a passably stylish production.
For fans of anime, Ghost in the Shell will likely reach its full potential of appreciation. For those who struggle with or outright loathe the style, they are unlikely to celebrate the film in the same way. It’s a film of unique and divergent opinions that remain heavily debated 25 years after its initial release.
May 10, 2021