Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Starring: Atsuko Tanaka or Mimi Woods (English Dub)
Genre: Animation, Action, Sci-Fi

With a live-action adaptation set to hit cinemas in 2017, I decided to review the animated sci-fi film Ghost in the Shell, based on the original manga series of the same name.

Set in 2029 Tokyo, Mamoru Oshii creates a futuristic capital, extrapolating potential technological advances. The story revolves around Section Nine, a security force predominately run by cyborgs. Protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi uses her cybernetic body and advanced intelligence to both track and fight criminals, as well as instruct her team. The plot follows Motoko’s team in their attempt to catch a master hacker going by the name of The Puppet Master, whom Section Nine initially assume to be human. As the plot unfolds, The Puppet Master’s origins are discovered and its identity is revealed.

As the story unfolds Motoko contemplates her existence, and the idea of what classifies someone as a human is a constant theme throughout the film. Her body is completely cybernetic, but she has no way of knowing whether her ‘ghost’ (or her soul) has been a part of her since before she became a cyborg, or is simply part of her programming. The film poses the same query to the audience, leaving viewers to decide whether it is the ‘ghost’ (mind and soul), the ‘shell’ (body) or a combination of the two that makes someone human.

Ghost in the Shell immediately thrusts the audience into the middle of the action, introducing Motoko during an assassination in the first scene. Scenes of intense action and violence are juxtaposed with scenes with nothing but fantastic images of the futuristic Tokyo accompanied by a tribal-esque soundtrack. Whilst elongated panning location shots with no dialogue tends to slow films down, these scenes provide a powerful reflective break in an action-packed story.

The animation and CGI in Ghost in the Shell holds up well today. Obviously, having been made 22 years ago, the quality of the graphics is by no means HD. However, the 90’s style Japanese animation adds a visual charm and nostalgic value. Given Ghost in the Shell is set in a futuristic modern Asian metropolis, the slightly retro, Matrix-esque visuals were somewhat to be expected. The action scenes are also extremely compelling. The stylized violence typical of anime films is enthralling and believable in the context of the film. The fighting and chase scenes are fast, intense and gripping but never absurd.

The main point of division for viewers of Ghost in the Shell is the ending. There is a distinct ambiguity and lack of closure at the end of the film. In the final scene of the film, Motoko is seen entering a new existence. Her new being is explained to an extent but there remains an element of mystery as to what she has become and what her future holds. As a result, the film is left open ended, meaning viewers are left to draw their own conclusions based on their own perceptions, thoughts and imaginations.


Ghost in the Shell is a stylish, captivating film that gets you thinking. Oshii has incorporated ‘What does it mean to be human?” into an action-packed sci-fi flick. Whilst the open ending works well for me personally, the film may potentially have been stronger had it been less abrupt. Regardless, Ghost in the Shell is a stimulating film which has withstood the test of time. I would gladly watch it again.

Rating: 4.5/5

Below is the trailer for the live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson, coming to cinemas March 30.

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