Just before Hollywood’s remake, starring Scarlett Johansson, is released in March, the original, the mother of all anime, comes back to London’s cinema screens on January 25 for a limited run. The original Ghost in the Shell is not only perfect preparation for the release of the upcoming live-action remake, but also a unique cinema experience in itself.
When it first came out in 1995, Ghost in the Shell became the first Japanese anime cartoon that reached world-wide acclaim. Its transfixing visual power and engaging storytelling has influenced countless other films and Ghost in the Shell’s imagery has even become known to viewers who have never watched it. For example, the slick design of the 1999 classic The Matrix, including the chains of vertical green numbers, cool one-liners, and extreme action sequences, remains the most notorious duplication of Ghost in the Shell. However, the establishment of such a vast global fan-base also originates from director Mamoru Oshii’s success in philosophically reinterpreting the Japanese TV-show of the same name, which the film is based on.
Although the main setting of the film is a technological advanced future, where the law enforcing cyborg, Major Kusanagi, tracks down a criminal entity from the “net”, called the Puppet Master, the audience is left with far-reaching questions of their present reality. Kusanagi’s body remains a shell in the hands of a government that ignores her continuous struggle for self-identification. Contemplating whether her mind is evolving to a more human, or even trans-human being, that can feel and think independently, this character defies all classifications of gender. The crime investigation regarding the mysterious Puppet Master becomes a backdrop to the more daring question of how to articulate one’s identity in conflicting circumstances.
The shockingly well-staged action scenes, for example combat with an invisible attacker in water, further serve to strip away the confining body of Kusanagi. Losing body parts in such fights, Kusanagi’s character is inevitably reduced to her mental and emotional abilities. Confronting the audience with her contemplations, Ghost in the Shell also explores the moral issues involved in technological advancements and artificial intelligence. Using mirror images of machines and humans, or mannequins and bypassing people consuming product after product, the film realises Kusanagi’s fate as not too different from humanity’s. For her shell of a body becomes as disposable as a person’s identity in an ever-changing consumerist world. What appeared urgent in 1995 resurfaces as even more applicable in today’s radically digitalised world. The film’s depth and beauty entices the audience to wonder whether their identities have already transformed within a technological modern present, and to what extent current artificial intelligence carries moral implications. The spine-chilling musical score and ravishing slow-motion sequences additionally render this film an unmissable cinematic experience.
The looming release of the live action remake, starring Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi, should be further motivation to watch this re-release. Although Hollywood was criticised for white-washing a Japanese narrative with yet another American star, this Ghost in the Shell promises to be equally, if not more, stunning in image power and design. This is one of Hollywood’s most anticipated projects, as its success or failure will possibly cause a final decision regarding future ventures of remaking foreign film gems. Knowing the original version becomes essential to avoid any misconception of a true masterpiece.
Ghost In The Shell runs at cinemas across London on the evening of January 25, but plays at The Prince Charles Theatre until 1 February. Find out more here.