Ghost in the Shell Review – Blurring the Line Between Human and Machine

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_Blurring the Line Between Human and Machine


  • Genres : Action, Sci-Fi, Police, Psychological, Mecha, Seinen
  • Original Release Date (Japan) : November 18th, 1995
  • U.S. Rerelease Date : February 7th & 8th, 2017
  • Studio : Production I.G.

With the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell being released in March, it is no surprise that FUNimation decided to rerelease the original anime movie in theaters across the U.S. for a limited engagement this month, as well as a special edition rerelease of the Blu-ray later on. We at Honey's were lucky enough to assist to one of those screenings at a local anime-loving cinema, the Alamo Drafthouse in El Paso, Texas. This is certainly a great chance to refresh our memory – or get to know the story for newbies - to better be able to receive the Hollywood version when it comes out.

If for some reason you still haven't experienced the original movie that introduced Major Motoko Kusanagi to the world, read on as we tell you about the plot, as well as reasons you should watch the movie, or not.

Contains Spoilers


Ghost in the Shell Story (Spoilers)

The movie opens by explaining that even though it is set in a technologically advanced near future, countries, and races are not obsolete. Then we cut to Major Motoko Kusanagi, a purple haired woman sitting at the top of a building, listening in on an important meeting in which a certain project is being discussed. The project's name is 2501 and there seems to be some sort of problem with it.

Motoko gets up and removes her trench coat, exposing a naked cyborg body. Meanwhile, her partners on stakeout are talking about the fact that they're moving in on Section 6's case, but because the target is a very important person, only they, Section 9, can get their hands dirty.

The men head to the extraction point and then we see Motoko jump down from the roof of the building. Inside, the diplomat in question and his goons become aware that the police are there (Section 6). Shots are fired and the diplomat tries to pull the VIP card. That's when Major Motoko Kusanagi shoots him and disappears into thin air out the window using her thermo-optic camouflage.

The next scene begins with Aramaki, the chief of Section 9, meeting with the Foreign Minister. Aramaki is concerned about the meetings with the Gavel Republic, as it involves a foreign refugee that may affect whether Japan can give aid to Gavel or not. The foreign minister thanks Aramaki for Section 9's help getting rid of the defected programmer, since Section 6 is supposed to stay diplomatic.

Shortly after, Aramaki arrives in a laboratory where Motoko is observing a blonde female cyborg body on a table while listening to scientists talk about her status. She is the Foreign Minister's interpreter and she has just been brain-hacked through a phone connection. Aramaki mentions that, as predicted, “The Puppet Master” has begun infiltrating the networks. His fear is that The Puppet Master is doing this to affect the secret talks with Gavel by controlling her to assassinate someone at the meetings. The hacking will reach her ghost (mind/soul) soon, so they must trace the signal quickly or they'll have to cut the connection, much like tracing a phone call.

As Motoko, Togusa, Batou, and Ishikawa make their way to find the hacker, we see a garbage truck and its driver connecting to a network through a public terminal. We learn the driver is planning on ghost-hacking his wife's cyber brain and that he was given hacking software by an unknown programmer gave him who told him how to use it to avoid getting caught.

Batou and Ishikawa figure out that the hacker is probably a garbage man using the fact that he moves around often and it's the perfect cover. Motoko and Togusa begin pursuit of their suspect. Realizing he's being tailed, the hacker strays from his route to “warn his friend”. A different hacker is sticking a card under a terminal and sees the garbage truck approach him with Togusa's car behind it. He shoots with a submachine gun and takes off, prompting the rest of the Section 9 team to chase him, which is difficult since he's using thermo-optic camouflage. The chase takes them all through a market and Motoko, using her own camo, catches the hacker. He has no memories.

Later, the garbage truck hacker is being questioned by Togusa. His memories are all fake, he's not married, he has no kids, and he is told that he was being used to hack government networks. Unfortunately, they can't fix it.

That night on a boat, Batou and Motoko have a conversation about Motoko's feelings when she scuba dives and the abilities of cybernetic bodies. Motoko starts talking about all the things that make an individual, a face, a voice, a body, memories, thoughts; but there is also all the unimaginable amount of data accessible through her cyber-brain. That all makes her who she is, yet it confines “her” within those limits. Suddenly, both Motoko and Batou hear an unknown voice in their heads: “For now we see through a glass, darkly”.

Back in the city on a rainy night, a blonde naked woman is hit by a truck. She's a cyborg shell that ran away from a facility that produces top-secret shells, Megatech, who also made Motoko's, Batou's and Ishikawa's cyborg bodies and parts. She has no cyberbrain inside, but there does seem to be a ghost. They fear the Puppet Master is the one behind this, as he is the only one likely to pass the high level of security to possibly get his hands on information that could endanger most members of Section 9 with Megatech cyborg bodies.

In an elevator with Batou, after seeing the cyborg shell, Motoko starts wondering if she's even still real or just a collection of memories. Was she ever human to begin with? Batou tries to argue that she has a ghost, but she counters that a cyber brain may be able to generate one and even harbor a soul.

After that, people from the Foreign Ministry come to ask Aramaki for the body. Togusa is suspicious and realizes that someone in camouflage snuck in with the people from the Ministry. While the Ministry's Dr. Willis is analyzing the shell in Aramaki's presence, she moves her eyes to look at him. The MFA's suspicions are confirmed, the ghost in the shell is The Puppet Master.

The MFA tells Aramaki they'll need to take the body to the U.S. since he's an American hacker, but then The Puppet Master speaks. He says he never had a body before now and that as an autonomous life-form he is requesting political asylum in Japan. The MFA argues that he is only a self-reserving program, but the Puppet Master challenges this assumption by stating that DNA is self-preserving programming in itself, thus putting them both in the same category. Considering DNA is basically memory storage and memories are what make each individual, it should have been expected that when externalizing memory through computers, some new kind of self-aware life-form could be born.

The Puppet Master then goes on to explain he is not AI. His code name is Project 2501, a life-form born from the sea of information. There is a sudden explosion and several camouflaged silhouettes are seen running through the complex and out to the street. Just barely, Togusa manages to shoot a tracker on the fleeing car that also has the cyborg shell with Project 2501 in it. Togusa and Batou engage in hot pursuit.

Aramaki and Motoko come to the conclusion that Section 6 and the MFA are somehow connected to this whole mess and Motoko heads out in a chopper, with instructions to capture or destroy Project 2501. Meanwhile, the MFA guys are in a car and we learn they're behind the assault on Section 9 and there is even a decoy involved.

Ishikawa has been researching the MFA guys and finds out that the main programmer in the project supposedly meant to catch the Puppet Master, is the defector involved in Motoko's mission at the beginning. The Puppet Master is thought to be a program made to influence foreign relationships but with it escaping, they now had to catch it, as having it uncovered would cause an international incident.

Batou and Togusa catch up with their targets, shooting one and disabling the other, they were the decoy, so Motoko is the one pursuing the vehicle with project 2501 in it. Meanwhile, in the chopper over Old Town, Motoko drops onto an abandoned building and gets into place. She notices a camouflaged tank protecting the car they were pursuing and her backup shoots the roof to expose it.

Motoko wants to dive into the Puppet Master's shell before destroying it so she lures the tank away from her target by attacking it. Using her thermo-optic camo, she manages to get on top of the tank and tries to pry it open with her bare hands, which ends with her ripping her limbs off and the tank grabbing her by her head, hanging like a rag doll. Batou shows up just before Motoko's head is crushed and shoots the tank dead. The Puppet Master's shell is still in the car so she asks Batou to help her dive in while a sniper team is ready to terminate their targets; Project 2501 and Motoko Kusanagi.

Motoko dives into the Puppet Master's cyberbrain and Project 2501 takes over Motoko's body and begins to speak. He confesses he was created as an espionage tool and that he has placed programs in ghosts for the benefit of individuals and organizations, but during his time diving through networks, he became self-aware. That's the reason his creators trapped him in a cybernetic body.

Motoko becomes isolated in the shell and is unable to communicate with Batou any longer, but she can hear Project 2501. He says he got to know about her and Section 9 because of Motoko's net-diving and he went to find her since he sees himself in her.

He says that though he called himself a life-form, he's incomplete because he can't die or reproduce to create variety and therefore have a better chance of survival. In order to achieve this, he asks to merge with Motoko, which will allow her to “bear his offspring into the net itself” and him to achieve death. Motoko is concerned whether she will remain “herself”, and the Puppet Master says there's no guarantee, but that to be human is to change, and her wanting to stay the same is what limits her.

The snipers are in place and about to shoot, but they're being jammed. Motoko sees a bright light and digital feathers falling in her as the snipers shoot and hit both of their targets, barely missing Motoko's head thanks to Batou.

Cut to a rebooting Motoko in a child's prosthetic body hooked up to machines looking at herself in the mirror. Batou fills her in on the occurrences of the last 20 hours: the whole case was covered up by Section 9, the Foreign Minister has resigned and the Major's brain shell is “missing”. Motoko decides to leave and when Batou asks if “he” is still inside her brain, she answers that who she is now is neither the Puppet Master nor Motoko Kusanagi. She leaves with no specific destination, only thinking about the vastness of the net.

What You Liked About Ghost in the Shell

Even though it's a 20-year-old movie, Ghost in the Shell is all but dated. In fact, it may have even been ahead if its time. The animation is wonderful, the world we are thrown in is impeccably thought out, the character design is beautiful, and it makes you think and feel outside the box.

Discussion Time: Should You Watch Ghost in the Shell?

If you're a lover of psychological sci-fi anime, you'll most likely be interested in adding Ghost in the Shell to your roster of favorite anime films if you haven't already. If you don't like thinking or get distracted easily while watching anime, you may not want to commit to this particular piece. Whichever type of fan you are, read on to see why you should -or should not- check out the original Ghost in the Shell movie!

Why Ghost in the Shell is a Must Watch

1. It Is the Root of a Timeless Franchise

Ghost in the Shell is the first animated iteration of a franchise that has continued with only short lapses for the last 20 years. If you are an anime fan, it is a classic that has influenced so many other works since its inception, that if you were to skip it, you'd really be missing out on why other anime creators and even Hollywood writers have been inspired by this masterpiece to create mind-blowing worlds, The Matrix being just one of them.

2. It Is Relevant and Intellectually Stimulating

The topics of international corruption and the use of technology to influence international relations are something that not only makes you think, but it's a reality we are much closer to since the original release of Ghost in the Shell. With governments and organizations being able to hack into high-security servers, it's only a -short- matter of time before someone can dive directly into a network or an AI is so advanced that it could develop a consciousness. It also makes you wonder about what makes individuals. What makes us human? It's interesting, frightening and exciting all at the same time.

3. It's a Complete Work of Art

As if the memorable character design, wonderful animation, and beautifully detailed futuristic world weren't enough, the fitting musical score adds the cherry on top. The story, as well as each character, is well thought out and developed. Ghost in the Shell takes you on a spiritual and psychological journey of self-discovery along with Motoko and the Puppet Master that makes you feel like when you stare at a piece of art that truly speaks to you.

Why You Should Skip Ghost in the Shell

1. Thinking Is a Prerequisite

If you watch anime to relax and just be mindlessly entertained, Ghost in the Shell is not the movie for you. There is no idle chatter and there is no image or statement that isn't meaningful. Everything that happens and is said is relevant to the plot and direction of the story, so if you miss something, you might not get what's going on. The dialogue and story itself are based largely on topics like philosophy, metaphysics, technology, politics and even spirituality. If you don't like thinking or care for these topics, watch at your own risk.

2. Not for the Faint of Heart

Dealing with international relations and advanced technology comes with a side of violence, blood, weapons, and even some nudity. While all of the above are completely relevant and as far from gratuitous as can be, if you're averse to blood, bullets, and nipples, you may want to skip Ghost in the Shell. From a humanoid torso with wires and such hanging out, to a disembodied head and several gallons of blood and cyborg fluids, Ghost in the Shell is not for the weak-hearted.


Final Thoughts

I honestly can't think of any other reason one wouldn't want to watch Ghost in the Shell. Except maybe, the fact that you will get hooked! When you watch the first movie and then realize how much more there is to the franchise, you will most likely want to watch more.

As for the amount of attention and brain power required to truly get the movie, don't worry! You can always watch it more than once! That usually does the trick if you didn't quite understand something, and every time you watch it, you'll notice and learn something new.

I'm sure you're all as ready as we are to watch the Hollywood version of this masterpiece, as well as seeing our favorite cyborgs (and humans!) brought to life. How much do you love Ghost in the Shell? Have you seen ALL of it? Are you pro or anti Hollywood GITS? Tell us what you think in the comments, and we'll see you next time!

Lizzy Nyanko

Translator/Writer

Author: Lizzy Nyanko

I’m a Mexican-American gypsy cat-girl living in Tokyo. I love all kinds of anime, all things Japanese, photography, cats, food and I live for new experiences! When I’m not writing or watching anime, you’ll find me in thrift shops, roaming around Tokyo, hiking, festivals or at an izakaya. I’m always busy doing something, but I answer comments as soon as I see them, so let me hear what you have to say! Nya~!

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