After many months of controversy regarding the film’s cast, Rupert Sanders’ live-action adaptation of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ will finally hit theaters this weekend. The big budget blockbuster based on the internationally acclaimed anime stars Scarlett Johansson as a special ops cyborg known as The Major that is tasked with hunting down infamous cyber criminals. But before moviegoers have the opportunity to check out this new version of one of the most influential pieces of Japanese animation ever created, many may feel compelled to revisit the original 1995 film. Luckily, a brand new release of the film with a limited edition steelbook package and exclusive Mondo artwork by Kilian Eng has just recently hit stores. So before we here at ScienceFiction.com head out to the movies, we thought that the original ‘Ghost in the Shell’ would be the perfect subject for this week’s Throwback Thursday!
Directed by legendary anime director Mamoru Oshii and based on the 1989 manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow, the seminal sci-fi anime ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was released on November 18, 1995 and followed cybernetic government agent Major Motoko Kusanagi as she and her team embarked on a mission to apprehend a notorious hacker called The Puppet Master who has a virus that could hack into humans. However, this mission gets much deeper than it appears when complex political intrigue and cover-ups are uncovered along the way. Considered by many to be one of the greatest anime films of all time, the movie’s legacy is still apparent when you look at works such as James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’, Steven Spielberg’s ‘AI: Artificial Intelligence’, and probably most notably ‘The Matrix’ from The Wachowskis.
One reason that ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has endured over the years is the unprecedented combination of traditional animation and CGI. While some people may watch it today without giving it much thought, Kusanagi’s thermo-optical camouflage and the realism of both the characters and their weapons was pretty revolutionary for the time. I mean, the intricate settings and action sequences were just straight up gorgeous. Some of these things seem pretty run of the mill and are basically accepted as normal now, but this movie was the first to really do these things and do them so well.
Another thing that adds to the film’s lasting power is the philosophical elements of the story. When you go much deeper, there are commentaries on sexuality, humanity, gender, and a whole lot more. But even on the surface, the film has a certain level of deepness that questions human existence in our fast-paced information age. It explores this dependence on technology that becomes more and more prominent as the years go on. Even though this tale really started in 1989, those themes become even more prevalent with each passing year. Plus, when you throw in all the stuff about the government and their questionable choices in the movie, this story might be more poignant than ever.
Although, despite the numerous praises that we could bestow upon ‘Ghost in the Shell’, there are a few things work pointing out that didn’t work quite as well. First, let’s talk about the particular Blu-ray release we watched. The packaging featuring the Mondo art on the steelbok was pretty spectacular and the remastering of the film itself looked pretty great in high-definition. However, there were no special features, which was kind of a bummer. The whole reason for buying physical media now is the various extras that they offer. While the overall presentation was on point, the actual contents of the disc left more to be desired.
In terms of the movie itself, there’s always been a bit of a feeling that it sends somewhat abruptly. It’s very possible that the movie is just so good that the viewer wants to see more of these characters and this world after the short 82-minute runtime, but after this viewing, it just seemed like the end of the movie following the reveal was the cinematic equivalent of an ellipsis at the end of a sentence. Alternatively, it felt like a great beginning to a story. That probably why the anime version spawned sequels, but it will be very interesting to see how the live-action version ends since it clocks in at 106 minutes and likely draws material from the sequels in addition to the first movie.
Small problems aside, there’s no disputing that ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has left an impressive impact on cinema and pop culture in general. It will definitely be interesting to see whether the American version will live up to the legacy left by the original or if it will meet the same dire fates as other adaptations of beloved anime franchises in Hollywood like ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘Dragonball Evolution’, or ‘Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li’.