Ghost In the Shell


Ghost in the Shell isn’t about haunting impermanence but hollowness and fluidity. In the harbour off a Hong Kong-like crush of buildings, where rivers and streams bob with trash and run through forests of apartment towers and skyscrapers, a cyborg takes a break from her job as an assault-team leader to float up from the deep. As rain falls around the metropolis and the “Old Town” is flooded, a man dives into a data-network to help that cyborg’s Public Security squad chase the Puppet Master, “a life-form that was born in the sea of information.” And in one floating interlude, the vast city itself washes past in glassy, pale luminescence, as if the urban world is an eerily hollow shell—what is its soul?

An anime classic, something like Blade Runner for the exploding IT industry of the ’90s, director Mamoru Oshii and screenwriter Kazunori Itō’s adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga is a merger of the lullingly reflective and the action-propelled. The plot’s fairly dense and slicked over, at times, with the jargon of this 2029 networked-world, from “thermoptic camo” (thermal-optic camouflage) to “ghost-hacks” (people’s memories being erased or implanted as they unconsciously do the hacker’s bidding). And though we first see that assault-team leader, Motoko Kusanagi, in a mid-air raid on criminals, she also ruminates on her consciousness and the “limits of me.”

Surveillance-camera and cyborg-eye shots make us feel like we’re in an electronic casing, looking out. And both gender and the physical body’s fluid and a temporary shell—Motoko’s naked body is a constructed outer-form housing data, while the climax offers the male-voiced Puppet Master talking from Motoko’s body after he’s left another female body. He talks of transcendence through data-exchange, says “we are all connected”—utopian ideals still held by some in IT today—and his merger with Motoko is one of the most disembodied couplings on film. The rebirth that comes opens up the horizon for more Ghost in the Shell replicants (Oshii wrote and directed a quasi-sequel in 2004), but it’s hard to see the ending, after the film’s drifted us through a hollow ‘Net world, as entirely hopeful or happy. 

Tue, Dec 17 (7 pm)
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Originally released: 1995
Metro Cinema at the Garneau



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