3 Reasons To Watch: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

#1 Genre-defining aesthetics

A major issue that I had with Stand Alone Complex is just how consistently terrible it looks. Even its sole saving grace—the cyberpunk aesthetic—is rendered meaningless. Because the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie still exists and is better in this (and every other) regard.

PHOTO: A criminal smirks at the camera.

Production I.G. was in the lead for both productions, but the 1995 movie had a lot of different talent behind it. Among them renowned director Mamoru Oshii and composer Kenji Kawai, neither of which returned for Stand Alone Complex. The differences this creates are so stark that it doesn’t even feel like the same setting anymore.

The world of the movie is just so awe-inducing. Where Stand Alone Complex envisioned a futuristic metropolis as its setting, the movie goes for a dystopia. City streets are rundown and messy, laden with so many advertisements that it blocks your view everywhere. There is so much detail crammed into these urban environments and the careful use of color sets an indescribable mood. Kawai’s music is also so mysterious. The “Making of a Cyborg” scene is one of my favorite scenes in all of anime; thanks to its gorgeous visuals and the haunting atmosphere set by its music.

PHOTO: The mayor naked and surrounded by machinery.

For years, even decades, Ghost in the Shell served as an icon of the cyberpunk genre. Its visual style inspired numerous other anime, as well as movies, games, and other artforms. To call it influential would be understatement. With all of that in mind, why would you even bother with Stand Alone Complex. It is a disgrace by comparison.

#2 Transhumanist philosophizing

Another area where Ghost in the Shell shines is in how it discusses its central theme. The story takes place in a future where modifying your body with machinery is an accepted norm. People transfer their consciousness to so-called cyberbrains and can then change themselves as they like. Bodies are a commercial product, to be upgraded and changed as you please.

PHOTO: A woman lies on an operating table with her cyberbrain extracted.

However, this age of technological marvel has brought about new problems. When your very brain is a device, that means it can be manipulated. You thought digital crime was bad today? Imagine living in a world where somebody could DDOS your mind.

The big question Ghost in the Shell asks is how, in a world like this, one can be certain of their humanity. We normal, fleshy people know that we are alive. That we are who we are. But when your personality is digital and your body machine, how can you be sure. Are your memories your own or are they programmed into you. Are you a human that became a cyborg or merely a robot that believes themselves human. All you can know for sure is that you are capable of thought; you possess the proverbial ghost in the shell.

The movie explores this concept, both through Kusanagi’s own anxieties as well as through the crimes she has to solve.

#3 Gory action

All that philosophy and world-building is nice, but don’t mistake Ghost in the Shell for some dry lecture on technology and ethics. It is also a phenomenal action movie with some intense violence.

PHOTO: A dude fucking explodes, leaving nothing but a lower body, wires, and a dangling spine.

The intro sets the tone well. Mere minutes into the film and somebody gets shot to bits so thoroughly that their entire torso is ripped off. That people’s bodies are mechanical does not detract from the spectacle. They still have fluids running through them and everything is connected with realistic tissue. At least until they get blasted to bits.

Even outside of the gore involved, the action scenes are just so thrilling to watch. Choreography is tight and every fight scene is framed in a memorable way.

4 thoughts on “3 Reasons To Watch: Ghost in the Shell (1995)

  1. Good post about it. I prefer the original movie compared to other iterations I’ve seen even though I’m not going to bother with the American live action remake for reasons you probably know about. Good job breaking down the aesthetics and creativity of this movie. GITS is more influential than people give credit for and if this movie didn’t exist, then the Wachowskis wouldn’t have been able to show this to the studio execs when they were pitching The Matrix!

    1. I am glad this review has so far gotten this sort of response. I love the original GITS and prefer it over any other incarnation the series has had. When I wrote about Stand Alone Complex earlier this week I was worried it’d get people up in arms. Mostly the kind of people that unironically use The Laughing Man logo as their avatar on forums.

      1. No problem. The original movie has stood the test of time and unintentionally predicted things in the future (AI being a recent one). It’s also crazy to think how we’re not far off from the timeline of the first movie. I haven’t seen all of SAC which I didn’t hate, but it didn’t have the same spark as the original movie. I don’t blame you for feeling that way because I know how beloved SAC was. Very good point about The Laughing Man logo being used. Hahaha!

Leave a Reply