What defines the human experience? Are we made human by our physiological make up, or by something less tangible? Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film “Ghost in the Shell” seeks not to answer to these questions, but rather offer a sci-fi tinged perspective.
Much like “Blade Runner” and “Akira” before it, the near future dystopia of “Ghost in the Shell” is imperfect by nature. As technological advancement encroaches into our physical beings, consciousness becomes the only yardstick with which to measure humanity.
Based on a manga series of the same name, the film ostensibly takes place in the middle of the 21st century, in and around a fictional Japanese city. Body augmentation has become commonplace, allowing anyone to upgrade themselves however they see fit.
In the case of The Major, the film’s protagonist, her entire body is cybernetic. This leads her to question her own individuality, and whether or not her thoughts are her own.
On the surface, the film centers around a three pronged conflict between The Major’s task force called Section 9, the government and a dubious entity known only as The Puppetmaster, who hacks into cybernetics to take control of their ghost.
This is where the main philosophical questions come into play, and is the source of the film’s title. The concept of a “ghost” is similar to that of a soul or consciousness; the idea that there is something innate within all humans that separate us in nature and within our own species. This thing has no physical form and wouldn’t be found on any anatomical diagram, yet nonetheless presides within.
Without a biological body as an anchor point, our only source of individuality is our ghost, our consciousness.
From a technical standpoint, “Ghost in the Shell” remains one of the most impressive anime films of all time. The score is infectious, creating a sense of tranquility within an industrialized world.
Moreover, “Ghost in the Shell” remains relevant because of issues of technological advancement it addresses, issues which could become a reality within the next 50 years.
Consider this: you live in an era in which self driving cars are less than a decade from ubiquity, unmanned drones can deliver products to your doorstep, yet only 10 years ago smartphones did not exist.
“Ghost in the Shell” could mark an uncommon point of insight within a genre whose importance is all too often downplayed. If not, it’s still an incredibly good piece of entertainment.