Ghost In The Shell has an awful lot more nipple in it than I was expecting. I understand why a cyborg with an invisibility cloak for skin might want to be naked for practical reasons, since you’d get just an unnervingly unhelpful floating clothes effect a la Hawley Griffin. That said, the fact that the only one with this skin is a sexy female future-ninja does raise a few brows. At least she doesn’t seem to care. I guess that’ll do.
It’s also a lot more preachy than I was expecting; there’s a lot of pondering over what life is and how technology affects what it means to be human, which is all well and good apart from when it takes up about half the running time of the film. Some of the philosophical speeches are so damn long you start to phase out and stare mindlessly at the screen, lost in the usual two frames of animation that makes it impossible to lip read and even harder to understand. It would be easier to know what’s happening if characters had facial muscles, or exposition wasn’t all somebody shouting the entire plot to the one guy in the room who doesn’t know because he was late/not there/stupid.
Okay, let’s back up a bit; Ghost In The Shell is a neo-future science fiction film that sits somewhere between Minority Report, Blade Runner and Cowboy Bebop as a hugely influential and slightly prophetic 82 minutes of film. Hackers and programmers are treated as terrorists in the making and human identity is questionable at best in the huge swathes of data available. It is certainly the most adult thing I’ve covered thus far, but not in the gore and swears kind of way that Hellsing Ultimate was; it’s properly mature in its direction, themes, dialogue and almost everything else. The fact nobody ever acknowledges that there’s a naked lady with an SMG running all over the place says as much, and ignoring the random head explosion in the intro the violence never nears excessive. Given that it’s a sci-fi anime with cyborgs and spider tanks, there’s surprisingly little action, especially next to the Matrix trilogy which ripped off almost everything and made it infinitely worse. Apart from the dumper truck exposition, they kept that the same.
What there is, however, is brilliant presentation. The animation and art style still holds up today if you ignore the incredible 90s mullets, and the soundtrack is one of the absolute best around. It’s toned back and subtle in all the right ways. The track over the opening credits is one of the most brilliantly haunting scene-setters I’ve come across, a mix of Bulgarian harmonies and slow booming drums which becomes a motif throughout the movie, and the sombre theme fits the overall tone. Occasionally it can get a bit too arty and pretentious for its own good, like the five minute interlude of nothing but a camera panning over a rainy impoverished future city overlaid with floaty choral sounds. It does nothing for the pacing and comes off as overindulgent world building at best and padding at worst, but generally the film manages the serious maturity it so desperately strives for.
It’s more of a literary art piece than a film, and asks some infuriatingly general open ended questions about what life is and what we should class artificial intelligence as, which translates to vast amounts of symbolism to go along with the technobabbly philosophy lectures. This can get a bit over the top at times, such as when a man in an overpowered tank destroys a fossil and shoots straight up a carving of the tree of life. I’m not even sure what exactly that has to do with the point of the film, it’s just there as a general metaphor for humans and life and consciousness or whatever. There’s also a hint at one point that there might be multiple versions of the main character, but I’m pretty sure that was unhelpful arty editing rather than unhelpful arty writing.
The plot itself is super simple, almost to a fault, and the aforementioned 82 minute running time feels incredibly short. The universe is so dense and ripe with potential it’s no wonder they made a full anime series based on it, even if it’s another completely different story. The slightly open ended finale is certainly fitting and artistic, whatever that means, but feels undercooked. I was expecting a third act to kick in where the story really gets going, but instead we have a ten minute discussion between a man dressed as a pink puff pastry and a Victorian toddler before a derpy ending line and credits. It just kind of ends, like far too many episodes in long format shows do. It might be the style, but it’s a rubbish style.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went in to Ghost In The Shell and I don’t really know what to think afterwards. It’s certainly different to a lot of what I’ve seen before, and I liked a lot of it for it’s genuine intrigue and suspense, but it is unfortunately both defined and hamstrung by its dialogue. For better or worse it wouldn’t be the same without the pondering existentialism rattled off by every character, the scattergun of motherboards and drug abuse that is the exposition and the post-it note of an ending. The world is brilliant, the animation is stellar and the soundtrack is out of this world, but there should simply be less talking and more doing. You can’t build a house by engaging it in interesting philosophical discussion, and you can’t have a sci-fi film without far too much stupid mindless action. It’s the law or something.