Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” is the natural successor to “Blade Runner,” it’s an anime masterpiece that works both as an action film and a very evocative and thought provoking science fiction thriller. Through very engaging characters and still incredibly stunning visuals, “Ghost in the Shell” approaches themes like the idea of consciousness and existence, and what living is, and how it’s fairly impossible to prove what sentience is or isn’t. In 2029, law enforcement has been enhanced to the point where human beings can transport their consciousness and memories in to cybernetic shells that grant them amazing abilities used to keep law and order.
As we see in the iconic opening, when we meet Motoko, she’s a very agile and crafty police officer. She maintains a lot of her wit and ability to think outside the box, all the while being housed inside a robotic shell that gives her abilities like cloaking, super agility and so much more. Soon enough cybernetic individuals begin wreaking havoc and committing crime on the public, making Motoko and her assault team’s jobs so much harder. Soon they find out that an elusive hacker named “The Puppet Master” is hacking in to the cybernetic shells and controlling the minds of the people within them. Motoko and her troop begin to learn that not only can “The Puppet Master” control the individuals, but they can also control the memories and feelings of the individual. He can sometimes even taking away their memory of what they’d done and what crimes they committed.
The deeper Motoko and her second in command Batou begin to question the idea of souls, and what exactly the difference is between memories and data. Is existence merely an illusion? Can our memories and subconscious be manipulated like coding in computers? Is there such a thing as a soul, and are our memories and emotions proof of that concept, or just merely hard coded data in our brains? If we can manage to create our own physical and mental existences, does it make us a God, or something so much better than a human? Most importantly how much can we integrate ourselves in to technology before we begin to lose our humanity? Kazunori Ito is very much a fan of slow boil mystery, with our characters uncovering and peeling away at layers of the “Puppet Master” and their devious plan, which then eventually leads in to Motoko questioning herself.
By the time the second half rolls around, “Ghost in the Shell” reaches true momentum, and realizes a lot of very compelling themes that kept me glued to the screen. “Ghost in the Shell” is a very intelligent and high brow piece of science fiction that will entertain even folks that are interested in robots and cyborgs going to war in this futuristic world. The turmoil that Motoko faces is mainly the reason why “Ghost in the Shell” is such an appealing and intriguing master work. It delivers action and dazzling animation in spades, but it also dares to ask its audience questions about the idea of existence, and how we can interpret the idea of being and truly living in our world.