VOICES OF: Mimi Woods, William Frederick, Abe Lasser, Christopher Joyce, Michael Sorich

1996, 82 Minutes, Directed by: Mamoru Oshii

Description: Ghost in the Shell is set in the not-too-distant future, when an unnamed government uses lifelike cyborgs or "enhanced" humans for undercover work. One of the key cyborgs is The Major, Motoko Kusanagi, who resembles a cross between The Terminator and a Playboy centerfold. She finds herself caught up in a tangled web of espionage and counterespionage as she searches for the mysterious superhacker known as "The Puppet Master."

If you think that Japanese animated movies are just about oversized Transformer robots beating the crap out of one another, then think again. 

This 1996 anime effort bankrolled by UK money and one of the few movies of this genre to be given a cinematic release in the USA is as if Blade Runner was written by cyberpunk guru William (Johnny Mnemonic) Gibson and directed by James (Terminator) Cameron.

Visually Ghost in the Shell is a stunner. Its animation is so rich in meticulous and sumptuous detail that it blows previous Japanese landmarks like Akira simply out of the water. All hand-drawn with nary a computer generated scene in sight, the movie's visual style is also uniform unlike recent animated efforts such as Titan A.E. and The Iron Giant in which 2-D animated figures usually look odd when placed next to 3-D computer generated objects.

"An existential sadness permeates its visuals . . ."

I saw Ghost on the Shell on video as a double bill along with the recent DreamWorks animated effort The Road to El Dorado. Although both movies are animated, they couldn't be ideologically more opposite than they are. The Road to El Dorado tries its damnedest to be Disney: it brings in cutesy animals and vomit-inducing songs by Elton John. After all, animated movies are for kids, isn't it?

Ghost in the Shell doesn't even bother with the kids. It is definitely for adults: dark, violent, complicated (part of the intricate plot involves infighting between two government bureaucracies - always a winner!), you can forget about any furry animals or Elton John songs here. Instead one gets an atmospheric and melancholy soundtrack at times consisting of nothing except recorded human sighs. 

Reminiscent of The Matrix (except it was made several years before said landmark movie), there is an undeniably existential sadness that permeates both the Ghost in the Shell's plot and its visuals.

If you're a serious animation fan and have been weary when it comes to checking out Japanese animated movies, then this is the place to start. (Afterwards you can check out Akira and Wings of Honneamise - both weird and wonderful.) The only problem will be that more standard anime efforts such as Patlabor: The Movie will pale in comparison. So too will the next piece of cookie cutter crud offered by the Disney studios . . .

Followed by a sequel, Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence in 2004.


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