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Apologies for this rather late entry of Anime Monday. This week’s film took some wrangling to find a decent copy, however, I think we’ll all agree it was worth the wait. Moreover, the franchise has been quite the topic of discussion this weekend. As such, it only seemed right to talk about none other than Ghost in the Shell.
Set in a future world in which technology has advanced greatly, cyborg agents work in tandem with police and diplomats to maintain order in the world. Released in 1995, Ghost in the Shell anticipated the trajectory of our society by depicting a future dystopia in which cultures are cohabitating but certainly not cooperating. Think of airplanes, the internet, and apps like Skype, technologies that allow us to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, bringing us closer than ever before. Yet, as almost all of us can observe, ease of communication and travel does not necessarily foster diplomatic peace. The film’s first scene is that of cyborg protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi assassinating a diplomat to foil his own international ploys. Of course, all of this is a mere introduction to the world of Newport City in 2029. A world so advanced that cyborgs like Motoko are indistinguishable from humans. The central narrative is not one of political games, but of reality versus artificiality.
Motoko quickly moves on to her next mission, tracking down a highly skilled hacker called the Puppet Master. The hack jobs committed are intrusive on a completely different magnitude than our present day credit card information theft. The Puppet Master specializes in hacking into brains. He can instill memories and thoughts allowing him to subtly control people. It’s so convincing that victims are no longer able to discern fact from fiction, crushing their conception of reality. Much less subtle is his ability to completely override a human’s identity, turning them into human puppets- nothing more than shells at his disposal. They still look the same, but everything that made them who they are is now gone. Motoko attempts to track down this serial hacker, although internally she struggles with a similar existential crisis.
Ghost in the Shell is an incredibly ambitious anime. It deftly handles its multiple themes of politics, reality, technology, and identity within a concise and tightly packed 80 minutes. Action junkies will almost certainly love this film. Car chases and action sequences are paced and executed as well if not better than your typical action film. The animation is superbly handled. The only real shame is that the DVD quality is not up to snuff. I suppose that’s what Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is for, but I was hesitant to pick that version for my first go around. Unfortunately, I can’t help feeling one tiny reservation in regards to Ghost in the Shell. It’s the one thing holding this film back from perfection, and no its not computer animation, I swear!
The representation of the female body is just flat out egregious. Ghost in the Shell is so fetishistic that it almost detracts from all the other amazing things happening. It’s not just the nudity, and no I’m not a prude. I don’t think it would make much of a difference if she were fully clothed in those key sequences. There’s an idolatry nature and such a strong male gaze in the visual depiction of Motoko, that it just strays into an uncomfortable zone. Aside from her body, there’s very little about Motoko that is actually feminine. As a cyborg, it becomes obvious that Motoko is not a woman at all. Her female body is hardly part of her identity as a woman, if she even views herself that way. In fact, she’s characterized as almost genderless despite her anatomical configuration. Therefore, her fake body is subjected much more severely to objectification. Look at the way in which her body’s total mutilation is made a key, dramatic moment in the film. Even though we know that a shiny, new shell can be whipped up, the film still treats it like a horrific event because it’s a female body. Meanwhile, Motoko’s male cyborg counterpart Batou has his arm ripped off, and it’s completely shrugged off. Finally, if she has to get naked to use her really cool invisibility thingy, why the hell is she still wearing thigh-high, leather boots? Seriously, it makes no sense unless if a requirement of invisibility is to become a dominatrix.
But let’s not allow fetishism to spoil our fun too much. It’s an unfortunate subtext. Thematically, it has very little to do with the film. On all other fronts, this is an incredibly smart film. Although it’s almost 20 years old, it couldn’t be more relevant, lest the animators had a crystal globe to correctly predict our 21st century dilemmas. It combines narrative acuity with visual splendor. Ghost in the Shell is a really good anime that truly lives up to its reputation.