Ghost in the Shell—a child of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982)—continues to mine the cyberpunk genre, yielding thought-provoking content. While the various films and the television series still have some of the pitfalls of anime, such as unnecessary silliness, or perhaps also its penchant for action, it seems that Ghost in the Shell still offers something worthwhile. The original film, which came out in 1995, and its sequel Innocence (2004)—both directed by Mamoru Oshii—are the gems of the series. When the opening scene of the first film includes an intense shootout, it feels like it might just be another action floc, but instead, the film ends up dwelling on moments of contemplative and anxious stillness.
Risking sinking to the bottom of the bay given her outrageously heavy mechanical body, the main character—Major Motoko Kusanagi—finds peace scuba-diving, as if the presence of death assures her of her own subjectivity. In fact, it is this anxiety about subjectivity and existence that drives her through the story. The Major’s yearning for self-understanding pushes her to challenge the increasingly frail divide between living and machine.
The sequel, Innocence, finds the Major’s former partner Batou dealing with the Major’s exit as well as his own concerns about contemporary life. In one striking scene, Batou stares into the face of a plastic-wrapped android in a forensics laboratory. We learn of the Major’s transformation into a new, larger consciousness transcending individual physical bodies. Her consciousness now exists within the internet, capable of new levels of mental capacity.
It will be interesting to see what the upcoming Ghost in the Shell: Arise has to offer.