Ghost in the shell [1995]

“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.”

I remember first hearing about this film in 2004 at university. Everyone was talking about this film and the opinion was always the same. YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT. IT’S AMAZING. IT INFLUENCED THE MATRIX. I put off watching it for a long time. The impression I got from people was that it was a superior animated film and I assumed that if it was that great, it had to have been made a long time ago. Imagine my surprise seeing today that it had actually been made in 1995, only nine years before I had heard of it. Obviously it made a lastly impression on everyone as soon as it came out and my own impression similarly is that it is timeless, extraordinary and beautiful.

On the face of it, this film is about detectives/agents trying to get the bad guy called The Puppet Master. It’s set in a future where there are cyborgs and science has advanced to the point where humans can upgrade their body with computer/digital parts and upload their consciousness into machines, called ‘shells’. The Puppet Master has been hacking its way into shells, getting them to do its bidding, implanting false memories into them before jumping into new bodies to prevent capture. What I love about this film though is that it’s so much more complicated than just a chase… Really this film is a bunch of beautiful philosophical questions: What is a soul, how do you define consciousness and on the verge of the digital age – which the film was at the time, it also posed a question – can digital programmes become sentient? Can machines also have souls?

Puppet Master: I refer to myself as an intelligent life form because I am sentient and I am able to recognize my own existence, but in my present state I am still incomplete. I lack the most basic processes inherent in all living organisms: reproducing and dying. Major Motoko Kusanagi: But you can copy yourself. Puppet Master: A copy is just an identical image. There is the possibility that a single virus could destroy an entire set of systems and copies do not give rise to variety and originality. Life perpetuates itself through diversity and this includes the ability to sacrifice itself when necessary. Cells repeat the process of degeneration and regeneration until one day they die, obliterating an entire set of memory and information. Only genes remain. Why continually repeat this cycle? Simply to survive by avoiding the weaknesses of an unchanging system.

Having watched it, I can see how The Matrix series was influenced by this film, but obviously it lacks the weight and depth that this film does.

Lastly, the film has this wonderful, beautiful soundtrack which sounds ethereal and uses ancient japanese language. There are these amazing shots where you hear the soundtrack amidst the bright lights, synthetic and decaying part of the city. To watch it is like a spiritual experience.

Wonderful film. Watch it. It’ll have you questioning your very existence.

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