To conjure the realms of a brand new universe, being, or landscape whilst being limited to the physical implications of live-action filmmaking is no easy feat. It’s often why some of the most impressive fantasy projects reject live-action entirely, turning to the vibrant, dynamic world of animation instead. Celebrating over 25 years of existence, Mamoru Oshii’s gobsmacking science fiction anime masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell is being gifted with a stint of IMAX screenings, where the true glory of its fantasy scope can be absorbed.
Bringing a truly unique vision of dystopian punk to fantasy cinema, Ghost in the Shell would become a major influence in the world of science fiction, inspiring the likes of the Wachowski sisters and James Cameron to name just two. Citing the film as an influence on Avatar, James Cameron would call Ghost in the Shell “the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence”.
Imbuing a dark sense of technological menace, director Mamoru Oshii questions the morality of futuristic advancements in commercial automation, depicting a world where cyborgs and humans coexist simultaneously. The story itself follows a cyborg policewoman and her partner who hunt down a powerful hacker known as the ‘Puppet Master’, a maniacal individual responsible for ghost-hacking the consciousness of people, turning them into impressionable zombies.
Discussing the influence of the iconic anime, Mamoru Oshii stated: “My intuition told me that this story about a futuristic world carried an immediate message for our present world. I am also interested in computers through my own personal experience with them”.
As the director continues, “There are only a few movies, even out of Hollywood, which clearly portray the influence and power of computers. I thought this theme would be more effectively conveyed through animation”.
His thoughts on the genre join that of the master of anime Hayao Miyazaki, director of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, who states: “Anime may depict fictional worlds, but I nonetheless believe that at its core it must have a certain realism. Even if the world depicted is a lie, the trick is to make it seem as real as possible”.
As a result, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell manages – much like the Wachowski’s Matrix – to create a world that reeks of technological imperfection, crafting an ethereality made up of crossed wires and confused dreams. Such is elevated by the astonishing score of composer Kenji Kawai who aimed to reflect the fractured state of futuristic Japan, using a mixture of Bulgarian harmony and traditional Japanese notes in the film’s haunting opening sequence.
Similarly to the classics of the science fiction genre, Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky and 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick, Ghost in the Shell presents a self-contained story that is in itself enthralling, though more importantly, it invites the viewer to question the wider possibilities of such a universe. Stalking the dystopian punk streets and high-rises of neo-Tokyo, Mamoru Oshii takes you into a vortex of mystifying science fiction. All you can do is absorb its spectacle.