‘Ghost In The Shell’ reappears in theatres after 4K re-release

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor Elect

Five Globes

One positive result of the ongoing pandemic has been the recent trend of theatres playing old films due to the lack of new movies releasing to fill up movie theater lineups and make theatres profitable. As a result, last week I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the 1995 anime classic “Ghost In The Shell” upscaled in 4K for the first time in IMAX.

Right off the bat, I’m going to get something out of the way: “Ghost In The Shell” is a masterpiece. It is a rare genuinely perfect movie, and I have nothing negative to say about it. Every frame of the movie is like a painting, layered with both symbolic meaning and genuine human care. The worldbuilding is some of the best in any movie, and the filmmaking decision to prioritize showing, not telling, works to its advantage in ways that very few other movies have been able to achieve. Kenji Kawai’s score is one of the most thoughtful scores of any movie, and not only perfectly adds to the worldbuilding but also masterfully emulates the complex themes of the movie.

That’s also what makes “Ghost In The Shell” a masterpiece: its complex themes. The plot of the movie is relatively straightforward: the Puppet Master, a rogue computer program, gains consciousness and begins hacking the cybernetic implants of various people to do its bidding, and a task force of cybernetically-enhanced police have to stop it. However, the true meaning of the film revolves around the question of what human consciousness is.

Throughout the film, various questions are raised about human consciousness. One of the Puppet Master’s plans involves altering people’s memories using their cybernetic implants. This raises a few questions: If your memory has been altered, are you truly conscious? At what points do your thoughts stop being your thoughts? If someone’s thoughts aren’t real because they’ve been altered, is someone suffering from memory loss or dementia not conscious?

Another thing “Ghost In The Shell” explores is sexuality, and I believe that there are parts of this movie that have been accidentally misinterpreted by western audiences because of cultural differences, most notably the role of nudity in this movie. The Major, the protagonist of this film, is occasionally naked in this movie because her body is completely cybernetic and has a built-in camouflage feature that requires her to be nude for it to function. On the surface, this can appear as nothing more than gratuitous nudity. Looking further within the context, however, I believe it not only services the themes of the movie but raises further questions about the role of sexuality and gender in human culture.

Why would the people designing the Major’s body sexualize her if they know that she will have to de-clothe to do her job? They could have easily given her a metallic body, but they designed her to emulate a human body. The Major, likewise, does not care about being naked, seemingly a part of her not viewing herself as human, but her partner, Batou, always provides clothing for her, as he views her as a human.

This theme is furthered by a scene later in the movie when the Puppet Master jumps into a cybernetic body, which eventually becomes incapacitated along with the Major. Both bodies are naked at this point, but Batou only clothes the Major, which raises a question: what makes the Major’s nudity different than the Puppet Master’s? Both bodies are entirely cybernetic, the only difference is that the Major has a human brain and the Puppet Master is artificial intelligence. But at the same time, the Puppet Master is fully conscious. What makes him different from the Major?

There’s also the question of what makes the Major female. Is it the fact that the people who designed her body designed it to be female? The body that the Puppet Master downloads himself into is designed to emulate a female body, however, he is still referred to as “he,” despite the fact that he is technically completely genderless as a computer program. Therefore, the physical body is not what determines gender, and if it’s not that, then what makes the Major female? These themes of the concept of gender are incredibly progressive for a movie made in 1995, and I believe they are still relevant now.

Ultimately it is the open-ended nature of “Ghost In The Shell” that makes it a masterpiece, and why it is still worth revisiting over 25 years later. It allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions, while still managing to deliver a well-crafted storyline.