Ghost in the Shell (1995)

I have re-watched the 1995 animated version of Ghost in the Shell, and I stand by what I said before: the English dialog is uninspiring, both for how it sounds and what it says.

Some of the dialog explains too much, and yet the movie is still confusing. The voices are wooden sounding and incongruously American. I should maybe have watched it in Japanese, but then I’d have been dependent on the English subtitles, which are maybe just as bad at representing what’s going on.

What’s going on is some kind of conflict between two different government departments. Something to do with an AI.

The setting is amazing, and beautiful… in a dingy, dystopian kind of way. Doesn’t make me want to move to Hong Kong.

The main character, Major Matoko Kusanagi, has a robot body with no organic human brain inside, but rather a scan of the contents of one.

The theme is how we might redefine what it means to be human—or rather, sentient, since humans are biologically obsolete; evolution is moving on to the next stage.

The theme is what was most interesting to me about Ghost in the Shell, but overall I didn’t think the theme was communicated well. I enjoyed watching this insightful analysis.

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS.

The Major turns invisible, jumps off a building and kills someone, thwarting some kind of political plan. It’s a bit mystifying, but the briefcase guns are pretty cool.

We see the Major’s shell being created during the opening credits.

In a lab, a scientist hooks up a woman to some kind of brain scanner to try to track down the Puppet Master, a wanted terrorist. Following a lead from the brain scan, the Major and her partner, Batou, hunt down a pair of garbage men and some other guy who have been used by the Puppet Master to spread a virus. The Major, invisible, fights the third guy in a puddle as in 2017, but isn’t surprised to find out he knows nothing.

Although it’s dangerous for her, the major goes swimming. On the boat afterwards, she has a philosophical conversation with her buddy Batou, and hears a mental voice that isn’t her own. Has she been hacked by the puppet master? Then follows a long musical sequence of images of Hong Kong streets.

A robot body escapes the lab and wanders into the road where it gets hit by a truck. Picked up by the Major’s team (Section 6), it claims asylum as an individual “born in a sea of information”. Representatives of Section 9 show up, however, and demand the return of the entity, who they claim is the Puppet Master.

Something’s fishy about the whole thing; a third agent has snuck in invisibly with the two Section 9 representatives, and there’s something about a programmer that ties back in with the assassination the Major carried out earlier. Maybe the programmer created the Puppet Master for Section 9, which then lost control of him? Anyway, Section 9 steals the Puppet Master. Then there’s a big car chase.

The Major fights a walking tank in an abandoned natural history museum. Batou arrives just in time to keep the tank from destroying her and connects her to the Puppet Master so she can learn more about him. The Puppet Master wants to merge with the Major to become more evolutionarily viable, and in fact that’s what he does, after the Major agrees. Government agents fire into the building and destroy the Puppet Master’s shell. The Major gets decapitated.

A new entity that is neither Major Kusanagi nor the Puppet Master wakes up in a child’s body in Batou’s safehouse. She promises to meet him again, walks away, and looks out over the city contemplating her new life.