Ghost in the Shell

Japan 1995, 83 mins
Director: Mamoru Oshii

Beautifully animated and disturbingly prophetic, Ghost in the Shell is a futuristic tale centred on Public Security Section 9’s hunt for supreme hacker The Puppet Master. This is a world where governments are dependent on computer-controlled systems, and cyber-terrorists pose the biggest threat to global stability.

I saw Ghost in the Shell on its first limited cinema release in Britain, with a flatly delivered American dub. Back then, I thought it was dull despite its beauty. Rewatching Ghost with subtitles helped, as did seeing its anime precursors. Oshii Mamoru’s political drama Patlabor 2 (1993) established much of Ghost’s sensibility. It contained a sequence that’s a wordless poem in pictures, showing Tokyo patrolled by the military, yet beautified by snow.

In Ghost, the equivalent sequence involves the film’s main character, Major Kusanagi. She’s an Internal Affairs agent, with a synthetic body but a human brain. In a city modelled on Hong Kong, Kusanagi hunts down a criminal, the Puppet Master, who hacks into people’s machine-meshed brains.

Ghost’s central sequence, wordless like the one in Patlabor 2, has Kusanagi passing along a canal through anonymous crowds. The images suggest a mire of decay (broken bicycles in mud) and disposability (Kusanagi glimpses replicas of her mass-produced body, including a mannequin in a shop window). Then rain falls, like a deus ex machina: at once everything is quickened, reanimated. Earlier, a voice out of nowhere whispered to her, quoting Saint Paul. ‘For now we see through a glass darkly.’

About a third of Ghost’s budget was provided by Britain’s Manga Entertainment, hoping for a spectacle like Akira (1988). Indeed, Ghost serves up ear-ringing gun battles, exploding heads and a heroine who dives down a skyscraper. The story has elements of Blade Runner (1982) and cyberpunk fiction. Amusingly, Ghost opened just as cyberpunk was being declared dead in Hollywood, thanks to the flops of Johnny Mnemonic and Strange Days (both 1995).

But Ghost’s intellectual detachment feels more Kubrickian. Near the end, there’s a perspective trick with a mirror, recalling the obelisk in the hotel in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Ghost’s humanity comes from Kawai Kenji’s increasingly passionate score, and from the lead Japanese voice actors, who play seasoned secret agents with occasional glimpses of vulnerability. Kusanagi was voiced by Tanaka Atsuko, already established as the dub voice of Nicole Kidman. Tanaka later dubbed Scarlett Johansson in the Japanese release of the live-action Ghost in the Shell remake (2017), an enjoyable travesty.

The compact anime, only 83 minutes long, had been skilfully arranged from select chapters of the source manga by Shirow Masamune. The strip was massively dense, but it had none of the sobriety Oshii brought to the film. However, viewers might have needed to have read Shirow’s manga to catch some of the story’s oblique points. In one scene, there’s an unexplained raid at a mansion. The manga clarifies this belongs to an exiled foreign colonel who the Foreign Ministry wants deported, which is the secret reason for all the action and carnage in the film’s first act.
Andrew Osmond, Sight & Sound, Summer 2020

Director: Mamoru Oshii
©: Shirow Masamune, Kodansha, Bandai Visual, Manga Entertainment
Production Company: Kodansha
In association with: Bandai Visual, Manga Entertainment
Executive Producers: Teruo Miyahara, Shigeru Watanabe, Andy Frain
Producers: Yoshimasa Mizuo, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa
Associate Producers: Laurence Guinness, Hiroshi Yamazaki, Yasushi Tsuge, Mana Ibuki
Production Management: Ryuji Mitsumoto
Production Co-ordinator: Haruo Mizuno
International Co-ordinator: Tomio Yoshioka
Screenplay: Kazunori Ito
Based on the manga by: Shirow Masamune
Director of Photography: Hisao Shirai
Camera Operators: Studio Cosmos, Hisao Shirai, Motoaki Ikegami, Katsunori Maehara, Noriko Suzuki, Tetuo Ohtou, Yoichi Kuroda,
Hiroshi Noguchi, Shinji Ikegami, Naohisa Haijima, Takashi Shimada, Yuuichi Ono, Toshikazu Hisano, Junji Yaitabashi, Natsuki Orihara, Kouichi Furusawa, Shoji Yazawa
Special Effects: Riku Murakami, Marix, Yutaka Hoshiba, Toshio Hasegawa, Noriyuki Ohta
Animation Director: Toshiko Nishikubo
Key Animation Supervisors: Kazuchika Kise, Hiroyuki Okiura
Key Animation: Toshiyuki Inoue, Hirotsugu Kawasaki, Tensai Okamura, Toyoaki Emura, Atsushi Takeuchi, Masahiro Andou, Kouichi Arai, Hisashi Eguchi, Yasushi Muraki, Mitsuo Iso, Masatsugu Arakawa, Kazunobu Hoshi, Manabu Tanzawa, Yasuhiro Ohshima, Akiharu Ishii, Miyako Yatsu, Kogi Ohkawa, Kumiko Kawana, Yoshiyuki Itou, Masayuki Yoshihara, Yuichi Tanaka, Tetsuhito Saitou, Kouji Komurakata, Mamoru Sasaki, Takashi Hashimoto, Hideki Hamasu, Kazuchika Kise, Hiroyuki Okiura
Computer Animation Unit: Omnibus Japan
Colour Setting: Kumiko Yusa
Background Design: Takashi Watabe
Background Drawings: Shuichi Hirata, Masatoshi Kai, Hisashi Ikeda, Yoji Takeshige, Hiromasa Ogura Editor: Shuichi Kakesu
Post-production: Jay Film
Art Director: Hiromasa Ogura
Character Design: Hiroyuki Okiura
Mechanical Design: Shoji Kawamori, Atsushi Takeuchi
Weapon Design: Mitsuo Iso
Title Design: Thesedays, Teruhisa Tajima, Ayako Koike
Titles: Maki Pro, Damson Studios
Opticals: Tetsuo Kaneko, Masao Shibata
Laboratory: Imagica, Technicolor
Colour Timer: Hiroaki Hirabayashi
Music: Kenji Kawai
Sound Director: Kazuhiro Wakabayashi
Re-recording Mixers: Paul Ratajczak, Kurt Kassulke
Sound Effects: Kazutoshi Satou
Publicists: Atsushi Kumagai, Tohru Nozaki
Studio: 2 Production I.G. (1, 3 & 7 Studios)

Voice Cast
Akio Otsuka (Bateau)
Atsuko Tanaka Kusanagi)
Tamio Oki (Aramaki)
Iemasa Kayumi (Puppet Master)
Koichi Yamadera (Togusa)
Yutaka Nakano (Ishikawa)
Tessho Genda (Nakamura)
Masato Yamanouchi (minister)
Shinji Ogawa (diplomat)
Namaki Masakazu (Willis)
Takashi Matsuyama (bad guy)
Ginzo Matsuo (old man)
Kazuhiro Yamaji (garbage collector A)
Shigeru Chiba (garbage collector B)
Hiroshi Yanaka (coroner)

Japan 1995©
83 mins

Early Days of Anime Shorts Programme 1917-1946 + intro
Tue 29 Mar 18:00; Mon 11 Apr 20:40
Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei)
Wed 30 Mar 21:00; Wed 13 Apr 18:30
Exploring Anime: Panel Discussion
Thu 31 Mar 18:15
Fri 1 Apr 18:15; Sun 17 Apr 12:10
Kimba the White Lion (Jangaru Taitei)
Fri 1 Apr 20:45; Sat 9 Apr 12:40
Belladonna of Sadness (Kanashimi no Belladonna)
Mon 4 Apr 20:30 (+ intro by Helen McCarthy); Mon 18 Apr 15:30

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
Mon 28 Mar 20:35; Fri 29 Apr 18:00
When Marnie Was There (Omoide No Mani)
Tue 29 Mar 20:40
My Neighbour Totoro (Tonari no Totoro)
Tue 5 Apr 18:20; Fri 8 Apr 20:50

Steamboy (Suchîmubôi)
Sat 9 Apr 20:20; Fri 15 Apr 20:30; Wed 20 Apr 18:10
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa)
Tue 12 Apr 18:00; Sat 23 Apr 20:40
Patlabor: The Movie (Kidô keisatsu patorebâ: Gekijô-ban)
Wed 13 Apr 20:40; Sun 17 Apr 18:20; Thu 28 Apr 18:15
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no tobira)
Thu 14 Apr 20:45; Sat 16 Apr 20:30; Fri 22 Apr 20:40
Patlabor 2: The Movie (Kidô keisatsu patorebâ: The Movie 2)
Fri 15 Apr 18:15; Thu 21 Apr 20:30; Thu 28 Apr 20:45
The Case of Hana & Alice (Hana to Arisu Satsujin Jiken)
Sat 16 Apr 18:35; Tue 26 Apr 20:55

This season was co-programmed by writer and academic Hanako Miyata

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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