The Manga That Sparked a Multi-Decade Franchise
Award-winning, Japanese director Mamoru Oshii (Angel’s Egg) and prolific screenwriter Kazunori Itô (Avalon) joined forces to adapt Shirow Masamune’s (Appleseed) stunning award-winning cyber-tech manga into an anime that sparked a multi-decade franchise.
The original 1995 Japanese release stars Atsuko Tanaka (God Eater) as Major Kusanagi Motoko, Iemasa Kayumi (Pokeman) as Ningyô Tsukai, Akio Ôtsuka (Paprika) as Batô, Kôichi Yamadera (Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway) as Togusa, Yutaka Nakano (The Demon Girl Next Door) as Ishikawa, and Tamio Ôki (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure) as Aramaki – members of an elite government enforcement division known only as, ‘Section 9.’
The 1996 North American English release utilized the dubbed voice talents of Mimi Woods (Battle Athletes Victory) as the Major, Richard Epcar (Mortal Kombat 11) as Bato, Christopher Joyce (Akira) as Togasa, William Frederick Knight (Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon) as Aramaki, Michael Sorich (Resident Evil: Degeneration) as Ishikawa, and Tom Wyner (Wolf’s Rain) as the ‘Puppet Master.’
Ghost in the Shell (1995) is still ahead of its time some three decades later as an evocator in Japanese animation.
Set initially in 2029, Ghost in the Shell (GITS) features Major Motoko Kusanagi, a fully cybernetic government agent assigned to hunt “The Puppet Master,” a mysterious computer virus capable of infiltrating human hosts and intent on destroying society. With the Section 9 team, the ‘Major’ endeavors to capture the pervasive enemy.
Masamune Shirow borrowed the concept of the Ghost from an essay on Structuralism, “The Ghost in the Machine” by Arthur Koestler. The ‘Ghost’ refers to an individual’s consciousness or soul. The philosophy of Ghost in the Shell is a mix of Cartesian Dualism and Koestler’s Structuralism. Koestler argued that the human brain evolves in layers, building upon an earlier, more primitive brain structure – the “Ghost in the Machine.” At times, this ‘Ghost’ overpowers higher logical functions and is responsible for hate, anger, and other destructive impulses.
A complementary primary theme, the Theseus Paradox, asks, “if one replaces all of the individual parts of an axe, is it the same?” This refers to the ongoing replacement of the human body by prosthetics and cybernetics highlighted in the film. While each member of Section 9 has some cybernetic enhancements, The Major is considered ‘fully cyber-ized.’ Throughout Ghost in the Shell, Masamune discusses (through The Major’s musing and insecurities) her complete cyborg-ization – questioning and searching for her true self.
And constantly asking, “What does it mean to be human?
Mamoru Oshii won the 1997 World Animation Celebration’s Best Director of Animation for a Theatrical Feature Film award, and Ghost in the Shell won for overall Best Theatrical Feature Film. Kazunori Itô also won the 1996 Yokohama Film Festival’s Award for Best Screenplay.
The film itself is stunning, breathtaking. The use of light and shading to create depth is genre-defining, combining traditional Japanese animation techniques with CGI.
The soundscape, composed by Kenji Kawai, is an integral part of the film – combining Japanese vocals and discordant melodies to create an ethereal yet militaristic feel. The Japanese version of the film played “Reincarnation” over the ending credits, replaced with “One Minute Warning” – a collaboration between U2 and Brian Eno for the English version. But the soundscape is so much more than familiar pop hits. Aural cues advance the story. Bells and chimes signal the audience, story development, or intrigue, while synthetic scales highlight more philosophical moments.
Costing a solid 330 million Yen to make (~$2,908,108 USD), the 1995 film, while critically lauded, was considered a box office failure-earning just under $1 million U.S. worldwide. However, the subsequent global cult following and the success of the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Akira, Ghost in the Shell SAC 2045, Ghost in the Shell Arise, Ghost in the Shell 2-Innocence, Tachykoma Days, and Ghost in the Shell (2017), has proven the longevity of Masamune Shirow’s vision.
This epic, dystopian tale of politics, covert actions, cyborgs, and the future of humanity spawned generations of Manga, anime, and Matrix-style cross-genre discourse. Ghost in the Shell (1995) and its incarnations are worth a look or ten.
Ghost in the Shell (2017) Official Trailer