On the surface Ghost in the Shell appears to be an animated science fiction action movie. Light fare. Even the trailer represents it as “non-stop action.” However, is it? Or is it is a transhumanist meditation on the nature of humanity, of memory and dreams, and of the nature of reality itself wrapped up in an astounding piece of cyberpunk science fiction? Either way it is a good film. However, it has some major shortcomings keeping it from being a great film.
The use of a nude female character at nearly every opportunity–the Major cannot use her camouflage unless she is naked–slides this from serious drama to teen male fantasy. Also the story peters out to a conclusion that leans more on the hypothetical and future beyond the film rather than wrapping up the plot at hand. It feels flat and weak. Like an author angling for a sequel. Ghost in the Shell also has some just plain odd elements. Just past 30 minutes into the film, we are presented a three minute interlude of music and scenes around Neo-Tokyo. The main character is seen briefly, but it doesn’t move the plot forward. It is as if now Neo-Tokyo is also a character in the story. It is as if they conducted an experiment to see what the animation would look like before production began in earnest and suddenly found a way to use that footage.
Ghost in the Shell is a frustrating film. It could have been a fine action film. But it’s not. It could have been a deep science fiction exploration of the nature of what it means to be human. But it’s not. Like a dog chasing two rabbits, this film achieves neither goal. Despite this Ghost in the Shell had an impact and influenced The Matrix trilogy.