It is a question that has been asked many times, but one that gains increasing relevance with each passing year: Will technology develop to a point where it is beyond mankind’s control?
In Ghost in the Shell, a new Japanese animated feature, the answer is a definite yes.
In the future, the anonymous government of an anonymous country is involved in mysterious and shrouded plots of intrigue. One of the central figures in this government, and the heroine of the film, is Maj. Kusanagi, a lithe, shapely and merciless killing machine.
Kusanagi is the film’s main technological hook. As a cyborg, she is part human and part robot. These mechanical, computer-driven shells house a human ghost, which, depending on your own philosophy, can be seen as either a person’s intellect or soul.
Soon Kusanagi encounters an innovation even greater than herself: artificial intelligence, or a man-made entity made of both ghost and shell. When this artificial intelligence breaks free with a will of its own and tries to contact Kusanagi, the film’s daring mix of aesthetics and action kicks in.
With its towering, rain-soaked metropolis, human/robot characters and computer-driven plot, Ghost in the Shell is littered with pop-culture touchstones. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Total Recall, Blade Runner and the Terminator films, as well as modern interpretations of Frankenstein, are all alluded here, and the list could easily go on.
But Ghost in the Shell brings a compelling freshness to futuristic ideas. This is particularly evident with Kusanagi, whose glib, offhanded remarks shrewdly reveal the cruel search for identity she undergoes. When not fighting, Kusanagi spends time diving deep into the sea. Her cyborg partner finds this odd, not so much because of the hobby itself, but because there is something Kusanagi actually enjoys. Kusanagi explains that diving makes her feel fear, cold, alone, hope.
Ghost in the Shell is full of such philosophical musings, but there is plenty of action as well. One trademark of the Japanese animation genre is a considerable dose of sexism and violence – both of which show up here. In addition to the bloody gunfights, this means that Kusanagi spends much of the film nude; supposedly it allows her to better use an invisibility cloak.
Ghost in the Shell makes the claim that technology is instinctive, just another method of survival for mankind. This may not be a revolutionary idea in our computer-saturated age, but with its arresting animation, the film gives ideology an urgent and energetic spin.