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Action Alphabet: 'Ghost in the Shell'

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Seeking action in sci-fi movies can be a tricky thing – oftentimes the need to pontificate on the zeitgeist techno-philosophy washes over the action-driven moments and suddenly you’re more frustrated at not being able to understand the plot and then are completely numbed to whatever chase or gunfight is going on. I won’t say that Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is free of this issue; on the contrary, it takes frequent pauses for its cyborg characters to speak in bizarre koans about what it means to be human. But when it came down to it, I really wanted to include an animated movie in my action alphabet, and seeing as how American filmmakers are either too inept or too afraid to make an animated movie for adults, Anime was the sub-genre to choose from – a niche where the filmmakers never seem to be confined by their drawings but instead approach it as though it were reality (Pixar being the relatively new quasi-exception). Ghost in the Shell is colorful and intriguing and really creative – nothing seems to challenge the suspension of disbelief, not even the explanation behind why the main characters is often completely naked.

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In the year 2029 the world is dependent upon the vast computer network that connects everyone and everything – people have become so reliant upon computers that even the most regular people have cybernetic implants of some kind. Cyborgs have also been created to do various jobs, including Major Motoko Kusanagi who is head of a security group in New Port City. She and her team have been tasked with finding a notorious hacker called “the Puppet Master.” But as the search becomes more intense and Kusanagi keeps finding herself in blind alleys of information, it becomes apparent that everything surrounding the Puppet Master is not as simple as it appears to be.

A few years ago I included Ghost in the Shell in a series on animated films and in that article I went on and on about the metaphorical complexities of the film, but I didn’t really touch on the action sequences of the film. Though I probably would take back the comment I made about it being “sexy” – between then and now I’ve certainly garnered a better understanding of Japanese culture and its influence on the country’s cinema, and I now know that Kusanagi represents the Japanese man’s escapism from how emotionally repressed he feel rather than being a machismo-driven fantasy – I still hold to calling it “brooding [and] violent.” Unfortunately the film is a mere 82 minutes long, so the four or so action sequences might seem sparse; but the few moments of thrilling danger that it does have is so darkly inspiring, you have to thank director Oshii for making this movie so that seminal films like The Matrix and AI: Artificial Intelligence. There is just enough freedom given to the animators to allow for that flighty Anime flare, but otherwise the movement and visuals are as grounded as you ask for from a futuristic animated action/sci-fi film. The opening action sequence is breathtaking on its own, akin to some compact episodic gem straight from the pen of Tarantino – sly, cool, interesting, and, when the action starts, completely ridiculous in the best possible way. Before I die, I hope I get to see Ghost in the Shell on the big screen: how sweet that would be.

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