Ghost in the Shell ★★★★

Call off the dogs: I suspect that rating might be higher if I wasn't watching a dub with some terribly wooden voice acting. Even in this sub-optimal condition Oshii's film is a striking piece of work, full of detailed backgrounds and Gormenghast-style far-as-the-eye-can-see cityscapes that the camera wisely never lingers on. For all the effort that's clearly been put into realising these locations, it's the backdrop for a story, not a story in and of itself.

There's a very good Nerdwriter video about this - despite the clickbait title! - which compares the subtle, background world-building of Oshii's film to its flashier Hollywood remake. I haven't seen Rupert Sanders's version but it doesn't surprise me that you can't make a satisfying American action movie out of Ghost in the Shell, not least because it's not really an action movie. Not in the sense that an action movie is about the pleasure of screen action, anyway. The action scenes take their cue from the Major's world-weary, just-another-job attitude; they are noisy and explosive and sometimes spectacularly gruesome without ever being cathartic. It feels notable that one late fight destroys an ichthyosaur fossil and a mural of the Tree of Life.

This would all just be posturing if Oshii didn't have the ideas to back them up, but he does. Ghost in the Shell's commentary on identity pushes through to areas other science fiction films are frightened to occupy, with "bio-hackers" taking control of people's bodies so thoroughly they even come to believe the false memories implanted in them. And if their memory has been replaced, can they even be said to be the same person? There is a glimmer of hope in the title, though. The "ghost" is a slang term for the soul, and all this transhumanism and identity-swapping has perversely left people even more convinced of its existence. It seems there is still something about free will and individual consciousness that even this society can't corrupt.

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