Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"But now we must slip our bonds and shift to the higher structure."

On the surface of Ghost in the Shell, it appears that the "ghost" is the soul in the "shell" of the human body, but there's another distinction to be made in this reading of the film. As much as the story is about Major Kusanagi transcending her physical form, it's also about her transcending the limits of a physical form which is specifically and explicitly defined as female.

Ghost in the Shell opens with a scene of Major Kusanagi infiltrating a political target and then escaping by using her thermoptic camouflage—a method of invisibility which, among other things, requires her to be mostly naked. Stripped down to her female form. Between this and a joke between her and Batou about her being on her period (it's unclear whether this is possible with her cybernetic body), Major Kusanagi is rigorously constructed as feminine.

After this scene, the opening credits play. They crosscut between plain text and images of the construction of Kusanagi's cybernetic body. Her naked form is openly displayed, and the sexuality of it is heavily emphasized, particularly in shots of her outermost layer of skin peeling off of her breasts. This is Major Kusanagi not only at her most sexualized, but also at her most objectified—she literally begins life as an object, as mechanical pieces being put together by a machine.

As Kusanagi and Batou later remark, these mechanical parts are inextricable pieces of their body (they would die without them) and therefore of their self and their identity, but they are not owned by them. Their cybernetic body parts are owned by Section 9, the intelligence department for which both officers work. Their bodies (and therefore their sexuality) are not their own.

These are the limitations set on Major Kusanagi which she endeavors to overthrow through the narrative of the film. Perception/objectification and ownership/agency. She is perceived as an object and owned by an external organization (one characterized primary as older men), and she seeks to free herself. She talks repeatedly about finding her soul, the "ghost" in her "shell," the theoretical entity which is simultaneously independent of her physical form while still capable of exercising its own agency or free will. It is the essence of her being, of her identity—an identity which is coded as female not only by her sexualized body, but by her voice (which is at various points capable of leaving her body but always remains female).

At this point in the story, the Puppet Master enters the equation. Section 9 obtains the remains of a damaged androgynous cybernetic body (it has female breasts but a male face and voice), and while other Sections vie for ownership of it, Kusanagi becomes determined to "dive" into its consciousness herself. Talking to Batou, she describes her motivation as a kind of morbid curiosity: she worries that she'll uncover something that indicates that she's not unique, that she doesn't have a soul or a ghost, but she is for that very reason all the more curious to look for herself. The body's existence suggests to her the possibility—or potential impossibility—of a consciousness outside or beyond physicality.

This new body is stolen by Section 6, and Kusanagi tracks it down to find it guarded by a tank. Pinned down by the tank's machine guns, she uses her thermoptic camouflage to sneak on top of it and try to wrench the top off. As she pulls at the hatch holding it closed, her muscles ripple, and slowly her mechanical frame tears its accompanying flesh apart, her body a mess of blood and wires. This is the key image of the movie. It symbolizes both the limitations of her physical, objectified form and her transcendence of it. Her soul is so strong it rips up her carefully constructed body, reversing the work done by the opening title sequence to objectify ans sexualize her, rising above the ownership of her body parts that previously subjugated her.

This begins the work of her transcendence, but she completes it in her connection with the Puppet Master. She attempts to "dive" into his mind, but he instead enters hers. During this sequence, Kusanagi's voice come from the Puppet Master's body and vice versa, maintaining their identities while switching bodies. The Puppet Master explains that in order to achieve the genetic variation required to stave off extinction, he must merge with the soul of Major Kusanagi. But which this merge is articulated in the Puppet Masters terms, the resulting form on the other side has Kusanagi's voice. For Kusanagi, this merging means the final transcendence beyond her physical form. She reaches beyond the constraints of the body to become a pure, independent entity. She overcomes her objectification and becomes pure soul. Pure ghost.

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