攻殻機動隊: Braindiving

[Screenshot]I’ve seen Ghost in the Shell a couple times before, but without subtitles. It’s a good but not superlative anime: it stands mostly on the strength of the source material (Shiro Masamune’s provocative and daring manga of the same name) and on being an early herald of anime’s incursion onto America’s shores. It’s beautifully animated and presents a compelling world, but the actual storyline moves through a kind of jerky, disordered pacing which somewhat loses the subtleties of the political realities surrounding the main plot-token (the Stand-Alone Complex series, which has more leisurely pacing and episodic focus, fleshes out a more cohesive world, but not in the same continuity).

As one of the earliest arrivals of modern Japanese animated cinema on our shores, I find Ghost in the Shell intriguing in that the Japanese seem to have come up with a different way of looking at technology than Americans. American movie-producers don’t actually seem to understand computers: watching any major Hollywood film will convince you of that. But, ultimately, I think we take a pretty shallow view of what technology, and especially computer networking, means to society. I think of computers and networks in American cinema and what I see is threat to security (The Net, Firewall), a communication forum (You’ve Got Mail), and occasionally an incomprehensible murder-machine (Fear dot com, Stay Alive. No, I haven’t watched any of these films). And, of course, a laughable comprehension of how computers, and computer security, actually work.

Not that the Japanese are better on technical details, really, but they’ve protected themselves from criticism by considering computers, not by way of what they literally represent (data processing and communication), but as metaphors and philosophical abstractions. Individual identity, the collective unconscious, communication divorced from the physical realm: these are ideas the Japanese play with over and over again, as in Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Serial Experiments: lain, among many others. And they’re very cool things to see kicked around. So even though the plot of Ghost in the Shell is a bit of a mess, it’s worth watching as part of a larger picture of anime.

Side note: while the phrase “Ghost in the Shell” conjures up the film’s outlook on the dichotomy between soul and body in a heavily cybernetic society, the Japanese title, “攻殻機動隊”, really has nothing to do with ghosts or shells or bodies or souls at all (殻 can mean “shell”, but also can mean “armor”—character-by-character the title is roughly “assault shell machine movement unit”, which is conventionally translated “mobile armored riot police” by people who actually know Japanese).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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