Ghost In the Shell was a crossover anime movie; it had a more accessible SF motif, and found many fans in the western world. If you haven’t seen it, you should, especially if you’re into sci-fi. The story centers around Motoko Kusanagi, a sexy, gun toting, bad ass humanoid, in charge of Section 9. This intro sums it up beautifully.
In the year 2029, the world has become interconnected by a vast electronic network that permeates every aspect of life. That same network also becomes a battlefield for Tokyo’s Section Nine security force, which has been charged with apprehending the master hacker known only as the Puppet Master. Spearheading the investigation is Major Motoko Kusanagi, who — like many in her department — is a cyborg officer, far more powerful than her human appearance would suggest. And yet as the Puppet Master, who is even capable of hacking human minds, leaves a trail of victims robbed of their memories, Kusanagi ponders the very nature of her existence: is she purely an artificial construct, or is there more? What exactly is the definition of human in a society where a persons mind can be copied and the body replaced with a fully synthetic body? What, exactly, is the “ghost” — her essence — in her cybernetic “shell”? Where is the boundary between human and machine when the differences between the two become more philosophical than physical? When Section Nine gets involved in the case, she is forced to confront these and other questions as she confronts the “Puppet Master”, a being that transcends humanity and ultimately challenges Kusanagi to transcend her own self-understanding and limitations as well.
This quote by the protagonist is amazing:
There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny.
Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me, and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined only to feel free to expand within my boundaries!
Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the sequel came out a decade later, last year. There’s no Kusanagi, she’s escaped into an AI form in cyberspace, so the story shifts to Batou, a tank-like cyborg with a ghost (human) core, with his fully organic partner Togusa, a dwindling member of his kind. Together, they investigate a series of android suicides, which occur amongst a custom range of sex dolls ‘programmed’ to have ghost like qualities.
The characters quote lines from thinkers and philosophers in everyday conversation. There is an explanation behind that as well: Humans have external memory implants, and can access information at run-time, making them super eloquent, and hyper connected to all works of humanity. Like having Wikipedia in your brain’s RAM.
Togusa: How great is the sum of thy thoughts? If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.
Bateau: Psalms 139, Old Testament. The way you spout these spontaneous exotic references, I’d say your own external memory’s pretty twisted.
GITS: Innocence has a much bigger budget, with lush painstakingly detailed visions of the future. The sequel compares dolls to children, and parenting instincts to an innate drive to create androids. Keeping with the futuristic motif, the movie takes you through free zones of the future, with tall spires, towers, and dense fog. There’s a lot more CG this time around compared to the predecessor, a lot of scenes are still meticulously hand drawn. It’s a visual masterpiece, an unforgivingly fast paced SF story with a philosophical core. The SF background is used as an allegory for the human condition.
The story might take a few viewings to digest, but it’s the visuals that make the movie, the first five minutes are an open and clear declaration of artistic merit; setting the pace for a surreal, meditative, and passionate work of art.