41. Ghost in the Shell

Slapping a loaded magazine into her rifle, the robot who feels human tells her boss “I’ll leave the detective stuff to you.” Unraveling conspiracies ain’t her line; Sector 9 assault team leader Major Motoko Kusanagi is a weapon, a killer assigned to find the hacker called Puppet Master.

An animated feast of philosophy and action, Ghost in the Shell is Japanese anime that belongs beside Blade Runner and The Matrix in the Pantheon of thoughtful sci-fi gun-and-fist-fight movies.

In 2029, humans augment their bodies more and more with robots parts, because cyborgs are stronger. “Humanity,” however, “has underestimated the consequences of computerization.” The Puppet Master is a consequence, a potential enemy born in an ocean of information. But is he/she/it alive?

To get to him/her/it, Major battles a walking tank that looks like a giant war spider.

Ghost in the Shell’s action is better than Blade Runner’sWe meet Major midway through an assassination mission, when she turns invisible and explodes a diplomat’s head. Then a thrilling chase concludes with a wet, high-tech street fight.  

In quieter moments, against a stormy techno-urban background (like Blade Runner’s), characters earnestly debate what it means to physically bond with computing technology. They’ve plugged in so deeply that consciousnesses are ghosts and bodies are shells. The network rules. Ghost in the Shell is from 1995, almost a decade before Facebook, but this line reminds me of social networking: “The only thing that makes me feel human is how I’m treated.” 

The network starts manipulating people, implanting false memories and convincing them they’re something they’re not. And a government agency has stupid mistakes to cover, so of course the problem worsens. 

The best part? This all happens in an hour and 20 minutes! Such efficiency – a package of interesting philosophical questions and unique, sleek violence. Why aren’t movies short anymore?

The Puppet Master thinks he knows what’s required for something to truly be alive: mortality and procreation. But he/she/it is reaching. He/she/it doesn’t really know, because Ghost in the Shell doesn’t have answers. All it can give us is a fun, provocative ride, with cyborgs and a spider tank.

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