Ghost in the Shell
1995, NR, 80 min. Directed by Mamoru Oshî.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., March 22, 1996
Lacking the imaginative thrills and rich characterization as such previous Japanese-animated imports like Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira and Hirohiko Yamaga's The Wings of Hommeamise, Mamoru Oshî's Ghost in the Shell -- the latest “anime” feature to receive a theatrical release these shores -- is a disappointment. Ghost in the Shell is a slick but plodding recycling of tired cyberpunk clichés that adds nothing new to the genre. The exposition-heavy story chronicles the adventures of a shapely, angst-ridden 21st-century female supercop as she and her equally badass colleagues attempt to track down and capture “The Puppet Master,” a mysterious computer criminal who may or may not be the enemy he seems to be. The action sequences, especially the ones in which our heroine dons a nifty veil that renders her invisible, are certainly exciting, but there just aren't enough of them to make us forget the convoluted story line, or the relentlessly silly dialogue -- made even more laughable by the lifeless, hysterically foul-mouthed English dubbing. Of course, Ghost in the Shell does have its good points, not the least of which is the film's superb animation -- a dazzling mixture of high-tech computer graphics and traditional hand-drawn cels -- that depicts backgrounds, weapons, and other machines in remarkable detail, while leaving most of the lead characters' faces curiously devoid of emotion. It's a risky visual concept well-suited to the movie's themes of humanity being slowly eclipsed by technology. True to the tradition of popular contemporary Japanese animation, the imagery here displays an intense obsession with naked female bodies, complex machinery, and heavy-duty firearms. Such fetishism may occasionally result in a few moments of magnificently lurid spectacle, but more often than not, it seems extremely gratuitous and juvenile. There's also a hypnotic percussive score on hand to further heighten the audio-visual extravaganza of the film, but ultimately Ghost in the Shell remains a hard sell, with sluggish pacing and sloppy storytelling effectively smothering the strengths of this lackluster effort.