In the high-tech sci-fi world of 2032, humans and cyborgs co-exist to the point where it’s tough to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Some beings are completely mechanized with remnants of a human brain, such as special agent Bateau of Security Police Section 9, the government’s covert anti-terrorist unit. Others, such as Bateau’s partner Togusa, are wholly organic with a synthetic brain. The fuzzy line between the two life forms becomes imperative to define when the two are called in by Chief Aramaki to find out why gynoids—female robots created specifically as sexual playthings—are murdering their owners and then self-destructing. Bateau and Togusa’s investigation leads them through a tangled web of deceit and violence into the dark world of Yazuka thugs, organized crime, computer and ghost hackers, and corrupt government officials.
Along the way, deep philosophical questions rise to the surface: Why does humankind need to immortalize themselves in dolls? What is the value of a human soul? Is it greater or less than the life of a machine? The conclusion creates more questions than answers.
Togusa, Bateau’s partner and the most human of the Section 9 agents, is an unabashed family man who believes in putting his wife and daughter above his career. At one point he extracts a promise from Bateau to not use weapons when confronting criminals because he wants to go home to his daughter, and becomes angry with his partner when he breaks that promise.
Bateau silently suffers the loss of his former partner and romantic interest, a cyborg character named Major. He also exhibits moments of human tenderness as he lovingly cares for his dog (a trademark Oshii basset hound) and partially covers a naked cyborg with his vest.
My thoroughly Western mind had a tough time wrapping itself around the mélange of spiritual, theological and philosophical currents that run above and below a steady stream of existentialism. Characters banter in bits and pieces of quotations pulled from sources as diverse as Japanese poetry, Chinese proverbs, John Milton and the Bible. An unsettling dichotomy develops as we look upon a bloody crime scene while listening to beautiful prose.
Perhaps the Eastern mind grapples likewise with Christian thought. For instance, Bateau calls Togusa twisted for reciting a passage from Psalm 139. Another man is told he cannot serve two masters, without referencing God and money.
[Spoiler Warning] When man and machine join forces in an attempt to create the ultimate playmate by breathing souls (ghosts) of young girls into mechanized dolls, they end up with vengeful creatures desperate for release from their prosthetic prisons (hence, “the ghost in the shell”).
Although the movie’s subject matter would suggest highly sexualized graphics and text, the director has exhibited a great deal of restraint in this area. The “sexaroids” as the specially equipped gyroids are called at one point, are shown partially or fully undressed, but they look more like white mannequins (think underdeveloped Barbie dolls) than human females and are never shown engaging in sexual activity.
There is a moral stigmatism attached to these robotic sex pets. A hardened forensic expert, during questioning by Bateau and Togusa, comments that they are “not illegal but nothing to brag about to the neighbors.” Her theory on the murder-suicides (a breach of embedded moral code) is that the gynoids are rebelling against owners who abandon them for younger models and force them into vagrancy.
When Bateau traps a gyroid suspect at the end of an alley, she goes into convulsions, tears open her chest and explodes into a mass of springs and wires (the first “suicide”).
The most violent episode occurs when Bateau and Togusa are sent to a heinous crime scene where a man’s been stabbed to death. The sink is filled with a large assortment of bloody kitchen utensils and a bloody handprint smears down a wall, but the body’s nowhere in sight—until an investigator finds parts of it separated neatly in jars in the refrigerator (they’re not shown, just talked about).
Bateau breaks up an organized crime ring by bursting into a meeting and blowing a dozen or so away with an automatic weapon. In other scenes he rips the metallic arm off a monster cyborg, zaps mechanical “brains” and brings quick end to an in-store setup with an explosion of gunfire.
A ghost hacker named Kim creates a protective “firewall” that blurs intruders’ sense of memory and reality involving a computerized delusion of his castle exploding and mechanized dolls destructing. In a major showdown between armored cyborgs and mechanized dolls, limbs are severed, blood is spilt and a variety of body parts are strewn about.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A chain-smoking forensic cyborg fills a clear glass of water with cigarette butts. After a tough day of crime fighting, Bateau returns to an empty home and collapses in a chair with a can of beer.
Based on the manga series by Shirow Masmune, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1996) has been called a watershed in Japanese animation, reaching cult status among “cyberpunk anime” fans. The story line is reputed to have been the inspiration for the Matrix trilogy and has spawned a 26-episode TV series called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
Nine years later, Vol. 2 earned the first anime nomination at the Cannes Film Festival and boasts the biggest adult anime opening ever. And "adult" it is, despite the inexplicable PG-13 rating bestowed upon it by the MPAA. The magnitude of violence alone would have earned a non-animated version a solid R-rating on par with Terminator 3. Combine that with the sexualized subject matter and a mind-boggling “gee-whiz” collection of philosophies, theologies and science fiction, and you end up with a veritable field of red flags.
A postscript: The popularity of Ghost in the Shell is another example of the exploding influence of manga and anime across all mediums of the culture, and as such is a force for families to reckon with. This franchise alone, in addition to the TV series mentioned above, includes a reprint of the manga, a special edition DVD of the first film and a video game.
At first glance, anime and manga look as innocent as the wide-eyed boys and girls that are the genre’s hallmark. But families need to be aware of the extreme range exhibited in both comic book and cinematic venues, from giggly Saturday morning cartoon fare such as Pokémon, all the way to “hentai,” adult pornography that is often available right alongside the more innocent stuff in both video rental stores and comic book outlets. Some are rated, but more often fans are forced to dive headfirst into the contents before knowing what they're buying into.