With the much-hyped, and slightly controversial live action adaptation of popular Manga property Ghost in the Shell arriving in UK cinemas in March, it is quite rightly pointing many people back in the direction of the original 1995 anime movie. For fans, it is evident that Ghost in the Shell perhaps more than any other anime property, has the sticking power which cements it as an all-time classic, even 22 years after it first came to their attention. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, its power and influence might not be as obvious, but Ghost in the Shell not only changed the world of animated films, but also the world of science fiction films, particularly those with a focus on technology and humanity’s relationship with it, paving the way for other very well known films to do the same.
For many, The Matrix (1999) was a game-changer in the world of cinema, and the Wachowski brothers have since gone on record to say they were directly influenced by Ghost in the Shell when they were making their seminal sci-fi masterpiece. When pitching the idea for The Matrix to their producers, the Wachowski brothers showed them the 82 minutes of Ghost in the Shell and said “We wanna do that for real”. With shared thematic elements such as the existential questioning of the characters and how this relates to technology and humanity, plus some direct appropriating of some key details such as the green number “rain”, and the way the humans plug themselves in via holes in their necks, the influence of Ghost in the Shell is a looming shadow over The Matrix, and whilst there is no doubt that The Matrix was still ground-breaking in its technological and cinematic achievements, it owes its very existence to Ghost in the Shell and this is why it is still such an important piece of work, even today.
Ghost in the Shell also has acclaimed directors Steven Spielberg and James Cameron amongst its biggest fans. Spielberg bought the rights to the live-action film that we’ll be seeing in a few months time, but prior to this, his appreciation can be seen in some of his films of the early noughties, namely A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002). In the former in particular, its philosophical pondering of the human-automaton coalesce is undoubtedly inspired by the overriding themes of Ghost in the Shell, and the futuristic vision of law enforcement in Minority Report also takes many of its cues from it. Similarly, James Cameron used Ghost in the Shell as a catalyst in making Avatar (2009), describing it “a stunning work of speculative fiction…the first to reach a level of literary excellence”. Avatar envisages a future where humans can transfer their bodies into an alien race, undoubtedly reminiscent of the “ghosts” in Ghost in the Shell. Similarities in plot devices aside, Avatar also utilised some truly ground-breaking technology in its production, and indeed this is something else which it has Ghost in the Shell to thank.
Using a pioneering combination of classic cel animation, and cutting edge CG animation, Ghost in the Shell was unlike anything we had seen before, opening the doors for other aspiring animation studios to consider that it didn’t just have to be one or the other, but that they could be combined, and when utilised properly could create something absolutely breathtaking. Where Western cinema was playing catch-up both in terms of technology, and in using the idea of bringing something so profound and melancholic to its audiences, Ghost in the Shell had pretty much been there and done that already, and for this reason it is still one of the most important pieces of animation today. Without it we wouldn’t have The Matrix, or Avatar, we wouldn’t have animators and filmmakers consistently pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Ghost in the Shell is still one of the most profoundly beautiful pieces of sci-fi to date, arguably as influential for and on its time period as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was when that was released. With the new movie once again bringing attention to this incredible film, the flames of influence are being fanned once again, truly testament to how earth-shattering and game-changing this film is. Whilst aesthetically the new film seems to be ticking the right boxes, it is the animated film we have to thank for us ever being able to get to this point at all, and for that Ghost in the Shell, we salute you!