Ghost in the Shell is a 1995 cyberpunk Japanese Anime film that takes place in a futuristic Japan, where Major Kusanagi and her partner attempt to track down a rogue hacker known as the “Puppet Master.” The film is equal parts police procedural, international crime thriller and noir. We follow the detectives through the case as they attempt to find out who the Puppet Master is, and who they are as human beings.
A takeaway sci-fi element of Ghost in the Shell is the ghost, a reference to the human soul in a cybernetic body. This element comes up throughout the film as Major confronts suspects whose ghosts have been hacked, essentially rewriting their memories. Making the mind corruptible and tied deeply to the global networks itself.
This concept is mirrored in the “Identity in Space,” in that institutions have pushed certain structures and ideas onto the perception of bodies so that people can’t return to former identities.
Modern nations have suffered a similar disassociation with their own national identities due to Colonialism and war. One nation that has experienced this form of disassociation is Japan.
Following the defeat of the Japanese by US forces in 1945, there was a period of occupation and reconstruction that occurred in Japan. This period resulted in an economic boom that Japan experienced until the late 1980s. Though the period is notable as a rapid transformation of Japan, it marks another change in a series of transformations that occurred in Japan since 1900.
As Japan opened up as a nation in 1900 they began their Imperial phase, which evolved into a nationalist Empire under Hirohito and then a vestige state of the US during a period of reconstruction. So, by the 1960s Japan had become a “newly” independent nation, with the Capitalist rhetoric of the United States and a history of Japan.
Japan was a modern nation under US influence. The rapid industrialization of Japan was characterized by a certain unease that permeated Science Fiction Literature such as “Akira” or “Tetsuo The Iron Man.” In these films, Japan, represented by male characters encounters a power that rapidly increases its strength but results in uncontrollable transformation. For these characters, identity and control are stripped away by Modern Change.
Contrary to this, Ghost in the Shell posits another interpretation. Major Kusanagi is aware of her position within the confining structures of bureaucracy and industry. She is conscious of the ways their bodies intersect with technology and she openly aspects it. In the final moments of the film, the Major’s ghost blends with the Puppet Master to create a new being, a conscious choice to abandon structures of control, and to create something new in the nation.
For Major Kusanagi to accept the changes, the Puppet Master highlights this concept of cultural exchange. Both characters openly mix histories and identities to make a new being. Though neither is the same after the encounter, they both adapt and change to match the world around them.
In a modern context, we see similar conversations occurring as new policies, ideas and world events shape our perceptions of the world at large. Though ignoring or outright rejecting these changes is a knee-jerk reaction, a certain amount of acceptance is required; navigation of both identities without suppression or destruction of the other.
At its core, Ghost in the Shell explores this idea by presenting change as acceptable development. Through change, societies can grow and the individual can change the core of their identity with it.
Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him email@example.com.