Review: Kôkaku Kidôtai (Ghost In The Shell, 1995)

Memories can turn out to be the trickiest of foes!

Written By: Kazunori Itô
Directed By: Mamoru Oshii

I had a generally hazy recollection of Kôkaku Kidôtai from when I had first seen it in my youth. Said hazy recollection was that Kôkaku Kidôtai was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I even remember arguing with a few different people about how Kôkaku Kidôtai was a million, billion times better than Akira. Memories are a tricky thing, either that or my taste in film has changed drastically since the first time I watched Kôkaku Kidôtai.

I don’t have a heck of a lot to say about Kôkaku Kidôtai. There are movies that evoke lots of thought and contemplation, but Kôkaku Kidôtai is not such a movie. Kôkaku Kidôtai is a lot of pretty window dressings attempting to disguise an empty story and a less than fulfilling film. I fell asleep numerous times trying to watch Kôkaku Kidôtai this time around, and that’s just not something that should happen with a futuristic anime tale about cyborgs and evil governments.

The problem is that Mamoru Oshii never takes the time to make me care about anything happening on screen. Instead he plows forward under the assumption that I will be dazzled by the visuals and hoodwinked by the attempts at philosophical contemplation. All the visual splendor in the world can not hide how empty of a film Kôkaku Kidôtai is, and how brainless it’s attempts at philosophical contemplation are. By the midway point the script has revealed a story so thin that it has no story to tell, and yet the film continues on as if there is some compelling reason to watch these characters.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Kôkaku Kidôtai, Odin knows I did enjoy the animation. But, that is an example of the empty style of the film. It doesn’t matter how pretty the animation is, or how fluid the character movements are when those elements are in service of nothing. I didn’t need the world’s best story, but in order for me to look at Kôkaku Kidôtai and say more than, “Oooh, pretty colors and lovely pictures,” I needed something, anything of substance to hang my hat on. Kôkaku Kidôtai never delivered that substance and I was left with the feeling that a lot of lovely animation work was wasted on a meaningless story.

Don’t let the rating at the end of this review fool you, that is one hundred percent for the pretty pictures. I can appreciate a pretty picture when I see one, but the pretty pictures in Kôkaku Kidôtai weren’t pretty enough to make up for the myriad of deficiencies found in the film. I know that I am again taking on the role of an outsider who doesn’t like a heralded classic of the film world. It would be nice if that weren’t the case, but that would also have meant that Kôkaku Kidôtai was a much better movie than it actually turned out to be. Those who do cherish Kôkaku Kidôtai as some sort of deep and wonderful movement within the world of adult animation can continue to do so. I’m going to stick with pictures like another 1995 animated release, Toy Story, that show how great animation can be when there’s a meaty story to go along with the pretty pictures.





4 responses to “Review: Kôkaku Kidôtai (Ghost In The Shell, 1995)

  1. I recently watched this and I’m in complete agreement. Pretty images, vapid story. I think there’s the backbone of a great film here, but I found it hard to believe that this film was held in such high regard.

  2. Yeah, there are quite a few “Mech/cyborg/mutation” anime films that end up playing out that way. There’s no denying the gorgeous animation in those types of films, but I often find that the story is bare bones to the point where it’s a detriment in some of those films.

  3. It’s been a while since I saw this, but I believe that I felt I realized why it was popular, but that I didn’t figure I’d ever watch it again.

  4. I didn’t think the movie had a high rewatch factor myself, but the sequels and subsequent TV series have proven me wrong I guess.

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