It's ironic one of the most highly regarded technological dystopia films is a great example of hand painted backgrounds. 1995's Ghost in the Shell
used many computer techniques that were novel at the time but looking back the film seems far more remarkable for what at the time was quite unremarkable. The drizzled rust and sandwiched skyscrapers, the splotchy square signs, all have a ragged, organic quality that doesn't come with computer painted backgrounds. It complements a film with beautiful animation that is much more about mood and aesthetics than Akira
or Blade Runner
The "Ghost" of the title is another way of saying "soul" as synthetic characters like Motoko (Atsuko Tanaka) ask themselves whether or not their ghosts are real. The movie doesn't try to compete with Blade Runner
on this but rather covers the topic just well enough to put us in the right frame of mind for the cinematic exercise.
The credit sequence, which features loving close-ups of Motoko's naked body being assembled, might recall Jane Fonda undressing at the beginning of Barbarella
. The unwise critic who is comfortable using the term "male gaze" would easily miss the point here with the dull, recursive observation that these male filmmakers are examining a woman's body to serve heterosexual men. Thinking on this line misses the question posed by the visuals; at what point does what we're seeing stop being a doll and start being the shape of a creature we instinctively respond to as human? Yes, it's erotic because eroticism is part of human nature.
Director Mamoru Oshii's recent comments that Motoko was never meant to look Japanese are redundant to anyone who's seen the original film. Even compared to Japanese characters in anime who look European for no apparent reason, Motoko's chin and nose are distinctly not Asian. The fact that she has a Japanese name is a reflection of the cultural mishmash in the environment common to this and other cyberpunk stories where, like all other aspects of identity, the origins of names or facial features are lost in an impenetrable haze of intermingling groups of people. There's the kaleidoscope not only of genetic mixture but artificial augmentation based on both practical and aesthetic influences borne of who knows what traditions, propaganda, or fads.
Like the contemporaneous Neon Genesis Evangelion
, Ghost in the Shell
is ultimately about the loneliness of inevitable psychological isolation and the panic of merging identities. Ghost in the Shell
, though, only touches on the topic in explicit dialogue, primarily making its argument in visuals of beautiful, mutilated android bodies and similarly mutilated cityscapes.