The book Anime Cinema in the chapter that discusses technology and the body in Ghost in the Shell gives a rather optimistic view of Major Kusanagi’s search for identity and ultimate union with the Puppet Master. The book on page 113 says that her ghost or soul merging with the ghost and entity that is the Puppet Master (who is really some sort of computer artificial intelligence program created by a specific branch of the Japanese government that somehow runs away with its own sense of self-awareness) is as if Kusanagi was able, in that moment of union with this greater entity, to achieve a sort of nirvana and “become like a single drop in a vast ocean.” This means that the vast ocean of infinity in this case is the net (technology itself) as the Puppet Master explains. On page 114 the book says that in the world of Ghost “a union of technology and spirit can ultimately succeed” and “human bonding, human aspirations, even human memories are finally repudiated.” This notion is, to me, repugnant. To me the film is cautioning against such a complete union between human spirit and technology, and it gives many examples of why in its own scenes.
Images of the sprawling city in which the story takes place abound in the film and show a society that is linked physically intrinsically with technology. From the architecture to the creation of cyborg beings with inhuman capabilities despite their human brains, one is unable to escape technology. At one point I believe it is Kusanagi who says that if there is a technological advance to be made, humans can and will make it. Rather than empowering people though as the film suggests at times by showing the prowess and power of Kusanagi’s cyborg body, technology is actually affecting people in a negative fashion. Humans are cast off as doubt-worthy (there is a moment when a mistake has been made, I think it was a breach in security, and Batou says that the man who made the mistake is “only human”) when compared to technology despite the fact that it is man who invented the machine.
The montage of scenes of the city that lead to the stark image of black female nude mannequins in a shopping mall is a great example of technology and its effects on people. Consumer culture and technology dwarf the people walking through the city. They are miniscule in comparison to the architecture around them, symbolically showing how technology is consuming their very existences. The people are participating in activities driven by technology and media (shopping). There is a feeling of business, but not of purpose. Everyone seems as disconnected from each other as the mannequins are. The very language that the characters use to describe humans becomes tied to technology (for example: when Batou is talking about memories and using the word “data” to describe them, or when DNA is being described as simply another form of a program by the Puppet Master). In the film technology is in fact tied to violence (for example: the assassinations), corruption (the lying/scheming government officials) and control (when the Puppet Master uses the garbage man and alters his memories to make him believe he has a family that does not actually exist). Even though these awful things occur throughout the movie they are received woodenly, humans and cyborgs alike seeming to be completely apathetic to the pain and loss that technology ultimately caused (especially in the case of the garbage man’s forlorn state after realizing his life was a horrific lie, and he was simply caught in the crossfire).
Kusanagi’s core issue, her search for identity, is caused by technology itself. Despite her human brain she has no memories and therefore no past and so questions her existence as a person because of her disconnect between her very real and human soul and her inhuman body. Her search for her own sense of self, her own soul, is even problematized by technology. Technology stops her from achieving that goal because rather than helping her find it out, the Puppet Master simply suggests that she merge with him to become something else entirely. Kusanagi doesn’t find herself, she simply becomes even further enmeshed in technology at the end of the film, the very thing that stops people from becoming compassionate beings aware of themselves and the people around them. The Puppet Master says that science cannot determine what life is nor its definition. This is because it is instinctual and intangible, constantly changing and definitely not predetermined like the nature of some sort of computer program. The key to enlightenment is not something that is external like technology. Rather it is within everyone, our ghost/souls, and it is in the realization of the connections between each other that leads to transcendence.
The movie is beautifully animated, and as you can see very thought-provoking. My rating: 8/10