Ghost In The Shell: Identity in Space

Ghost In The Shell: Identity in Space

There’s a 3 minute and 20-ish second long scene in the middle of the animated sci-fi action thriller Ghost In The Shell that doesn’t really qualify as sci-fi action or thriller. It’s a sequence of 34 gorgeous, exquisitely detailed atmospheric shots of a future city in Japan. that’s modeled after Hong Kong. And I’m tempted to make an-hour-long video, dissecting each shot individually, but I really want to look at what this interlude accomplishes as a whole by itself, and in the context of the film and its themes. The first thing to note is that this montage is full of what Scott McCloud has called aspect-to-aspect transitions. McCloud is the author of an absolutely essential graphic novel on
the art and craft of comics, and in it he describes the kind of panel to panel transitions that have become popular in different parts of the world. In American comics, for example, the majority of transitions are action-to-action. Fitting for a goal-oriented culture, interested in telling stories about goal
oriented characters. Japanese comics, on the other hand, have long featured a kind of transition that is really very rarely seen in the west, the aspect-to-aspect transition, in which time is virtually abandoned for the exploration of space. These kinds of transitions evoke a mood. They activate the senses and imagination, and they have a rich tradition in Japan’s use of maze-like and often cyclical works of art. The emphasis is on being there, instead of getting there. And it’s that emphasis at play in this interlude from Ghost In The Shell. Though this is animation, and not comics, the aspect-to-aspect categorization is, I think, pretty accurate. I mean people and things move in these frames but it’s impossible to tell if the shots are meant to be read as temporally sequential and I think it’s pretty obvious that question is really just irrelevant. What director Mamoru Oshii accomplishes here is to expand and draw attention to the audience’s perception of space in the film. and what kind of spaces it? It’s the space of a chaotic multicultural future
city dominated by the intersections of old and new structures, connected by roads, canals and technology. Humans move about like electricity along these avenues plugged into the body of the metropolis. The relationship between body and mind, shell and ghost, is of course a central theme of the film, which tells the story of a female cyborg police officer, who, with her team, hunts down a notoriously hacker, only discovered that he’s an incorporeal AI who wants to merge with her and create a new higher life form. Since most bodies in this future world or at least partly artificial. People locate their identities in their ghosts or their minds, but with the troubling knowledge that these also can be hacked memory, identity and humanity are all called into question. “All your memories about your wife and daughter are false. They’re like a dream. Someone’s taken advantage of you” So how can a meditation on space illuminate the problem and theme of identity in Ghost In The Shell? Well, maybe the first thing we should say is that spaces, like identities, are constructed. Though space often feels neutral or given, like we could move anywhere within it, our movements, our activities, our life, is always limited by the way space is produced. In most places, but especially in big cities that production is controlled, not by the people, but by gigantic moneyed interests, state governments or both. And the same is true for identity. Spaces and identities are constructed and not always by ourselves. In this respect, Hong Kong was the perfect city to model for this film. It’s a city layered with histories and cultural memory. Believe it or not, when Ghost In The Shell came out in 1995, it was still a colony, or territory, of the United Kingdom. It had two years left on a 99 year lease signed in 1898, which was interrupted during the second World War by a four-year occupation by Japan. Now it was about to be handed back to communist China, with which it had little relation in both politics and economy. So who are the Hong Kong people supposed to be then? Indeed, how to define identity was and is a vital question in the post-colonial world as the old empires faded but left their centuries of subjugation and influence in the very streets and minds of multicultural cities like Hong Kong and its inhabitants. You don’t want to maintain the often racist identities imposed on you by the colonizers, but you really can’t go back to what you were before either. “You’re talking about redefining my identity. I want to guarantee that I can still be myself” “There isn’t one. Why would you wish to? All things change in a dynamic environment” “Your effort to remain what you are, is what limits you” Look closely at the city, and you can see these dilemmas played out in space. Cyberpunk has always featured these uneasy composites of multiple cultures. These are not utopias, but they don’t have to be imagined as dystopias either. The philosopher Michel Foucault called spaces like this heterotopias, places that exists in a dynamic state of layered and changing meanings. Heterotopias don’t succumb to those forces that try to make everything the same. They are marginal spaces for the voiceless to construct identities for themselves. Cyberpunk’s great radical hope was that the blending of man and machine would have the same effect on personal identity that multicultural cities like Hong Kong would have on collective identity. It would break down the constructs of gender, and race, and class, that had defined us for so long without our say. You can see that hope in the main character of Ghost In The Shell. The three-minute aspect-to-aspect interlude in the middle of this film by its strong break from the rhythm of the plot forces us to consider the parallels between city and body, network and ghost. To drive this home, the rest of the film is framed with characters set against the city they live in. Yes, spaces are made by humanity, but humanity is made by its spaces, too. It’s a feedback loop, a cycle made virtuous or vicious based on the choices we make together. Ghost In The Shell wants to show us that the dynamics of ourselves and our spaces are one in the same. Hey everybody, thanks for watching and welcome to everybody who came in from last week’s Children of Men video, the response was absolutely nuts, so thanks for spreading it around. I wanted to say thank you because this is actually the 10th video that I have made since I started to produce the nerdwriter full-time and it’s been an incredible 10 weeks and it’s all because of you guys supporting me on Patreon. It wouldn’t be possible without you guys. I know, some of you do it to get, you know, the rewards, mugs and stickers but most of you do it because you believe in this kind of relationship between creator and audience. And I really do too. There’s nothing between us. There’s nothing between me and you. And I think that’s really a model for the future. So, thank you for supporting me on Patreon. I am about $850 a video. Now, I wanna try to get it to $1,000. That’s the big video just to make this financially feasible. There’s more rewards coming. Next week there’s probably going to be a Google hangout with me. So if you are a Patreon patron, check on the messages for that and I’ll let you know when it is. Thank you again. I will see you guys next Wednesday.

100 thoughts on “Ghost In The Shell: Identity in Space

  1. 6:55 is an absolutely stunning moment. You make video essays incredibly engaging with your great repurposing of music and visuals.

  2. Multicultural society will fall. Just because each person don't want to be dissolved in bouillon of different ideas, black people fight with white ones in USA. Muslims killing and blowing up a Europe. Governments is staying quiet just to save economic grown. So damn lame.

  3. Coming to the comments to see a bunch of angry weebs taking this thought provoking video and doing nothing but complain about the dub being used.
    Edit: Glad to report I only found a few. What a shocker x)

  4. First of all i just want to say that i love you man .narrators like you is one of the great reasons that made me wanna learn English at the first place. Second i like the way you analyse things .i usually don't comment on YouTube videos but man i love your videos please never stop making good quality content like this .i hope you read this .

  5. GitS doesn't reflect a hope that the merging of man and machine will break down the constructs of gender, race and class. Moreso it reflects the reality that internet DOES break down the constructs of gender, race and class.
    As long as we're talking about the anonymous internet.
    And as long as we remember that these things have another aspect besides the social construct one: the aspect rooted in our biology. So even with the social construct aspect being broken down, the other aspect will still mean skewed statistical data. Like more men in STEM fields, or like more Africans in long distance running.

  6. I love the some of the references in this video.
    Understanding comics,
    "your effort to remain what you are is what limits you"

  7. Dunno if there are any Sinophiles here, but Chinese verb grammar focuses almost entirely on aspect – which is how an action changes in time. It's hard to explain. When you translate into English, it's absolutely maddening trying to pin down exactly the difference between 我抽了菸,我抽菸了,我抽了菸了 – "了" being the aspect marker. I wonder if this isn't a similar cosmovision, where the focus is not on a doer of an action over a span of time, but a change in geography, but transferred as a metaphor… Hard to say. Good food for thought. Thanks.

  8. I first watched Ghost in the Shell when I was 16 in Singapore and I was very much drawn to this film. It's probably no surprise why I love HK as well as it is an city as well ! You are correct that it is layered with so much history

  9. Hmm! good one, would like to see a follow up with "Patlabor 2" The movie he made before "Ghost in the shell", keep up the good work!:)


  11. Although I found your analysis of the underlying philosophical issues in GITS very elegant, I also found it very western-philosophy. I taught on GITS some years ago in a University course about Buddhist filmmaking (in a US school), and used it as an example, along with Akira and Ghost Dog, of the fundamental underlying buddhist question – 'what does it mean to be human'.
    As human-machine hybrids become more and more common, when do we cease to be human? I myself have artificial eyes, and electronically enhanced hearing. It is now commonplace. But even on a low level, my enhanced hearing uses algorithms to change the nature of what I hear, and the artificial lenses in my eyes change the nature of the light. I am no longer seeing or hearing directly.
    I would like to suggest you might reconsider GITS from the fundamental buddhist view of impermanence and, well, heart. What DOES it mean to be human!

  12. I think anyone could take a pile of turd and make it into a artistic frou frou that makes it sound grand but to be honest I think you missed the main part of ghost in the shell. Channels like these make you see a different point of view but to say it's the definitive way to view a object is to dismiss your original view. Mumbo jumbo with extremely good editing and sound design.

  13. Every once in a while I rewatch this video, which is a masterpiece in short essay filmmaking. I need it to inspire myself to go deep in the stories I craft. Also because its fucking amazing and because I love Ghost in the Shell

  14. wow, the dubbing in the movie really sucks….Japanese dub with eng subs is still the most natural and the best…although it would be very difficult to read subs in a theatre i guess.

  15. That "feedback loop" you describe is what Marx called the dialectic between human and environment. Nature once shaped humanity, but humanity is also shaping nature and this way affecting themselves again, in a neverending cycle that makes distinctions between cause and consequence vain.

  16. the graphics and animation of Ghost in the Shell could not… possibly… be any more visually stunning. I am glued to the screen for every frame. Honestly I wish I just live in this city… disappearing into the vast metropolis where rain falls among massive grey concrete superstructures, flaring neon and rickshaw food vendors

  17. Motoko. is trying to figure out if she is a cyberized. human or an AI. pretending to be human in these scenes. The scenes just before she is late for work.

  18. It surprises me every time how fu**g good you write and represent you vision and ideas. Thanks for your videos!

  19. HOLY SHIT! I can't believe I finally found the name of the music at 5:25!
    It's "Fish – Silent Cruise" from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex soundtrack.
    Edit: The last piece of music in the video is "Reincarnation" from the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack.
    Just added that in there in case people where wondering.

  20. Anyone know the name of the song that starts around 1:50? I imagine it's part of the OST but I can't find it!

  21. Identities are never crafted by anyone but the individual, it's how a person responds to situations they encounter that helps create their identity. On top of that the individual is the only one in control of whether or not he or she changes which as a result can change their identity. To think that some outside force can influence a person's identity is folly. Space isn't created by people either, or at least not in the way you seem to imply.

    Space is created by the acceptance of limitations that would normally be placed upon you, for example spiderman's way of traversing New York city. Because he can web sling and climb walls, the space in which he can move is not limited to the two dimensional plane. So, the amount of space available to him for movement is double that of a normal human's

  22. I saw the theatrical release back in the nineties. It made the case for anime as an art form. Not merely a foil for merchandising as “cartoons” are here in the states.
    Unrestrained by tired conventions, truly, a breath of vitality that seeded so much of this new millennium.
    Such a worthy entry when speaking of the importance and reach of the cinematic art.

  23. your case studies actually make every movie look beautiful in its own way …thank you for making me familiar with these movies .

  24. One thing that jarred me during this entire sequence was the score. This deserves mentioning.

    The entire scene would have worked if it were completely silent; perhaps with some ambient environmental sounds. As such, the pacing and visuals are deliberately long and richly evocative.

    Yet the iconic chorus of the score floods your senses, as if we are watching something epic unfolding before us. Contrasting the 'everydayness' of what's being shown on screen.

    This is the brilliance of cyberpunk, which GITS is a masterwork of.

    The music is intentionally supposed to make us realize that there are things – ideas – which these short vignettes through a fictional depiction of the near future; that is simultaneously commonplace and unbelievably sublime. A subconscious conversation through sight and sound into a world on the brink of unimaginable, inevitable evolution.

    It challenges us to contemplate our existence, placates us with the sheer grandiosity of human achievement, and also tips us into the depths of awe that the future… the future of life itself has.

    The music of life.

  25. For me GITS is a film that moved something deep inside of me the first time I saw it. I began to deeply identify with the character of Motoko, with her feelings of beeing somehow lost and seeking for her true identity. Thank you Nerdwriter for this video. It was a real pleasure to watch for me.

  26. Love Ghost in the Shell- There is always an interesting sexuality in the Major- and one of the plots are people who fall in love with androids or human-android composites


  28. This video managed to get me interested in watching Ghost in a Shell and I am so happy I did. Thank you for the video

  29. I remember feeling like this scene sent me into a trance. Like I was in the city. Lol
    I know it sounds a bit stupid but that's how it felt.

  30. There's hardly anything I could say about your analyses that would do justice. But consider doing the play of music in Ghost in the Shell as well, maybe compare it to the Live action? I would love to hear your opinions.

  31. In case anyone looking for the music, leave a like so everyone can see and found it, , middle part , his end credit talking about patron the music playing in the background is this at 1:44 , the rest is from newer GITS sountrack

  32. This is the visual representation of what writers call "world building". This is where fans of the RPG, cyberpunk, fantasy, scifi and readers of other themes fall in love. these themes which are most of the times ficticious, show their realistic roots by painstakingly but beautifully describing the atmosphere to fully immerse the reader

  33. Just found there is an article on Zhihu(Chinese version of Quora), basically a rip-off of what you told in this video. The link is here:

  34. Pls watch 'Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya' . Some context of anime episode before watching the movie would help. You will not be disappointed, hell, you d love every frame of it but I d really like to see it through your eyes . Keep up the good work 🙂

  35. I have watched a lot of your recent videos (all fantastic) but have just started digging into your older ones. This take on GitS will forever change my way I look at this movie and any other anime that is using a similar technique. Thank you!

  36. Spacial dimension is an aesthetic element regarded in many films of great value, not just in GITS. Ghost tries to reveal to you some of the beauty of plasticity of an enormous living organism, still breathing its differences, the city. Although heavily overpopulated with cacophonies of forms and color, they do bring some personality to the heavy weight structures that dominate the landscape. BUT this dynamic comes to perception when you remark or feel the juxtaposition of the structural rigidity and imposition of the buildings and that of the main character, who in my opinion tries to regain some of her humanity. The whole GITS world clings to gives a sense of character to the almost deadpan surroundings, which creates the contrast and, in turn, the dynamic.

  37. The other great film on this subject of people and the spaces which they inhabit is Jacques Tati's fantastic 1967 film Play Time.

  38. I think you misunderstand the concept of the ghost. It’s not the brain it would be better to describe it as a soul.

  39. I may be missing the point but the city looks dead to me I see art but I also see a dead city making me think is the tech they have in there bodies controlling them keeping them docile the city is to silent

  40. There is this thing called perspective. The particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view or depth of ideas in relation to each other when viewed from a particular mind.

    Ghost in the Shell is so great that no matter who, what, when, where, and however you consume it…you will gain some sense of clarity on its subject matters.

  41. Someone should do a video called "Nerdwriter1: A Case Study of the perfect Case Study"…. Man, I don't know where you went to school but your educators did right by you. I think A lot of people can be intelligent. I think many people have views and opinions they can rationalize and some can even convey them intelligently. But I personally usually find something somewhere in their opinions or stance that I may disagree somewhat if not strongly with….But your "case studies" and videos are overwhelmingly and consistently…well…to me, seemingly perfect… Constantly, Really great work, Really well communicated, engaging, extremely well researched, very well thought out and expertly constructed. Just good smart stuff on the lay…I'm sure I'm not the only one that thinks this or really enjoys your content. But I felt compelled after a binge of a bunch of your vids to say something for myself.

  42. I am watching this video since it came out and to this day I find new aspects of your analysis. The analogy between space and identity is genius.

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