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Exploring Identity in Space in ‘Ghost in the Shell’

Ghost in the Shell is a 1995 sci-fi, cyberpunk anime film directed by Japanese filmmaker Mamoru Oshii, and it is considered by many to be one of the greatest anime films of all time. In the film the idea of identity becomes a key aspect, becoming one of the film’s main themes.

YouTube channel The Nerdwriter uploaded a video essay called “Ghost in the Shell: Identity in Space” as a part of the channels ‘Understanding Art (Case Studies)’ series. In the video, Nerdwriter draws a connection between the theme of identity and space (environment, not outer 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 modelled after Hong Kong,” Nerdwriter said.

The video then turns to Scott McCloud, a comic book writer, and illustrator who wrote Understanding Comics: The invisible Art which is about how to understand the intricacies of comics. Since Ghost in the Shell was originally created as a manga in Japan back in 1989, it seems fitting that McCloud is used as insight for this studied sequence. McCloud describes in the video that the 34-shot sequence as ‘aspect-to-aspect’, which is a style abundant throughout Japanese manga. He goes on to explain that in this kind of framing, “time is virtually abandoned for the exploration of space. […] the emphasis is on being there, rather than getting there.”

These 34 shots within the 3 minute plus sequence supportively highlight the themes that Ghost in the Shell examines, those of the characters identity and the bond with the world they live in. By having Mamoru Oshii place this sequence in that exact spot of the film with its long break from the plots rhythm, Oshii situates together the film’s concepts of “city and body, network and ghost.” Nerdwriter also enlightens us of the point, “Spaces are made by humanity, but humanity is made by its spaces, too […] to drive this home, the rest of the film is framed with characters set against the city they live in.”

Watch the full video essay below and see what your thoughts are on these observations of the film.

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