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Book Review: Ghost In The Shell by Andrew Osmond

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Written by anime expert Andrew Osmond – who has previously written a BFI Modern Classic on Spirited AwayGhost in the Shell concentrates nearly wholly on the 1995 film that is now seen as a highly influential classic, but was largely overlooked when it was originally released.

Mamoru Oshii’s (Patlabor: The Movie) cyberpunk sci-fi anime tells the story of Major Kusanagi: a cyborg secret agent on the trail of a mysterious hacker called The Puppet Master, while having an existential crisis in a Blade Runner-esque megatropolis. While questioning the nature of being, the Major also gets in thrilling fights and shootouts that redefined science fiction and action cinema – gaining accolade from James Cameron (The Terminator), and hugely influencing The Wachowski’s (The Matrix).

Osmond’s book starts off like a BFI Modern Classic – going into huge detail on an almost shot by shot basis analysing the film. The problem with this approach in the BFI books was that after awhile it just felt like you were reading a microscopically focussed transcription of a commentary – so it is great that Osmond moves away from this as soon as the Major has dived off the building.

The film’s initial reception is detailed, and, as a teenager who had his mind blown by the VHS, it is odd and illuminating to see how little fanfare it first got from everyone else. The description of this release on the Manga video label brings back a lot of memories – as does the breakdown of their kickass trailer.

Osmond’s analysis of the film’s narrative makes a lot of eye-widening and nod-worthy observations that will make you want to reappraise the film as soon as possible, and he also spends a lot of time crediting the animators that worked on individual scenes, as well as rightly talking a lot about director Oshii’s work and influences.

It is validating to read someone else noticing similarities and themes that you did too, but weren’t articulate enough to fully form when fifteen, and Osmond pays fascinating paragraph’s worth of thought on following lines through Oshii’s Patlabor films to Ghost in the Shell, and even being as captivated by his love for basset hounds and their cameos in his work.

The book frequently explores elements of the film that I have never read so much information about before, and that any fans of the film will find wonderful and welcome. The writer, the composer, the voice artists, the art direction, mechanical designs and technology used to create the feature are all given ample time and space, as are its connections to and influences on other films.

Cyberspace, cyberpunk, sequels and the American remake are also liberally discussed and dissected, and even though a slim 120 pages in length, Osmond and Arrow’s book feels complete and consummate. An entertaining and interesting read, that does what the best film books do: makes you want to watch the film again, Ghost in the Shell is out now – published by Arrow Books, with a The Blair Witch Project tome coming soon.

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