Ghost in the Shell (1995) is an anime cyberpunk film directed by the Japanese director Mamoru Oshii. The story is set in 2029 Japan, and the protagonist of this film is a cyborg policewoman called Motoko Kusanagi. Motoko Kusanagi serves as a leader in the Public Security Section 9, and all the members in this department are cyborg humans. Their bodies are replaced with machines, and even their brain are cyber-brain, which allows them to connect to the internet. Cyborg people’s memory is stored outside their bodies, so the destruction of their flesh won’t cause the loss of their memory. However, such separation of the corporeal(Shell) and the spirit(ghost) causes Motoko to keep questioning the authenticity of her memory and her subjectivity. Such doubt is augmented to the extreme after she takes over the case of the Puppet Master, a person who could manipulate people’s memory. The whole story is centered around the struggle of the confirmation of subjectivity with the invasion of the machine into the body. However, unlike most previous science fiction, in which human nature is always placed above instrumentality, Ghost in the Shell ends with the abandonment of human identity and the acceptance of a subliminal virtual world, which shows a transition to the postmodernism trend in science fiction.

In terms of the origin of the concept, “cyborg” is an abbreviation of “cybernetic organism,” which refers to the replacement of some human organs with artificial objects, thereby modifying the living organism so that it can operate in special environments such as space and deep sea. It is a medical term that was born in the early 1960s during the Cold War era for the development of space. The term cyborg was popularized in Japan by the manga Cyborg 009 by Shotaro Ishinomori. It is a story of kidnapping ordinary people into cyborg soldiers, and the work portrays the close relationship between war and cyborgs in great detail (Hikawa, 2017). Because of Japan’s historical memory of World War II and its militarism tradition, there has been a trend in reflecting on human psychology in relation to the involvement of military operations in Japanese film and television works. Ghost in the Shell inherits both the concern on military actions and the questioning of human’s position in it. Motoko, who serves as commander in the security department, talks less about the international conflicts but reflects more on the doubt of her own authenticity. She ends up divorcing from Public Security Section 9 and integrate herself into the information world.

Apart from the political traditions in Japanese anime, Ghost in the Shell also deals with an individual’s identity crisis due to the combination of machine and corporeal body, which also reflects a postmodernism trend of thought and people’s new way of dealing personal existence with social reality. In 1985, Donna Haraway published A Cyborg Manifesto, which opened up people’s imagination on an alternative existence form of human beings, and the possibility to challenge patriarchy by destructing the binaries and categorical ways of thinking male and female(Silvio, 1999). The development of postmodernist thoughts, for example, feminism and deconstructionism, breaks long-lasting social norms and emphasizes the necessity to view the world with a different framework. There are also several changes in the 1980s that forced humans to concern more of the state of being of individuals and, thus, sought alternative ways to exist in the world. In the 1980s, the rapid development of electronic technology, such as Walkman, TV games, and personal computers, contributed to the invasion of electronic information technology in daily human lives (Hikawa, 2017). The development of information technology also changed the form of war and exacerbated people’s uneasiness and distrust of reality. The Gulf War had a profound impact not only in the establishment of a new paradigm of modern high-tech warfare but also in changing people’s perception of reality by making the war a simulation presented in the media (Baudrillard, 2001).

Reflecting those changes, the new field of “cyberpunk,” which shares the same etymology as “cyborg,” was born in science fiction. These works portray new a new world filled with digital screens and all kinds of future technology. In such a world, humans develop into new forms of human-machine fusion. The integration of individual and collective consciousness into large-scale networks makes human and machine share an unprecedentedly close relationship. Though previous science fiction problematizes the conflicts between the natural and the artificial, it invariably eulogizes humanity over instrumentality. Cyberpunk, however, shows a postmodern inclination to break down such boundaries. In Ghost in the Shell, Motoko chooses to abandon her corporeal body and integrate her consciousness into the information world and thus complete her ultimate evolution as a simple consciousness. In this sense, the traditional forms of human beings are destructed, and the newborn humankind even transcends the idea of cyborg humans. Such an ending is also an abandonment of the digitalized reality, in which it is difficult to distinguish the genuine and fake, and a diversion to embrace a completely virtual world.

Baudrillard, J. (2001). The Gulf War: Is It Really Taking Place?. The Jean Baudrillard Reader, 99-121.

Ghost in the Shell (1995 film). (2021, March 18). Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_in_the_Shell_(1995_film)

Haraway, D. (2010). “A Cyborg Manifesto”(1985). Cultural Theory: An Anthology, 454.

HIKAWA, R. (2017, August, 15). 科幻动漫的归结点解读押井守版《攻壳机动队》的普遍性. Retrieved March 27, 2021, from https://www.nippon.com/cn/views/b06805/

Hollinger, V. (2017). Cybernetic deconstructions: Cyberpunk and postmodernism. Science Fiction Criticism: An Anthology of Essential Writings, 43.

Silvio, C. (1999). Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s” Ghost in the Shell”. Science Fiction Studies, 54-72.