In the 2040s Japan, after the Third and Fourth World War, human society is very different from before, high-tech has given birth to a new lifestyle, as machines have not only taken over human flesh, making prosthetic bodies replacing limbs the norm, but also human consciousness, turning brains from organic parts into electronic brains, which are connected to the boundless Internet. As a result, a new type of digital crime has emerged, in which hackers have direct access to the human brain and can steal or even alter people’s memories, thus changing their personalities for their use. The government set up Public Security Section 9 (Kouan Kyuu Ka) to stabilize internal affairs to solve this problem. Still, it gradually became a tool for Section 6, responsible for external affairs, to steal information or kill people. Ghost in the Shell is set in such a context, where the heroine Motoko Kusanagi has been fully prostheticized since her early age, and is a competent fighter, serving as the captain of Section 9, known as “The Major”. In hunting down the hacker Puppet Master, she discovers that the mechanical puppet has developed self-awareness and is no longer just a program, but has a need for life, in contrast to her mechanized self, which is the two extremes of this post-human era. This gives her a sense of emptiness in answering the question, “Who am I?

Returning to the title Ghost in the Shell, it is taken from British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s description of René Descartes’ mind-body dualism, “ghost in the machine”, with shell replacing machine, meaning the exterior of a program in the digital age. Since prosthesis becomes the norm, the “I” cannot be defined by the physical body, so it is more about the inner “ghost”. Ghost is not only thoughts and emotions, as they can be created by technological means. Kusanagi believes that ghost is a kind of self-consciousness generated by mirroring others, just like Lacan’s mirror theory. In a shot of her diving, the “mirror” is metaphorically represented by the water surface, above which is the outside world and below which is herself. She likes to immerse herself in the deep sea, seeking self-awareness, as she says, “The self you expect to keep is always restraining you”. “I” want to stay me, “I” have memories, and “I” am constantly thinking about what I need and what I expect, and that is why “I” am still me. It can be said that sci-fi has the value of an ontological philosophical exploration of the dilemmas faced by human beings when they are magnified to their limits.

Ghost in the Shell, created in 1995 from Masamune Shirow’s original 1989 manga, has long been labelled as cyberpunk. Cyberpunk was originally a class of technologically advanced characters without a strong social morality, acting with extreme individualism. This genre became popular during the New Wave science fiction in the 1960s and 1970s, as the interpretation of human experience in a media-dominated information-saturated, post-industrial age. It is characterized by the serious stratification of social classes, the use of pervasive technology by governments and consortia to manipulate human rights, the loss of life values, and the poor living conditions of common people.

In the early years of modern society, with industrialization and urbanization, people expected technology to bring them a better tomorrow and thus imagined a utopia future, such as the communist island in News from Nowhere. However, as Andrew Ross said, “Sci-Fi ‘s sense of responsibility to imagine better futures was slowly eroded in the Cold War period by the dominant dystopian and fatalistic visions of nuclear annihilation”. The imagination of utopia was gradually replaced by anxiety about dystopia future, and people stopped demanding bucolic idylls and moved beyond Campbell’s law, to think about how to live in the threat of technology with the help of sci-fi works: human beings have their limits, and modern civilization is not perfect, neither technologically, politically nor ecologically, it may be “a world completely rotten with wealth, power, sensibility, indifference, puritanism and mental hygiene, poverty, waste, technological futility and aimless violence”(Baudrillard). Then how human beings adapt to such a world constitutes the theme and appeal of cyberpunk. This is why cyberpunk is often associated with the aesthetics of disaster, and with the visual elements represented by Blade Runner.

I want to highlight the relationship between urban architecture and cyberpunk. In Ghost in the Shell, Motoko Kusanagi’s chase of the puppet takes place in a dense residential area, whose prototype is Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City. It was a slum of 30,000 people in the 1960s and 1970s and was demolished in 1992. There were more than 350 buildings attached to each other as one, which was both residential and industrial places. Although it has no laws and has been abandoned by the Chinese, British and Hong Kong governments, it has formed a self-sufficient community, featured by self-regulating and self-organizing. Despite its harsh environment, lack of infrastructure and light, constant humidity and safety hazards, many architects and sociologists are interested in Kowloon Walled City. As many people are trying to figure out how to build a well-functioning modern city, it has done so without design, simply by relying on the needs of its inhabitants. Therefore, it embodies the sci-fi imagination of how humans should live in disorder and even the possibility of how to build urban ecology in urban ruins, with a powerful cyberpunk aesthetic quality.