OPINION: Mamoru Oshii's Haunting Dystopias Were More Prescient Than You Remember

Mamoru Oshii, finest identified for his movie diversifications of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost within the Shell, is a legendary determine inside the anime kingdom. Like many millennial anime followers, I first watched just a few of his motion pictures as a child. I at all times loved the gorgeous animation and cyberpunk aesthetics, however the cerebral jargon and extreme dialogue went over my head. The philosophical and ruminative nature of Oshii’s sci-fi anime usually felt inaccessible for me mentally.

Fortunately, in my grownup years, I’ve lastly found — and really perceive — a few of the wealthy thematic qualities of Oshii’s motion pictures. One such high quality is his uncanny potential to examine dystopian futures that strikingly mirror precise social and political realities of our present period. In celebration of his birthday, I’ll be exploring three of his movies — Patlabor 2, Ghost within the Shell, and Jin-Roh — to uncover the methods Oshii has made predictions and philosophical inquiries which are shockingly related to at the moment. Let’s dive in!

Patlabor 2: The Film (1993)

Patlabor 2: The Movie

Patlabor 2: The Film facilities on a former JGSDF (Japan Floor-Self Protection Pressure) officer named Tsuge who wreaks havoc on Japan in an try to begin a bitter battle, in retaliation for the bureaucratic heartlessness that triggered the deaths of the troopers he as soon as commanded. The film thematically departs from the majority of the collection it stems from. Even differing from Oshii’s earlier Patlabor movie, Patlabor 2 delves into heavy questions nonetheless related now about what constitutes true peace for a nation, and whether or not a false peace is preferable to a truthful battle.

One scene particularly explicates this theme in depth. A protagonist named Gotoh ruminates on the phrases spoken to him by a personality named Arakawa. Arakawa mentions the numerous international wars that exist and says "financial prosperity is predicated on demand created by these numerous wars. Its palms are fabricated from blood. That’s the stuff our peace is fabricated from. An unabashed lust for peace primarily based on an unmitigated terror of battle. An unjust peace the place we avert our eyes from the overseas wars wherein others pay the worth for that peace."

Patlabor 2: The Movie


Though Arakawa seems to be an antagonist within the movie, his speech nonetheless describes a really prescient fact: the sturdy capitalist economies of many first-world nations not less than partially come from companies that create merchandise for warfare. Typically, these wars happen in creating nations that endure significantly from the warfare, whereas different international locations reap the income and benefit from the consolation of relative security. The presence of this kind of false peace — a peace primarily based on the struggling of others — is strictly what results in Tsuge’s vengeful actions, a plot meant to focus on the hypocrisy and violence that undergirds many modern-day comforts. 

Profiting off of warfare is definitely not a latest world improvement, however it additionally isn’t getting any higher. Oshii is a grasp of subtlety and, true to his fashion, permits audiences to come back to their very own conclusions concerning the strikingly pertinent political and social themes explored in Patlabor 2.

Ghost within the Shell (1995)

Ghost in the Shell


Whereas Patlabor 2 handled the fact that many countries keep peace primarily based on warfare elsewhere within the globe, Oshii’s acclaimed Ghost within the Shell adaptation makes hauntingly correct predictions about our particular person dependence on technological developments. These predictions correlate surprisingly properly with {our relationships} with smartphones, social media, and our personal identities.

In a single scene, the central protagonist Motoko Kusanagi tells her companion Batou that they’d each be free to resign from Part 9 — their employer — in the event that they wished. Nevertheless, they’d need to return their cybernetic our bodies, together with their reminiscences. Motoko then elaborates on how people are composed of many various parts and traits that make up their entire "self." Trendy technological developments haven’t reached the heights seen in Ghost within the Shell, and there aren’t a myriad of cybernetically-enhanced folks (so far as I do know) with cyborg our bodies on mortgage from an organization. Nonetheless, this scene makes a really prophetic assertion about how our dependence on expertise grows with every new development.

Ghost in the Shell


This sequence highlights how in a profit-centric world, companies and organizations — or Part 9, within the case of the movie — are sometimes the entities who in the end personal these ubiquitous technological merchandise, which naturally will increase our reliance on the providers they supply to our each day lives. When it comes to a 2020 instance, any of us may select to cease utilizing our smartphones, simply as Motoko may stop Part 9. However this isn’t as straightforward because it appears when you think about the implications, one being that many individuals at the moment depend on these gadgets for work. Meals app supply employees and Uber drivers are only a couple examples of occupations that not solely closely depend on, however truly require, the usage of smartphones for employment.

Motoko’s rumination about our reliance on expertise can be mirrored in our relationship with smartphones and social media. At the least in sure international locations, social media utilization and smartphones are closely intertwined. Social media platforms are additionally the place we style our identification in view of others, the place we’re influenced by others, and the place the spectacle and sheen of our each day life will get reconfigured to inform the story of who we "are." Particularly within the age of COVID-19, digital social interplay is extra vital and ubiquitous than ever. So letting go of smartphones and social media accounts in flip would entail greater than a easy abandonment of a technological object; for anybody who doesn’t additionally personal a laptop computer or one other internet-accessible gadget, it could imply the erasure of social connection and the majority of 1’s interpersonal contact.

Ghost in the Shell


Lastly, GitS explores identification additional because it connects to reminiscence itself. Understanding that false reminiscences might be implanted in a cybernetic physique like hers, Motoko wonders if her reminiscences are true and if she's actual in any respect. This ties again to our trendy period by the use of social networking. Most individuals used to get precise bodily images developed, however one look at Fb "reminiscences" reveals that’s not often the case in 2020. In the present day we digitally add images to Instagram or Fb, and each mediums are digital archives in the end owned by bigger companies whose lasting stability is questionable. I used MySpace on a regular basis years in the past, the place I had life experiences within the type of images, posts, and conversations that I can now not entry as a result of firm’s decline and acquisition. If somebody's major manner of documenting these previous reminiscences — and in flip, their very identification — had been strictly on MySpace, what would that imply now? How actually actual are reminiscences I can by no means revisit, having relied on a web based platform that I thought would at all times exist? These are the types of questions Oshii’s masterful Ghost within the Shell urges us to contemplate about our present world.

Jin-Roh (1999)



Jin-Roh is probably Oshii’s bleakest sci-fi tour. The movie facilities round a soldier named Fuse who fails to shoot a "terrorist" delivering a bomb and takes place in an alternate Tokyo the place — as the outline reads — “a totalitarian authorities guidelines with an iron fist.” Whereas Patlabor 2 explored warfare and Ghost within the Shell analyzed technological ties with identification, Jin-Roh tackles poverty’s connection to social unrest and the elevated militarization of the police inside many countries.

The opening minutes of the movie says that after Japan misplaced the battle, large social unrest and financial hardships grew to become widespread for a lot of the nation. This in flip led to rampant unemployment and concrete migration that led to violent crime, anti-government retaliation, and enormous parts of cities turning into slums. Although Jin-Roh is ready inside an alternate universe, Oshii keenly reveals the very actual connection between poverty and violence, and the way social disenfranchisement and the shortcoming to satisfy primary wants usually leads folks to take excessive measures exterior the legislation. It is a actuality that undeniably exists at the moment.

In response to the crime and anti-totalitarian demonstrations, the federal government creates a particular unit of militarized troopers known as the Particular Unit. The added violence created by this Particular Unit solely results in the additional radicalization of a guerilla group named the Sect and creates what the movie describes as "city battle zones." Similar to now, the widespread societal dissatisfaction mirrors the wave of protests spreading the world over in opposition to police brutality and the murders of Black folks. Oshii’s futuristic imaginative and prescient proves itself correct as soon as once more, because the militarized Particular Unit very carefully resembles the rise in militarized police weaponry, gear, and presence seen in lots of international locations inside latest years.



In all of his sci-fi movies, Mamoru Oshii supplies trenchant and at occasions, creepily correct predictions about political, technological, and societal relations of the long run. Maybe it’s now greater than ever that we must be revisiting his thought-provoking works.

What's your favourite dystopian work by Mamoru Oshii? Which theme stands out most to you in his movies? Let me know within the feedback under!


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