Ghost in the Shell is a cyberpunk story set in the year 2020. Many other cyberpunk stories have been produced, some of which are adapted to be serious movies like Ghost in the Shell and others that are adapted to be more silly. There are other cyberpunk movie sequels that are related to Ghost in the Shell and also to another cyberpunk movie that also takes place in Japan, so it is important to know what kind of cyberpunk movie you want before reading the story or watching the movie.
In Ghost in the Shell, a cybernetically enhanced human named Motoko Kusanagi (played by Scarlett Johansson) finds herself in a highly militarized future where the world is divided into two opposing groups: the nations of the United States of America and the Japanese underground hacker group, the "Ghosts of War." Motoko is quickly overpowered by these powerful, militaristic terrorist groups and ends up in a cyber-prison called the Section 9. When she escapes from the prison, she makes an ultimate sacrifice, and she is reborn as a cyborg, a humanoid system which contains all of her memories and experiences.
After she escapes from the prison, she has no way of knowing whether or not she has joined the terrorist group that is targeting the United States, and even if she is a part of their plans. She learns that her enemies are trying to take down the very nation that made her a prisoner, and she is desperate to see them stopped. But her attempts to stop them only make things worse for her, and she realizes that her past mistakes had been caused by the spirit within her. And the ghosts of war begin to attack her.
Johansson's performance is impressive as Motoko. She shows strength and emotion throughout the entire film, and she manages to not give off the feeling that she is acting; instead, she sells the character of Motoko as she was before the spirits were born.
The cyber-terrorist organization called the Five Eyes (named after the group from the movie) that is attempting to destroy the United States is actually working with an artificial intelligence called Togusa which is able to simulate any emotion, making him the cyber-terrorist's cyborg hero. The cyborg villain known as Mako Mori gives a great performance as well, as she plays the role of a ruthless villain.
The White-Collar Terrorists is the shadowy government agents that work to silence and kill any kind of dissent within the populace. Their leader is the mysterious Dr. Natsume Akashi, and he is played by cult director Mamoru Oshii. Oshii's style can sometimes look too cool and technical, but the actor's physicality is apparent through the entirety of the film.
The Screenplay for Ghost in the Shell was written by Masamune Shirow, who is considered to be one of the most prolific writers in the anime industry. His background consists of writing scripts for several Japanese cartoon shows, such as Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Shirow, as well as the director, fully understand the potential of Ghost in the Shell and adapt it to an English-speaking audience in a unique way that makes the story enjoyable to both hardcore fans and non-fans alike.
The Movie version of Ghost in the Shell takes on a more serious tone than the manga or anime version. However, the real success of the movie lies in its unique plot twists that all fans of cyberpunk will enjoy.