It's this need to make a statement through a forced symbolic metaphor that really drives home the feeling that Oshii is a really pretentious director... but for some reason, this doesn't bother me as much as I think it should.
— Ghost in the Shell review by Bennett the Sage
The driving plot of this sci-fi anime is about government agents trying to track down a criminal who conducts political assassinations by hacking into people's cyborg-enhanced brains. But not far below the surface, it's really about examining what makes us human: do our unique identities and personalities (our "ghosts") come from the physical lump of flesh they happen to be housed in (our "shells")? Are they instead a deterministic result of our accumulated experiences? Or is there some third option? The film is very obviously inspired by Blade Runner; like Blade Runner, it suffers from some pacing issues, but they're much milder here, and this film delves deeper into the questions raised than Blade Runner ever does. In turn, this film was the direct inspiration for The Matrix, both in philosophical outlook and in a number of action scenes; basically, if you liked The Matrix but thought it needed longer philosophical monologues with more cyborgs and less virtual reality, this may be your dream film come true. Score: 4 stars out of 4.
PS: generally avoid Ghost in the Shell 2.0 if you can (it's a poorly done special effects do-over for a film that didn't need one), and definitely avoid the terrible English dub AT ALL COSTS (most of the English voice actors are fine, but the Major's voice actress does an astoundingly bad job: it's the sort of thing you might describe to your grandchildren in a dark room with a flashlight pointed at your face).