Before you discredit this article because of the title, give us a chance to explain ourselves. First off, we are huge fans of the original anime and are not trying to slight Mamoru Oshii’s masterpiece. What we are trying to do is show how the live-action “Ghost In The Shell” movie did an amazing job of using the source material to create something more (quite similarly to the way the anime improved upon the manga).
While many are complaining about everything from white-washing to lacking soul, we will prove this is a complex film that further explores the themes of the classic anime. This movie actually takes concepts and visual inspiration from the “Ghost In the Shell” anime, manga and TV series, and weaves them all together without it feeling like patchwork.
WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the “Ghost In The Shell” anime, manga and live-action movie.
There is no denying that the music that plays during the opening credits of the original anime is unique and haunting. Composer Kenji Kawai (pictured above) married traditional Japanese lyrics with a Bulgarian melody and the results are otherworldly. So, it was a nice touch to not only briefly include the song in the movie but to also have it remixed by celebrated DJ/remixer Steve Aoki for the soundtrack. The Aoki flip of “Utai IV: Reawakening” (originally known as “Making of A Cyborg”) bolsters the original tune with Kodo-esque drums and a light layer of strings…before breaking into some dubstep madness.
There also seems to be a subtle nod to the year which the “Ghost In the Shell” anime was released, 1995, with the inclusion of two acts on the soundtrack. There are brand new tracks from DJ Shadow (“Scars”) and Tricky (“Escape”), both of whom dropped their seminal debuts within a year of Oshii’s masterwork.
14. NATURAL PROGRESSION
This popular franchise started as a manga written by Masamune Shirow. It was first serialized in 1989 under the title “Mobile Armored Riot Police.” When the series was collected and released, it was under the author’s intended title, “Ghost In the Shell.” The manga was popular enough to spawn two more collections and, of course, the animated movies and shows.
Here’s the thing, though: when director Mamoru Oshii did the anime in 1995, he was able to pick and choose what he wanted to use from the manga, as well as adding plenty of his own flavor. For example, in the manga, the story takes place in the fictional Japanese metropolis of New Port City in Niihama prefecture, while in the anime, the story is set in a future Hong Kong. In 2008, Oshii pulled a George Lucas and released “Ghost In the Shell 2.0,” in which quite a few scenes were replaced with 3D CG animation. It is the natural next step to do a live action version. We think it is a commendable achievement just to have successfully adapted some of the insane visuals from the anime.
13. BATOU’S EYES
In the the original anime, we know several members of the Section 9 team have cybernetic upgrades because, near the beginning of the film, Major tells Togusa that she recruited him because he is mostly-human, unlike the rest of the squad. Plus, we can see Batou has obviously had his natural eyes swapped out. Then, at the conclusion of the movie, we see even one of Batou’s arms is robotic. However, we never get the backstory as to how he got these prosthetic parts or why.
It is revealed in the animated series “Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” (2004-2005) that it was when Batou served with the JDSF (Japanese Self-Defense Force) that he received his trademark cylindrical cybernetic eyes. These enhancements were apparently standard issue for JDSF Rangers. In the live-action film, Major shields Batou from a deadly explosion set by Kuze. However, he still sustains permanent damage to his eyes. His peepers are then replaced with the familiar goggles that Batou needs in order to be Batou.
12. GIVES A FULLER SENSE OF THE WORLD
This movie pulls from almost every “Ghost In the Shell” source possible. It adapts aspects of both anime films by Mamoru Oshii, the various TV series and even the original manga. Since all three mediums were their own standalone versions of “GITS” with different timelines, it is impressive how this film smoothly integrates some of the best ideas from each one. In doing so, we get a broader sense of this “Ghost In the Shell” world than was presented in just the 1995 anime.
In fact, where the anime spent quite a bit of time on zen shots of the city (that were based on actual locations in Hong Kong), the live-action film builds its own world where immense holo ads are the norm and there are hustlers hawking cybernetic enhancements on street corners. The exotic market and neon-lit city scenes make it feel very “Blade Runner,” while the stadium converted into a tiered cemetery gives a sense of overpopulation issues.
11. TONED DOWN GORE
This movie came in at a PG-13 rating which makes it accessible to a wide age range and also means that the content is likely mild enough to get past Chinese censors. The anime was initially released in North America as “Not Rated” but had the warning: “Contains violence, explicit language and nudity. Parental discretion advised.” The suggested MPAA rating is “R.”
We bring all this up to point out the rating is mostly due to two very graphic, gorey scenes. This was par for the course for anime of the late ’80s and early ’90s (i.e.: “Akira,” “Fist of the North Star”) but such carnage may actually make some viewers queasy if done in live action. Within the first five minutes of the anime, the Major literally explodes a foreign diplomat’s dome with a couple of well placed head shots. In this new version, she still executes a covert strike in her thermoptic camouflage, only without getting brain and skull fragments on anyone.
10. CONVEYS THE PHILOSOPHY BETTER
The author of the “Ghost In the Shell” manga, Masamune Shirow, has stated it was inspired by and named to tribute philosopher Arthur Koestler’s 1967 book “Ghost In the Machine.” This work explores the mind-body relationship. However, the phrase “ghost in the machine” was actually coined by another philosopher named Gilbert Ryle, with whom Koestler shared the key belief that the mind is not independent of the body.
Shirow’s three collected editions of “GITS” are a study of what happens when the mind is literally removed from the body and put in a shell. Can the brain evolve without its body? Would we become just a ghost in a shell? The anime asks the same questions, but the philosophical exposition is heavy-handed at times. The live-action film makes it clear that Major feels alien in her synthetic body. “Shell” and “shelling” are used often throughout the movie, as to establish them as the terms for synthetic bodies and the cerebral transfer process. In the anime, the word “ghost” is used quite a few times, but “shell” is only uttered once.
9. WHAT WHITE-WASHING?
Director of the “Ghost In the Shell” anime, Mamoru Oshii, had something to say about Scarlet Johansson’s casting: “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body were a Japanese one, that would still apply.” He goes on to say: “I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie. I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it.”
We also support her casting and feel that the Major needed to be a nationality other than Japanese to facilitate the plot twist. If you were going to put someone’s brain in an android body and give them a new history to subdue their past, would you make that body in any way similar? Motoko Kusanagi was a Japanese teenage activist, while Mira Killian is a Caucasian adult super cop. If they gave her a Japanese shell and named her Miyoko Kobayashi, for example, not even the drugs would likely keep her from remembering her past.
8. MAJOR’S TIES TO KUZE
Kuze in this film is a mix of two main villains from the “Ghost In the Shell” franchise: The Puppet Master/Puppeteer and Hideo Kuze. How the character ghost hacks others’ cyberbrains, takes control of a cyborg shell and offers to merge with the Major are elements of the Puppet Master’s story. However, his names (Kuze and Hideo) and his history with the Motoko are lifted from a character named Hideo Kuze, who was a member of the nationalist terrorist group known as the Individual Eleven in “Ghost In the Shell: SAC 2nd GIG.”
However, the real villains here are really Dr. Cutter and Hanka Robotics. It is revealed that they kidnapped the young anti-tech activists, which included lovers Motoko and Hideo, to test their cerebral transfer process on. There were apparently 98 failed shelling attempts before they found success with the Motoko. Hideo was the attempt right before her and while they left him to die, his ghost survived and escaped.
7. MAJOR’S TIES TO REFUGEES
In “Ghost In the Shell: SAC 2nd GIG” refugees and immigration are the main focus. In fact, Section 9 are charged with stopping a civil war from breaking out between nationalists and refugees. The refugee issue is hardly touched on in the 1995 film. However, considering that the anime takes place in Hong Kong and the majority of characters have Japanese names (eg: Motoko, Ishikawa) or European names (eg: Batou, Dr. Willis), we can infer the city is an immigrant hub in this future.
The live-action film also barely broaches the refugee situation, but the way the filmmakers tie it to Major’s fabricated past was a stroke of genius. Dr. Ouelet (pictured above) implants a backstory wherein Major’s family drowned fleeing their homeland and she was the only survivor. What better way to make her feel indebted to the state? Plus, this lets the viewer know that the place where the film is set is a desirable destination for refugees.
6. MAJOR’S TIES TO ANTI-TECH GROUP
In the “Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” series, The Human Liberation Front starts as a simple activist group opposed to cyberization. They believe machines will take over the world because we will eventually become completely machine. They also think that a sickness dubbed Cyberbrain Sclerosis (pictured above) was God punishing humanity for breaking the laws of nature. The H.L.F. became a blip on Section 9’s radar when they started committing acts of terror against cybernetic companies like Tokura Electronics and Megatech (the makers of Major’s shell).
Therefore, it was another cool nod to the larger “GITS” world to have Motoko and Hideo be idealistic teenagers who had run away to become part of an anti-tech group. Even the area these kids inhabit, called the Lawless Zone, is similar to the abandoned city of Aeropolis II, where the H.L.F. attempted to weaponize a nuclear reactor. Fun fact: The tree in the Lawless Zone is the same one seen in the 1995 anime, which was a tribute to director Mamoru Oshii’s underrated film “Angel’s Egg” (1985).
5. BETTER TWIST
The plot twist in the manga and anime is that the hacker known as The Puppet Master is not a human but instead an A.I. The story goes that Section 6 launched a computer program, codenamed 2051, to manipulate data systems. However, this program became sentient and escaped. When the Major is posed with the option of letting this A.I. die or combining with it to become something new, she chooses the latter.
Now, in the live-action film, the twist is that the Kuze is actually the Major’s lover from her former life. His real name is Hideo and her’s is Motoko and both were teen runaways. They were abducted, along with the rest of their group of activists, by the nefarious Hanka Robotics. The company’s experiments leave Hideo disembodied and Motoko’s brain transferred into a “shell.” This reveal is much more satisfying because the Major has such a deep connection to the antagonist.
4. FAITHFUL, BUT NOT BEHOLDEN
What this movie does best is use characters, story elements and visuals from all over the “Ghost In the Shell” franchise. The filmmakers included so many little details from the manga, anime films and TV shows, that documenting them all would take a whole separate article. However, we will point out a couple cool moments adapted from the source material.
We get to see a live action version of Dr. Willis’ multi-segmented robotic fingers in this movie…they just don’t belong to Dr. Willis, nor is he in this film. Director Rupert Sanders also gives us the great visual of a shower of glass revealing an invisible adversary but instead of the spider tank from the end of the anime, it is the Major as she comes through the window during the Hanka dinner meeting. Speaking of Hanka, it is a cybernetics company in the manga and the “Ghost In the Shell: SAC 2nd GIG” series, but they are not the manufacturer that transforms the Major and The Puppet Master’s bodies. Lastly, Togusa’s old school Mateba revolver from the anime pops up in the new movie, but it is the prized possession of the Chief in this iteration.
3. THEY IMPROVED ON THE ALREADY AMAZING
In some instances this live action film adapts the 1995 anime frame-by-frame, like the “shelling” scene for example. Other distinct visuals from the anime are used as a base design which they riff off. The cybernetic doctors that wear the red jump-suits and visors in the anime appear here to look similar, but instead of simple visors, they have goggles that project images across their eyes.
Another good example is the geisha androids that attack the Hanka reps and African diplomats. They are from the “Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” episode “Public Security Section 9,” but the awesome “pop-open” face was a live-action addition inspired by a scene from “Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence.” In fact, the face is a practical effect created by Weta. We also love the huge holo ads in the new movie that tribute the neon signs and posters that populate the anime. It would be a damn shame if Weta’s outstanding work on this film went unheralded because of the shroud of the white-washing controversy.
We have already covered her casting but just to hammer home the point, here is what Mamoru Oshii had to say after seeing her performance: “Scarlet Johansson playing Motoko, from beginning to end, has gone above and beyond my expectations for the role.” While many have argued for names like Rinko Kukuichi and Rila Fukushima (who does have a role in the film), neither has had nearly as much experience is this type of part as Johansson. From five films as Black Widow to her recent role in “Lucy,” it’s like she has been training to play the Major.
Now, being an action star is only part of what is required to pull off this role. Another aspect of portraying this character is conveying her suspicious nature. Scarlet does this while keeping the performance cold and calm like the Major in the 1995 anime. In the original manga, the Major is younger than in the anime, and also quite a bit more emotive. Therefore, this live action version is definitely based on Mamoru Oshii’s take.
1. BEAT TAKESHI
Takashi Kitano, better known as Beat Takeshi, is Japan’s preeminent movie personality. The man is basically their Marlon Brando and Martin Scorsese rolled into one. He is a critically-acclaimed director and actor that is still going strong at 70 years old. His most praised directorial works include “The Blind Swordsman: Zaotoichi,” “Fireworks” and his debut “Violent Cop.” And he banked a lot of geek cred for playing the sadistic Kitano-sensei in the adaptation of the dystopian novel “Battle Royale,” who many feel was where “The Hunger Games” drew its inspiration from.
If people are hating this movie because a caucasian actress was cast in the lead, hopefully they at least acknowledge that Takeshi Kitano is the prefect pick to play Aramaki. Other than the lack of goatee, he looks like he was pulled right out of the 1995 anime. Beat is known for his quiet and sullen demeanor, so he doesn’t even really have to act much in order to completely nail this part. He comes off so cool that he manages to outshine the Major and Batou with very little screen time. When Hanka send soldiers to kill him, he dispatches them all with ease and then says aloud, “You don’t send a rabbit to kill a fox.” That line alone may have sealed the deal for us!
Did you prefer the original anime or the live-action remake? Be sure to tell us in the comments!