In a technologically-advanced world where people have the ability to literally upload information directly into their brains or live their lives in completely cybernetic bodies, a new type of crime runs rampant behind the scenes: cyberterrorism.
Based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow, “Ghost in the Shell” follows the story of Public Security Section 9, a small, covert black operations division that deals in counteracting threats from cyber terrorism. Led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, members of Section 9 consist of individuals skilled in a number of areas, including hacking, reconnaissance and military training.
Fans of the franchise are hopeful it will recapture the technological marvel of the 1995 animated film and its 2002 spinoff series, while giving audiences something fresh and new. Now that the trailer has officially dropped, we’ve decided to take a look at what we would like to see from “Ghost in the Shell” in its live-action debut.
15 Talking Spider Tanks
A staple of the “Ghost in the Shell” franchise was its use of special tank-like robots in its various missions. Through the use of artificial intelligence, these tanks are able to adapt quickly to a variety of situations and take experience from each mission they complete. In addition, they are capable of speech and are equipped with a variety of special functions and weapons.
One crucial aspect of these machines is the fact that they were able to develop personalities and their own sense of individuality. In most works of “Ghost in the Shell,” these tanks often exhibited very child-like personalities and a kind of naivety about the world around them. These unique qualities made these machine gun-toting spider tanks more human, while also giving them an innate sense of being. Hopefully, the “Ghost In The Shell” film gives us a good live look at these robots while imbuing them with these human-like qualities that evoke similar kinds of feelings to the '95 animated film and the '02 spin-off.
“Ghost in the Shell” is set in a world where the majority of the population are equipped with a device known as "cyber brain," which gives people the ability to plug themselves into computers to mentally access various computer networks. In other words, people can access the internet without the use of a computer or mobile phone; they can even access each other's networks through these devices. There are also varying degrees as to how much of a cyber brain people can have installed. Cyber brains are so widespread that you would be hard pressed to find someone with a completely organic brain.
Unlike the franchise, which was made prior to the explosion of wireless communication and smartphones, the live-action film has a grand opportunity to make cyber brains even more advanced than its source material. It will be interesting to see how it makes use of cyber brains and how technologically advanced they make them. Given the effects that have been made with portraying advanced technology in films (i.e., Iron Man), the possibilities are endless for these devices.
In a futuristic world like this one, Cyber brains aren't the only technological enhancements people often make. Many people also have the option of having advanced cybernetic parts or, in certain circumstances, abandon their physical, organic bodies for full prosthetic bodies. Johansson's character, The Major, is one such example, with her digitized brain being the most organic part of her physical make-up.
These cyborg parts serve a variety of uses. For example, the Major is imbued with enhanced strength and durability, and can replace them should they become damaged or malfunction. "Ghost in the Shell" is well known for its cyborg action, with the Major often at the center of it, performing physical feats beyond any normal human. But, being a fully synthetic brings with it some emotional burden, as people like the Major must sacrifice real food in lieu of synthetic food, and human senses like taste are absent from the body. This live-action adaptation would benefit by focusing not only on the physical feats being performed, but also on the sacrifices that come from this fully-synthetic experience, particularly when it comes to The Major.
With a constant mental connection to the Internet through cyber brains, cyberterrorism has become one of the biggest threats to the general public within the world of “Ghost in the Shell.” As the leader of Section 9, The Major and her team are tasked with eliminating a multitude of cyberterrorist threats. Civilians and politicians alike are in danger of their devices being hacked, which can yield various consequences: loss of valuable information, being forced to act against their will, and even the altering or implanting of false memories. Having a cyber brain isn’t all fun and games, as possessing one incurs all of these calculated risks, especially in the face of elite hackers.
The hacking process and the ability to interfere with cyber brains on such a high level was a spectacle in the animated films and series. It was amazing to think that people's minds could be hacked and messed with this way. It’s as though, in being connected, you must surrender the autonomy of the mind you once thought was safe. “Ghost In the Shell” has a golden opportunity to deliver some high stakes cybernetic warfare, which will be a break from the norms of hand-to-hand combat we’ve grown accustomed to in similar films (though from the looks of it, the film will have that, too).
11 The Major
When animated or printed works are given live adaptations, there is often a tendency to take characters' portrayals or roles in a different direction than what they may have been in its source material. However, these decisions often have dire consequences, both for the overall plot and tone of the film. In this instance, the “Ghost in the Shell” would do best by giving Johansson's role as The Major the faithful interpretation it deserves.
One of the strongest aspects of The Major’s character from its anime and manga counterparts was that she was a smooth, cool and strong female character. Her character is a large part of what made “Ghost In the Shell” so fascinating to follow throughout the years. Her presence as a strong, female lead among an organization consisting of predominantly men can’t be stated enough, and it is important that the film be sure to portray her strength in ways that involve more than punching some bad guys or shooting a gun.
“Ghost in the Shell” features a world with vast technological advances set several decades into the 21st century. But, these advancements do not necessarily solve all of society’s problems, and in fact, often bring with them an unforeseen set of unique changes that challenge and make both the characters and audience question the status quo of technology in society.
As a franchise, “Ghost in the Shell” sought to challenge and question the growing dependence and attachment to technology as it advances at a rapid pace, particularly when it comes to the ability to be constantly connected. In today’s climate, the live-action adaptation could make that statement hold even more weight than its source material. In a society where people stay constantly connected to the Internet through smartphones, “Ghost In the Shell” takes that concept to another level. Exploring that would make this film stand out in a class of its own. The blurring of lines between man and machine is a critical challenge faced within this cyberpunk world, and exploring it in the context of "Ghost In The Shell" will provide much-needed depth in ongoing real-world discourse.
Living in a technologically advanced world of cyborgs, talking spider tanks and cyber brains is bound to have its share of social and political implications. Adequately exploring these avenues will be important, not just in setting the stage for the world of “Ghost in the Shell,” but explaining to the audience just what living in this world means (and how it reflects our own).
“Ghost in the Shell” is not just known for its cyberpunk settings or cybernetic action, and the essential core of its story is a politically-driven one. As a result of the numerous wars, refugee displacements and power struggles between nations, the geopolitical landscape of this cyberpunk world has created a number of global security issues and catastrophes to explore. Many of the missions carried out by Section are often deeply interwoven within these political narratives and are the driving force of their objectives. It is essential for the live-action adaptation to adequately capture the political implications that this universe contains; to not do so would be a woefully tone-def missed opportunity.
8 IRL Relevance
If you can’t tell already, “Ghost in the Shell” is a franchise with a lot of moving parts and pieces connecting it. This film will have plenty of interesting directions to take while staying true to its source material. However, one key aspect that viewers have to see from it is that it maintains the intriguing storylines and themes that made the franchise such a critical success.
With a cyberpunk setting consisting of cyber brains and enhanced cyborgs, it would be pretty easy for the film to simply focus more on the action and visuals themselves. But what’s more important about a franchise like “Ghost In the Shell” is its messages beneath the action and visuals, and that means capturing the intersections of aspects like political intrigue and corruption within this society, which we've discussed earlier. It also means adequately delivering the insightful themes that emerged from the various works within this franchise. Without a developed, cohesive storyline, “Ghost in the Shell” is doomed to fail.
7 CGI vs. Practical Effects
In a movie featuring the likes of cyborgs, digitized brains and covert computer hacking, expectations for the visuals in this movie are bound to be high, especially for those who are fans of the franchise. From the first trailer, we can already see that those expectations have largely been met. But, as with movies that take place in advanced societies like this, it is important that the film does not suffer from CGI overuse and that its effects are well-maintained; admittedly, a difficult balance to achieve.
Given that this is the first ever live-action adaptation, no one really knows just how the visuals for this film will turn out, even after the glimpses we've seen (trailer polish is real). And while CGI is a good thing, overusing it in a live-action movie could detract from the authenticity of the overall viewing experience. As J.J. Abrams did with “The Force Awakens” when he made it his goal to use as the least amount of CGI possible, “Ghost In the Shell” would do well to follow that same line of thinking. Effective balancing of CGI will be integral to immersing viewers within a world where they can imagine having a cyber brain or encounter a fully-prosthetic human like The Major.
6 The Other
With the number of fully-prosthetic and digitized people like The Major running around, it would be interesting to find those rare individuals who aren’t using synthetic parts in any way, shape or form. Fortunately, such individuals can be found within “Ghost in the Shell,” and the film would do right by giving them some much-needed characterization in a world where their organic human bodies are more... outdated. The character Togusa, set to be played by Singaporean star Chin Han, is one such individual.
The central aspect surrounding “Ghost in the Shell” is the idea of the blurring between man and machine. While The Major will no doubt draw the eyes of viewers because of her circumstances (and her star-power), putting focus on the non-cybernetic characters adds a different dimension to the film by providing the audience with a very grounded perspective of the world and society as a whole. It will help the characters act as a bridge of sorts to further illustrate the societal differences between this technological world and ours.
5 A Depth of Villainy
One of the best aspects of “Ghost in the Shell” is its gallery of villains, who often tie into the franchise’s major themes of self-identity and what it means to be human. They are not committing crimes without concrete purposes; rather, they often hatch schemes as a result of their own technological society. Like all of the best antagonists within fiction, these villains are characters audiences can sympathize with, especially as they live and operate in shades of gray. If this film hopes to successfully pull off a live-adaptation based off of the manga, it needs to give audiences a satisfying villain worth watching on the big screen.
It would be easy for the film to make this a simple black-and-white affair, with Section 9 simply tasked with pursuing an expert run-of-the-mill hacker and trying to take them down. But “Ghost In the Shell” would do well to strongly consider the lessons of its source material and give audiences a villain that makes them question the structure and current state of a constantly-connected society where individuality is lacking and a governments with questionable motives and hidden agendas. SO far, we have yet to see much of how well the "GITS" antagonists get translated, but the visual tone in the trailer, at least, is welcome in its sufficient ominousness.
4 A Musical Journey
One of the more underlying aspects of “Ghost in the Shell” that should not be understated is the musical score, especially when it comes to the 1995 animated film and its 2002 “Stand Alone Complex” anime series. Composed by Kenji Kawai and Yoko Kanno, respectively, these two related works were brought to life by their amazing visuals and further enhanced with stellar musical scores. To recapture a sense of what Kawai and Kanno brought to “Ghost In The Shell,” the live-action adaptation must make sure to do the same.
As we’ve seen from works like “Star Wars,” and a myriad of other films, a great musical score is essential to bringing the movie to life and with it a bevy of emotions. From the thrill of action sequences to character-related themes, music has a profound ability to convey a wide array of emotions while setting the tone for particular moments throughout a film. Great acting and execution must be paramount, of course, but a solid score that conjures the feeling of its animated source material would be a much-needed treat for this film.
3 To Be Human...
“Ghost in the Shell” was met with critical acclaim during its film debut in 1995 for a myriad of reasons, but none more so than its overarching philosophical themes that were centered on one crucial aspect: just what does it mean to be human?
This is the question posed in a world where humans have digitized brains and cyberized bodies and the lines have grown blurred between man and machine. Can machines with advanced artificial intelligence that have the capacity for learning be considered human? Is The Major, who has no organic human body, still considered as such? Just what does the idea of being human mean in a constantly connected world like this?
It is these kinds of questions that viewers and long time fans of “Ghost in the Shell” hope to see tackled or addressed in the live-action adaptation. They are absolutely central to the theme of what made “Ghost In the Shell” such hit in Japan (and at the time, a uniquely Japanese story) and paved the way for its subsequent works to gain a massive following worldwide.
2 Fully-Fleshed Characters
With the visuals, action sequences, philosophical themes and musical score, there is one last aspect that can’t be ignored amongst all of the other moving parts within the film: the development of its characters, particularly those that play more secondary roles. This might seem like an obvious statement, but there have been too many instances of characters either lacking development in films that had a lot of moving parts or in failing to capitalize on opportunities to develop them properly (looking at you “Batman vs. Superman" and “Suicide Squad”).
Since “Ghost in the Shell” doesn’t have many mainstream box office draws outside of Johansson's, character development as a whole becomes even more important, especially given the intense microscope this film has been under over the course of the year (thanks mostly to the controversy around its racially-problematic casting). There’s no doubt The Major will get plenty of screen time, but it must not come at the cost of other characters, particularly those within Section 9. A cast of well-developed characters will go a long way in the film’s success and maybe shake off some of its critics from holding onto low expectations for the live-adaptation.
1 Race Abating
Ever since Scarlett Johansson was cast as The Major, the film has been under continual criticism for whitewashing the character, who is a Japanese woman in all of her previous source material. The studio came under further scrutiny when it allegedly tested the use of CGI to make Johannsson look more Asian. Needless to say, the film has not been met with many open arms by many actors, critics and/or potential audiences.
Given the studio’s casting decisions, it will be interesting to see how (or if) the film somehow attempts to subtly explain the reason Johansson was cast in such a role, as opposed to giving the opportunity to an actress of Asian descent. Given the lack of lead Asian roles in movies, this would have been a great opportunity for Hollywood to make a powerful statement, especially since this is the first live-adaptation of Shirow’s work.
Instead, it has been an ongoing issue that will only intensify as the film moves closer to its release date, and is something that must be addressed within the film in some way. Otherwise, the shadow looming over this film will never subside.
What are some things you're hoping to see from the upcoming "Ghost in the Shell" film? Let us know in the comments!