Ghost in the Shell (1995) was a ground-breaking anime movie that was not successful in Japan initially because the idea was so ahead of its time. But it gradually gained a cult following through word of mouth and people started to realise its philosophical underpinning. Eventually, an unknown pair of director brothers watched it and created “The Matrix Trilogy.”
After “The Matrix,” many other directors copied the concepts and visuals but all had to pay homage to Ghost in the Shell (GitS.) So how does the live-action adaptation holds up to the original?
Pros: Visually stunning but not ground-breaking. Holds true to the basic idea of the original. Well-acted with good pacing and superb cinematography. Good score although I personally prefer more of the original music from the 1995 score by Kenji Kawai.
Cons: The Story is a mess and not because it doesn’t follow the manga or various movies and anime in the GitS franchise. Another case of not pushing the envelope in order to sell the movie to more people, even though I suspect the box office will be better if they did. Ultimately, I guess the Director Rupert Sanders wasn’t deep enough to understand the 1995 movie.
No Spoiler Summary: GitS 2017 is a modest attempt to remake the 1995 masterpiece into something that will appeal to the wider global audience. I personally love the original movie, giving it a 9/10 for its deep philosophical question of what it means to be alive if only your brain is left of your ‘self.’ Do you still possess a soul, which is supposed to be at your heart, or is your entire being, including your soul, just some electrical impulses firing in your neurons?
GitS 2017 doesn’t go that deep but go in the other direction of your self or soul being your action and how you+your action relate to others and the emotional impact that it generates. Suffice to say, the movie lost almost all of the deeper meaning and spirituality of the 1995 anime in order not to confuse the audience. I get the feeling that the director and writers don’t get the original movie and tries so hard to explain everything (and doing a bad job at it) that GitS ultimately becomes a much shallower action sci-fi movie. Because the story is so obsessed with explaining everything, it didn’t have time for self-reflection or give the audience an introspective narration of where all these concepts are going to culminate. Unlike the Major, who is seeking her Ghost (her soul) and ultimately finding it, the movie comes across, ironically, as completely soulless. Something the Wacholski brother nailed in “The Matrix.”
The redeeming factors obviously are the visuals, stunningly animated, taking cues from Blade Runner (which GitS 1995 copies), the dark foreboding themes from GitS 1995 itself, the Major’s cyborg body, Batou’s part human/part-implant body, the action sequences which pay fan service to the 1995 movie but modernised with the CGI of today. Awesome!
The acting was good as well. Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Mira/Major was intentionally uncertain in Act 1, loosening up in Act 2 as she discovers more about her past and almost human in Act 3 when she finally come to realise who she actually was before her transplant. The white-washing is way overblown, beside Scarlett Johansson’s Major being caucasian looking (she resemble ‘Major’ in the 1995 anime), the rest of crew are multi-national. The city is also obviously Hong Kong but the inhabitants speak Japanese like the 1995 movie as well, which is weird.
The scores and SFX are effective for this type of narrative style so it supported the movie in a good way, so the action part of the movie is well taken care of.
Go watch if you’re a fan of sci-fi or action movie. It’s still worth the ticket.
Ghost in the Shell 1995 was NOT a fast-paced action anime movie, like Attack on Titans. Director Mamoru Oshii (PatLabor) had very little money to do a manga-movie adaptation so in order to save money, he rushed the project and completed a normally 3 year project in just over a year, using a combination of CGI, cell drawing and other tricks like slow-mo to pad the screen time. This severely restricted the ability to have many action sequence, which are VERY time-consuming to draw. He got creative and used nudity, short but intense fighting sequences, philosophical twists and internal struggle of the protagonist to move the story forward, and what a masterpiece he created, even though it was not understood by many upon release.
Those slow introspective moments are cheap to draw and animate, and the dialogue are also purposely kept to a minimum to let audience gather their thoughts as the plot thickens and twists. Using the brilliant atmospheric score from Kenji Kawai and stunning hand-drawn backdrops, he did a Stanley Kubrick (2001 A Space Odyssey) for Ghost in the Shell and over the year, got a global cult following, which granted him the chance to do GitS 2: Innocence, which had a lot more action but ultimately couldn’t top the first movie. “Less is more” is definitely true here.
Now that you have some background of GitS 1995, it’s time to see what worked and what didn’t in GitS 2017. The story is completely different from the 1995 movie. There are fan service scenes like the Major kicking the punk in the drain scene where she fought him whilst being naked & invisible, and the scene where she jumped off the roof of a high-rise naked and shooting someone through the windows. The Geisha bots are from GitS2, the final Act where the supposed villain turns out to have a crush on Major, the Spider tanks are all there.
The universe (story) is completely different too. Instead of the Puppet Master aka Project 2501 (an information gathering Sentient AI), they lumped up the Hideo Kuze character with Puppet Master to become Project 2571 (the Ghost in the Shell project.) This movie is played out more like an origin story where Major just joined Section 9 instead of the 1995 movie where she’s well established, confident and kicking ass.
Being an origin story, it’s very important to establish an emotional connection with the main characters. This worked out well as I was genuinely emotionally invested in Mira (a nickname given by Dr Ouelet – her creator). How she became “Major”, a military rank was never explained.
In Act 1, her brain has just been inserted into a cyborg shell. She (and the audience) has no idea of her past. Our past memories defines our soul, so at this point, she has little soul because it was erased. However, glitches/flashback/feedback started appearing in her consciousness without reason and Dr Ouelet would keep erasing them.
However, her investigation into the murder of the scientists at Hanka Corp, which made her shell, soon attracted the attention of a dangerous cyborg criminal called Kuze who view her as an equal. After trapping her in his human brain driven private network/lair, he revealed that he was a failed iteration of her own shell, which the Hanka Corp tried to kill. This prompted Major to seek out the truth of the origin of her organic brain that ultimately led to the discovery that her real name was Motoko Kusanagi. She was declared dead a year ago and is survived by her mum.
She was a runaway with Hideo Kuze, her lover and they were harvested along with 97 others by Cutter, a Hanka Corp senior executive who wanted to create super-human soldier weapons for sales. After Major discovered the truth, Cutter ordered her back to Hanka to have her killed too. For unknown reason, she complied and returned to Hanka Corp where Dr Ouelet injected a serum to release her memory block instead of the poison as ordered by Cutter. Cutter then kills Dr Ouelet after she helped Major escape and he ordered a kill-strike on all of Section 9 personnel.
Fortunately, Section 9 is an anti-terrorism group and they made short work of the strike team from Hanka Corp. The final showdown in Act 3 starts when Major went back to the place where Cutter kidnapped her group. She meets Kuze, who can sense her after he hacked into her Ghost previously, and they discovered that they were lovers. The romantic moment was interrupted when the spider tank fired a shell which crippled Kuze. Major tried to fight the tank with an automatic rifle to no effect. She finally goes invisible and jumped on the tank to pull out its control unit, thus disabling it but not before also tearing off one of her arm and rupturing dozens of muscles.
After remembering, she finally reclaimed her home and return to her real biological mother and goes on to become the confident Major Motoko Kusanagi that we know from the 1995 movie.
The one part that I didn’t understand was Kuze told Major he will always be with her in the networks and then switches off. So did his ghost die? Major shedding a tear suggested he did but she should still be able to feel his presence on the Internet, so why did she cry?
I think Scarlett Johansson was correctly casted because she was convincing as Major. So are her co-stars like the famous Takeshi Kitano’s Aramaki-san (Battle Royale), tender yet tough sidekick Batou played by Pilou Asbaek. Special call out to Chin Han (2012) as Togusa-san. The Section 9 outfit is newish when the movie started but their dynamics grew as the movie progressed. I would really love to see this team get more chances to work together in future. Yes, I want a sequel for sure. I think Scarlett Johansson deserves her own franchise instead of being just “Black Widow” in the Marvel franchise. That will depend on global receipts for this movie.
If there is a sequel, I’m hoping they will do an Iron Man where the first movie is the origin story and Iron man 2 explores some of the “skeleton in the closet” situation so that they can flash out some of the philosophical question raised by GitS 1995.
I think a new director is required because Rupert Sander doesn’t seem to grasp the opportunities presented by the ability to separate your soul from your body and uploading it onto the Internet, which is what GitS 1995 is about. The problem is also endemic to the rest of the crew and even Scarlett Johansson. When interviewed, she struggled to explain the deeper implications of mind out-of-body. Her answer in that interview was deeply unsatisfying philosophically.
This is in contrast to Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving, who were able to explain very clearly their roles and the deeper implications of their being in “The Matrix”. This is a testament to the geniuses of the Wachowski brothers and it really shows in the screenplay.
The ordinary happy ending is also unlike GitS 1995 which ended with the Puppet Master AI being merged with Major’s organic brain to become a new entity that exists both in the real AND virtual world with all the information and networks on the Internet as her playground. Plus she got a new shell from Batou as a parting gift.
In conclusion, I think GitS 2017 hit enough of the right buttons to be a good enough adaptation but it really didn’t have or didn’t devote enough time to explore any of the really interesting concepts that deal with the mortality of human beings if your brain can be separated and placed in a cyborg body that doesn’t die. Or the director and script writers simply aren’t equipped to answer deep philosophical questions. Fans of GitS 1995 will probably hate this movie but non-fans will appreciate the 2017 version because it isn’t as mind-bloggling.