The reason why Hollywood should stay away from cult anime masterpieces – GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) live-action. Credited as being based on Ghost in the Shell manga by Shirow Masamune, the 2017 movie is anything but that. Maybe a more apt credit would have been “loosely” based on the Ghost in the Shell manga as Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger in charge of brainstorming the script for the movie did a brilliant job of dissecting the GITS franchise and producing a patchwork quilt of a story. Rupert Sanders directed the live-action whose only another directorial breakthrough was “Snow White and the Huntsman”. So it was more or less evident what we, the fans of the original franchise, were in for. And, Oh boy, did we get what we expected!!
Set in a futuristic dystopian world, the movie follows the Section 9 anti-terrorist squad which is always on the move to crack down on corruption. Major Mira Killian heads Section 9 under the guidance of Section head Daisuke Aramaki. She is accompanied by more or less known characters. However, this is where the similarities between the live-action and the rest of the GITS franchise end. The rest of the movie is 107 minutes worth of disappointment with sloppy writing, try-hard acting, and an absence of everything good that made the franchise so great in the first place. Not to forget the accusations of apparent whitewashing the movie has had to face. Even the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major, and Takeshi Kitano(Zatoichi) as Aramaki Daisuke could not save the disaster that the movie was fated to be.
The plot or the absence of it.
The plot of Ghost in the Shell(2017) essentially boils down to a predictable storyline of a Big Baddie Corporate head vs. the morally good people. The Big Baddie Corporate head here is Mr. Cutter, the CEO of Hanka Robotics. The movie starts with Hanka Robotics being the target of several terrorist attacks. Section 9 during their investigation, connects the attacks to a Cyborg named Kuze. Kuze, part of Hanks Robotics’ experiment for cyborg development, was discarded as a failure. Now after achieving consciousness Kuze wants revenge.
On confronting Kuze, the Major also comes to know about her own past. She gets to know that her present memories are nothing but implants. As a result, the Major is now a liability to Hanka Robotics. Section 9 was ordered to carry out her termination. However, in the end, the good prevails as the Major protects Kuze who is nothing more than a victim and the “real villain” is executed. Thus ends a very basic cyberpunk story with an emotional reunion at the end for some extra points.
Result: A story devoid of all the political and technological complications that one needs to closely follow to understand.
Major Mira Killian
The one leading the counter-terrorism activities of Section 9 is Major Mira Killian in the 2017 live-action. Played by Scarlett Johansson, the character seems more lifeless than the Major we have come to love in the anime franchise. Here the character of the Major is akin to that of a pubertal teen who is unsure of herself, indecisive, and requires constant reassurance that her identity is her own. She even abandons an investigation on seeing a Geisha robot being killed which unnerves her. Even the witty comebacks of Mira Killian are no better than that of a 10-year-old kid who has just learned the word “sex”. A far cry from the confident and brilliant Mokoto Kusanagi who was unwavering with her decisions even while struggling for her sense of self in the anime.
Unfortunately, the changed name of the Major in the movie from the original franchise is justified in a way that cringes at the very best and suffered a severe backlash. Apparently, before becoming Mira Killian, she was Mokoto Kusanagi, a rebel and a runaway from home. Operatives from Hanka Robotics stormed down upon these run-away rebels and took them into custody for cybernetic experiments. Mira was the only survivor out of all experimental subjects. Even the slight homoerotic relationship shared between the Major and her Doctor in the franchise gets changed to one between a kid and their guardian in the live-action.
And the other characters…
The other characters also suffer the same fate as Major Mira Killian. Each of them is a watered-down version of their anime/manga counterparts. The head of Section 9, Aramaki Daisuke is now an old man whose only redeemable quality is that he can deliver one-liners in authentic Japanese. Batou, the hardcore ex-military hunk from the anime is just a normal fellow in the movie who can fight. Togusa, an important character in the series, was an ex-detective and empathetic person. In the movie, he is high on the fact that he is “all human” and does little to contribute to the investigation.
We hardly even witness the other characters of the Section 9 task force except on a few occasions. We also have another female section 9 member on board, besides the Major for the sake of inclusion and diversity(Cheers!!). Such is the fate of her character that we don’t even know her name unless we Google search it. Likewise, Paz, Saito, Borma, Ishikawa have significant roles in the anime, but we hardly ever see them in the movie. Not even mentioning the acting, which was as lifeless as the word lifeless can be.
The world building in Ghost in the shell (2017)
Anyone with a love for cyberpunk and anime should be familiar with the world-building of Ghost in the Shell. People in the anime having cybernetic implants are a common sight to behold. In the original franchise, the Military and Government heavily recruited Cyborgs and Androids for efficiently and effectively carrying out duties. Terms like attack barriers, Ghost line, Ghost dive, cyber hacking become as familiar to us as our mother tongue because of their recurrent usage in the anime. In the movie, we hardly even see the usage of such familiar terms.
Also, the movie hardly does any job of explaining the world or showing the Androids hard at their work. We even miss the brutality of the original Anime. Losing a few Androids in the course of labor are all part of the day’s work and they could be reset again to be as good as new. It is also worth noting that the movie tries to keep itself clean. It hardly makes any mention of Section 6, the FDA, the Geo-Political discourse that is so important to the original franchise. Also, there are no fowl political leaders at play and no mention of corruption in the Government. Hollywood much?
The only clue we get to the fact that a Government is even operational in the country is during the movie’s opening credits. The world-building largely consists of just aerial shots of a neon pink city with holographic ads. There is a merciless deficiency of every factor which gives life to the world, i.e., politics, corruption, drama.
Themes explored in Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Another disappointment the live-action movie delivers is in its theme. Ghost in the Shell is set in a world where knowledge is shared; property and privacy are a myth. In such a world, keeping hold of one’s individuality is the major theme in the whole franchise. There is a constant inner turmoil as the Major battles the fact that she is a machine with consciousness. It isn’t unknown that in the 1995 anime movie, Mamoru Oshii heavily criticizes Descartes’ theory of self. The manga itself contains the personal beliefs of Shirow Masamune regarding his theological perspective, metaphysics, philosophical stances, etc. These lead to some of the most profound exchanges between the characters in the franchise.
Hollywood blatantly trades these themes for a simplistic black and white moral approach in the 2017 movie. The central conflict revolves between Mr. Cutter who would not even flinch to kill someone versus the “wronged” Kuze and also Mira. This change of focus to a good vs. evil trope greatly takes away everything that the franchise stands for. Mira is conflicted about her existence as a cyborg but that is pushed to the sidelines. Her battle to keep a hold on her identity is reduced to Dr. Ouelet reassuring her time and again that her mind, soul, “Ghost” is her own. Yet this act of reassurance seems empty and cold. Even the concept of “Ghost” is forcefully included in the 2017 movie.
Cinematography(more like copy pasta)
So what can one do in the least, to attempt to save something that is already doomed? Play at the sentiments of fans by using some of the most iconic scenes from the 1995 movie. In the name of paying homage, they blatantly copy the opening scene of the GITS original movie, the fight scene with the truck driver, the underwater diving scene among a few others. In the original movie, these scenes are filled with symbolism and impact, but they fail to deliver the same in the live-action. The reason being they were just cheap copies, dragged violently out of their rightful places in the storyline, and thrown in an entirely different universe. Even the fight with the truck driver lacks all its amazement when the Major takes him by surprise.
Shades of dull browns and beige or bland darkness are the prevalent color tones in the 2017 movie. This effectively nullifies the distance the characters feel between themselves and their surroundings. A distance that aligns beautifully with the sharp contrasting visuals of the 1995 movie. The movie’s dark tones also take away a lot of the brilliance of the showdown making it difficult to see anything clearly. The cloud dusts from the explosion add to the cause further.
And some more rant…
Yet the list of disappointments in this movie goes on. It unsuccessfully tries to mash together several storylines from the whole franchise into 107 minutes. Trying to fuse plots from both the 1995 GITS movie and the second season of the Stand Alone Complex anime, both of which have a gripping plot with an amazing narrative. The final product is just an utter mess and as lifeless as its actors. We also get the robotic geisha from the GITS: SAC anime merged with the geisha robot of GITS: Innocence as a bonus. The main antagonist is a mix between the puppet master from the 1995 movie and Hideo Kuze, the main antagonist of the GITS: SAC 2nd Gig. But the movie fails to capture even a fraction of the brilliance of these two characters big time.
The biggest disappointment of the movie is in its ending. It tries to round up the conflict of an existential dilemma with a single line – “We cling to memories as if they define us. But what we do defines us “. It really makes us wonder: “was that all that the Ghost in the shell movie was about?” It is not, obviously. The end quote seemingly felt as if it was just there to keep the whole ordeal relevant to its name. Therefore, as it stands, the Ghost in the shell (2017) live-action is a blasphemous desecration of the original franchise. Fans of this anime and manga would thus do well to avoid such a movie.
Further Reading: https://www.cinemamonogatari.com/movies/