Ghost in the Shell: Image Without Meaning

This is something that I’ve been writing (or mostly not, technically) over the course of months. I thought that now would be a good time to publish it at least, with the actual film coming out in a few days. I’m not sure if it’s good yet. It could be, I guess, and the best possible outcome is everyone enjoying a great film while I sit back and wash down my words with some popcorn. This is just a collection of pre-release rambles on a movie that seems to be falling down a bit of a rabbit-hole.

mv5bnzq0ndcwmda4ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwndg4otg1mdi-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_For a long time now, I’ve been letting myself into the immersive cyberpunk world of Ghost in the Shell. A Japanese anime originally adapted from the manga, The Ghost in the Shell, it deals with philosophical concepts like humanity and the nature of the soul, during a time in history when the lines between man and machine are becoming increasingly blurred. Now, it’s being adapted by Hollywood, with tons of white people.

Oh, man.

Where to begin? I’m not sure to be honest, because I’m having so much trouble simply understanding what’s going through the heads of the filmmakers and the studio when making this movie. I don’t understand why they picked a white actress for a Japanese character (well, I understand why they think it’s a good idea, even though I disagree), and then considered digital yellowface. I don’t understand why they think that turning Ghost in the Shell into an action movie is a solid plan. I don’t understand why they think that they can make a good Ghost in the Shell film.

It’s all very odd, and frankly, I’m very worried at this point. Originally, I saw the teasers in the season finale of Mr. Robot, and I was pretty unimpressed. All they showed was footage that was either completely irrelevant, or blindly pandering while happening to be vastly inferior to the original. There’s a distinct air of “respect”, but it’s all misplaced. The studio has decided that the silhouette scene from the 1995 film was something that’s good, while not actually understanding why. They just give it to us again, but this time changed for “the modern world”, with no knowledge of how they’ve ruined it. This new Ghost in the Shell took one of the most important and telling shots in the entire 1995 film (which is saying a lot), one that signified a lack of personality in character, a lack of connection between person and world, ghost, and shell, and have turned into a vapidly dull shot, poorly made, with some random science fiction junk piled in the corners instead of the deeply artistic and stunningly beautiful contrast of the original scene.

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On the franchise as a whole, it’s being misunderstood. This is a series about identity, and crisis’s therein. It’s about man, and machine, and what we as humans do when the lines between become too blurred to make out. The original film is about a woman disillusioned with her own life finding new purpose in a new one. The second, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, is about robotic advancements putting human nature into more context, corporate power corrupting, and how far one has to go in that future to tread over a human rights issue. The show, Stand Alone Complex and it’s sequel SAC 2nd GIG, are about the thin differentials between heroes and villains, and how it can be worryingly easy to mistake the second for the first.

It is not, by any counts, an action movie. When a director of the new adaptation (Rupert Sanders, this time) of a classically cerebral film about identity and humanity says that the original film was “too philosophical and too introspective”, and that he’s going to have to modernize that for a new audience, that gives me serious pause as to what kind of film I’m going to be watching when the new Ghost in the Shell comes out in March.

ozcghost-in-the-shell-s-a-c-2nd-gig-e15-pat-mkv_snapshot_01-46_2010-06-26_20-28-26So I was a little worried because of the action movie vibes, and a little turned off due to the whitewashing. But then I started to realize what the movie was actually adapting. “It involves Kuze. We’re doing the Kuze story.” Sanders says, explaining that instead of adapting the original manga, or the first film, or the first season of the anime, or the second film, he’s going to be adapting the second season of the anime. Why? Why? Why?

Well, it makes some sense. Kuze does have a connection to Kusanagi, the main character of the show, and it’s reasonable for Sanders to want to bring that in and start his franchise with a deep connection between Kusanagi and Kuze. But at the same time, he seems to be simply throwing things from all around the franchise into this one movie without regard for where they may have come from. Sanders, for instance, implies that he is adapting the Puppet Master storyline from the first manga and film, yet calls him Kuze and brings along Kuze’s backstory, and seems to imply that he’s taking a lot of the meme-culture aspects of the Laughing Man.

This is bad. Sure, it’s an interesting direction to start the movie with, but it completely negates the entire point of Kuze’s character. In a story that’s as COMPLEX and multi-faceted as Ghost in the Shell, you can’t just start taking things from anywhere in the story and just throw them places on a whim! Kuze’s entire storyline is one of the underdog, and he’s got a very interesting journey of character development throughout the whole season. Sure, he starts out as a villain, a threatening one as well, but he grows as a character, and becomes, for the most part, the main protagonist of the story. Taking out the Individual Eleven, removing the Dejima revolution, and sticking Kuze in the first film, sans all character development or promise thereof, is simply wrong. It’s removing all context and reason as to why this character is so good. Making Kuze the villain of the 1995 film does a great disservice to both Kuze and the Puppet Master.

And I know that Sanders is trying to make the film more action oriented. And I’m sort of okay with that. I think the best action movies are the ones that transcend their own genres to sample others and engage with higher themes. Best case reasonable, we’d be doing that here, just backwards. But to be honest, this isn’t the best case scenario. Rupert Sanders and the studio didn’t choose Kuze because of who he really is, and should be, they chose him because it’s easy to change him into a villain by simply not changing him.

laughing-manGhost in the Shell is a series with very nuanced villains. “Villains” like the Puppet Master, or the Laughing Man, or Kuze are never really true villains in their own right. The only cut and dry immoral villain I can think of in Ghost in the Shell is Locus Solus, from Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. They weren’t very morally grey at all.

But the point still stands. I know that the Puppet Master (the “villain” from the 1995 film) isn’t Ledger’s Joker, he’s not Vaas. He’s not some crazy insane villain that people will squeal about. Kuze, however, could be twisted that way, even though doing so would completely throw everything that makes him interesting out the window.

And if that’s not enough, this new movie is taking the memory hacks from Arise, and Hanka robotics, the precursor to Locus Solus from Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is apparently playing a big role. Instead of Kuze’s morally right goal of justice and independence, now he just wants to “wipe out Hanka Robotic’s advancements in cyber technology.” My point is that judging by the way Rupert Sanders and his team made this film, by taking images and themes from all of the mangas, movies, and anime in the franchise and arranging it in a new order, they’ve created a sort of “greatest hits” of Ghost in the Shell. This is bad, because every single part of Ghost in the Shell is both deliberate and specific. You can’t just take Kuze’s image, or his backstory, and put the philosophical monologues of the Puppet Master in his un-moving mouth. You can’t take the singular-whole activism seen with the Laughing Man and insert it into a carefully psychological story about a woman’s sense of self.

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This is all strangely uncharacteristic for Hollywood, a business known in recent years for shunning original work in favor of churning out endless numbers of big budget sequels. I’m not quite sure why they’ve decided to blow their load all in the first movie, because it means they’ll have to think of something original for the next one, assuming this one performs well. An original Ghost in the Shell film is not something I would ever argue against in concept, but I never thought I’d see the day when Hollywood would be offering to make one!

So, after all of this, it might seem okay, maybe somewhat good or even great to the uninitiated. But they won’t understand what they’re missing. They’ll see Kuze as a deep and dark villain, and they’ll see the Major as “cool”. The rest of Section 9 will probably escape their gaze. They won’t know a day when Togusa had a much deeper meaning to the team, when Saito actually did something, when Borma didn’t have googly eyes plastered to his face. Will this movie be able to properly convey the emotion of the Garbageman sequence? Will it ever have a deep dive (in more ways than one) into philosophy like the diving scene in the original? Will it ever have anything as daring or groundbreaking as the ending to the 1995 film?

The answer is, probably, no.

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