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Ghost in the Shell: Its Relevance in 1995 and Today

Lilly Birdsong By Lilly Birdsong Published on March 6, 2017
This article was updated on April 18, 2017

Ghost in the Shell is one of those classic Japanese Sci-Fi films that is loved the world round.  For the first time this movie is being made in English, starring the beautiful Scarlet Johansson.  If it's your first time hearing about the film, you might wonder why anime fans around the world are bracing themselves hoping it won't ruin the perfection that was the original movie.

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The Classic Movie

The Ghost in the Shell animated film first came out in 1995.  Even if you watch it today, 22 years later, it still has some of the most stunning animation that you'll ever see.  Within the first 5 minutes of the film, you'll already have your eyes bulging out in shock and admiration.  

In the first few minutes of the film, you are shown a futuristic world where a cyborg woman removes her clothes, jumps out of a woman, and shoots up a group of businessmen.  You then see this stunning animated sequence of how the cyborgs are made, built from the inside out with synthetic bone, muscle, skin applied and hair grown.

Ghost in the Shell Opening Sequence

In the background you hear this stunning music, traditional Japanese taiko drums beating slowly while female voices sing above.  The music, which sounds like it would have felt at home in an old kabuki theatre, contrasts eloquently with the futuristic themes of the imagery.  It immediately sets the tone for the movie - a world which has grown so quickly it's outpacing itself.

When I watched the original animated movie, the thing that struck me the most was the high level of detail. Everything was so carefully done, each wire placed, each blinking light, the way the cyrborgs are put together and how they move. I just end up sitting back and watching the movie unfold with awe.

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The Manga

Ghost in the Shell, like most animated productions, started its life as a manga, a Japanese graphic novel.  The novel was serialized from 1989-1990.  

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So what's the story?  In a nutshell it's a dystopian story about corporate greed and a police force that's trying to keep some of this corruption contained.  In this world, a lot of people have cyber brains, allowing them to interface directly with networks.  Some people have partial cybernetic limbs, and there are some people that are almost full cyborg, like the main character, Motoko Kusanagi.

Due to the fact that nearly everyone's brains are connected directly to a network, there's a possibility that someone can get hacked.  A person's memories can be overwritten or lost.  

I think what really made this such a success was that it touched on so many points that are timeless.

  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Corporate Greed
  • The Internet of Things / Super Connectivity

In our world today there is this struggle that is going on between politicians, businessmen, technology leaders, and everyone else.  This is why this story is still so relevant even in 2017.

Controversy in Casting

When Scarlet Johansson was cast, there were a lot of people that raised eyebrows and were disappointed that they didn't take the opportunity to cast an Asian actress in this role.  Although it's true that in the anime the character had blue eyes, and in the manga she actually had red eyes, she is also Japanese in origin.  What you need to realize about the Manga in the 90s is that at that time they rarely drew characters of a specific race.  It was commonplace to give characters features like purple, pink, or red eyes - but that didn't mean the character wasn't Asian.  The artist may have still intended her to be Asian, he may have simply drawing her in a certain style.  Because of this ambiguity it opened the door for criticism.

Some people accused the producers of "Whitewashing," or casting white actors in roles that were originally designed for other races.

The movie is actually directed by a British director, Rupert Sanders.  He had this to say on the matter:

“To me, you know, I cast very much from the gut and I think I was very lucky to be able to get an amazing international cast of people that I’ve always really wanted to work with,” he said. “Scarlett was one of those people, and to me there’s very few actresses who’ve had 20 years of experience, who have the cyberpunk aesthetic already baked in. You know, she comes from such edgy films from Lost in Translation to Under the Skin — she’s got an incredible body of work and the attitude and toughness of her really is to me The Major.”

I can't disagree with him in that I think she is an amazing actress with a body of work that does lend itself to the role.  However it could have also been an opportunity for someone knew to be launched to fame.  One can't speculate on what could have happened, we can only judge the film after we see it.

In the end, Masamune Shirow, the original creator of Ghost in the Shell, did comment on Johansson's casting - and approved of it.  

Here you can check her out in the trailer and decide for yourself.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Trailer

Pitfalls to Watch Out For

There are some things that I'm going to look for when the movie comes out, some things that can highly disappoint me if indeed they are done that way.

Music / Ambience 

What I loved so much about the original was the mix of fast and slow, the mix of old and new.  The music really struck the tone for the movie, so I hope this film avoids the kind of stereotypical music that you hear in modern Action or Sci-Fi movies.

Pacing

There are moments in the original film that are kind of like taking a breath, moments where that same haunting music comes back in and we kind of explore the city.  The pace slows down.  A lot of blockbuster movies tend to have a very fast pace, non-stop action, and I don't feel like that's what Ghost in the Shell was all about.  So I'm hoping they stay true to the original in this respect.

Humour

I really hope they don't put stupid humour in this movie.  It really doesn't need it.

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The new adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is in theatres March 31 - so we'll all be able to see soon enough whether it meets our expectations (and hopefully exceeds them!).

I am a Sci-Fi writer. I love drinking whiskey, hanging out with my 2 cats, and kickboxing. Check out Children of RIVA if you're interested in my work. Oh, and in my spare time I work ... Show More