A word about Ghost in the Shell (2017) ... from an anime fan
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger (Screenplay)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano
To preface this piece, I am by no means an expert on this franchise. I am a huge fan of the anime but at this time I haven't read the manga (I know!) and I don't pretend to fully understand the philosophy behind the films (no matter how many video essays I watch, dammit!). The Ghost in the Shell franchise will always hold a special place in my heart as one of the films that introduced me to the incredible world of anime. This is a film franchise held in very high regard among anime fans.
The first Ghost in the Shell film I saw was Stand Alone Complex (2002), when I was slightly too young to understand the deep philosophical questions the film presents. I fell in love with the world and it's characters first; the philosophy came later. Over the next few years I went about buying the other titles in the franchise. As a kid, I only really saw them as a cool animated action series with badass characters and amazing technology. I took the series at face value. It was only later on in my life that I began to appreciate the incredible dialogue and philosophy the series is known for.
The original 1995 film examines the blurred lines between human and AI - it never presents answers, only questions. Challenging the viewer to think beyond the beautifully drawn action scenes and intensely interesting characters. What makes someone human? In a world where cybernetic enhancements are the norm, a mind can be copied and the body replaced with a synthetic form, how can you still call yourself human? How can you know for sure? It's an interesting and complex topic to explore and once I began to (somewhat) understand the deeper meaning of the film, my love for the franchise was renewed. The original film can be enjoyed at face value as a futuristic sci-fi/action film but it's true appeal (and what makes it an iconic masterpiece) comes from the complex philosophical questions the film explores.
This in-depth study of complex topics is something that is unfortunately missing from the recent 2017 live-action film. It touches upon the theme of memories and how they define us, but only in very brief scenes. Instead, it chooses to focus on Mira Killian's struggle to find out who she truly is and who she was. It touches on aspects from the original, such as the idea that the Major can't know for certain if she is who she thinks she is.
“Maybe I died a long time ago and somebody took my brain and stuck it in this body. Maybe there never was a real me in the first place” (GITS 1995).
However that question is answered for Mira in the 2017 film, it's no longer a seemingly unsolvable philosophical question but a simple one with easily obtainable answers. Are her memories real? No, they were given to her by a big, evil corporation. Was there ever a real version of her? Yes, before the big, evil corporation stole her life. It misses the point of asking these questions. They don't necessarily have answers and they shouldn't be misinterpreted as cliché plot devices. A big company stole her identity to transform her into a living weapon. Mira holds a significant amount of uncertainty about whether she is human due to her synthetic body. I wish this film had focused more on that aspect instead of her lost memories and previous life. That is the more interesting part of the film!
They touch on a part of the anime when talking about memories defining who we are but they misunderstand it. Claiming that it is someone's actions that define them. It's deeper than that. Our memories and experiences combined make us who we are now, our actions are formed because of these memories. But if your memories aren't real, does that mean you aren't real? Are your actions truly your actions or are they just the result of a fabricated life?
Major Kusanagi can't truly know for sure that she is who she thinks she is. Just as we can't really be certain ourselves. How can you prove who you are? You have memories but what if those memories are just copied data? Are our minds separate from our bodies or do both of them combined make up the essence of who we are?
“Have you ever seen your own brain?” (GITS 1995).
I enjoyed this film (2017 version) to some degree and I think it is worth watching. The visuals are stunning and the action scenes are pretty cool but the film lacks the philosophical depth of the original. There was potential in this film and so much more could have been explored, just bubbling under the surface. As a fan of the anime I was left slightly disappointed. That isn't to say it's a bad film, it just doesn't add anything to the Ghost in the Shell universe... It feels unnecessary. A dumbed-down version of the original, coated in stunning special effects, some fantastic performances and some great action scenes.
I understand why Hollywood did this. They wanted to appeal to a wider audience and make money. They don't have faith that an intelligent and complex film could do well in the box office. They assume that the modern, “average” cinema goer wants easy, accessible entertainment. Anime does a fantastic job of creating thought-provoking, awe-inspiring cinema, packed with symbolism which address complex themes and topics. Western cinema will soon have ten Fast and the Furious films.
In one line (for anime fans): If you take this film at face value you'll have a great time but look deeper and you'll be disappointed.
“We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don't. What we do is what defines us.” ~ Dr Ouelet ( Ghost In The Shell, 2017)
“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.” ~ Major Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost In The Shell, 1995)