Ghost in the Shell Film Analysis Part I: Live-action vs. Anime Canon

I’m sure you noticed that in my film review I didn’t complain about the Major acting out of character. It’s because that is not a criticism I’m not interested in making, and I’m going to explain why.

It’s tempting to compare the Major to how she behaved in the anime films. Scarlett’s Major is very much her own character. It is  tradition in the Ghost in the Shell franchise that they offer their own interpretation of the characters in every incarnation.

The Major’s character in the anime films is quite different from how she is in the manga – especially in the beginning –and from how she is in the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and yet again from how she is in Ghost in the Shell: Arise. Just to get into the oldest characterizations, the manga and anime films: In the original manga by Shirow Masamune, at the beginning, the Major is a hard-drinking woman who likes to party and who is a total bitch, but she becomes more ponderous and introspective after her fight with the Puppet Master; whereas in Mamoru Oshii’s films she is philosophical and mature from the outset.

A screen capture from the manga Kôkaku Kidôtai (Ghost in the Shell). Volume 01, chapter 3.1
The red-head with her legs spread and her boobs censored?
Our manga hero, ladies and gentlemen.

The manga can be legally bought here, translated into English and published by Dark Horse.

That said, the Hollywood action flick gets inspiration from the anime films. In fact, it draws almost exclusively from them, while carving out its own narrative.

That’s a good place to start, with the narrative. You see, in the anime films, the narrative is slow-paced; they don’t repeat anything and expects the audience to figure things out for themselves and, if you haven’t been paying attention, one might find oneself very confused as how usually happens with Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the continuation of the original Ghost in the Shell anime film. This Hollywood film is a lot more in-your-face, and tries to repeat things the audience might find relevant for later. However, the live-action film is not intellectually insulting, it has some subtlety in it — colour me shocked, for real! Clearly, it expects that the audiences have brains and wants them to use them.

As for characters, the film introduces some reworkings and tries to build on the canon. Dr. Ouelet is one such invention; never in any of the prior incarnations of the Ghost in the Shell story do we find out exactly how Major acquired her cyborg body and who gave it to her. Cutter is another one. Major herself, in the manga and anime mediums, has origins shrouded in mystery, since they’re not actually all that important to the ultimate questions the story grapples with; ‘what is existence?’ and ‘is she alive?’ Dr. Dahlin (Anamaria Marinca), the specialist from Hanka Robotics that assists Batou and Major in the forensics investigation of the first killing, is quite obviously inspired in Dr. Haraway, Section 9’s forensics specialist in Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.

There is an interesting twist to Batou himself; in all his prior incarnations he had already had his cybernetic eyes, whereas in the live-action film he acquires them during the film’s run, which is fairly significant because it ties into the film’s themes. Tragically, there is a bunch of under-utilized characters in the live-action film, such as the mostly-muggle Togusa (Chin Han), the understated badassery of Chief Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) and fellow Section 9 team member Ladriya (Danusia Samal), and whom I presume is a sex worker called Lia (Adwoa Aboah). I have to make a note of the fact that Togusa being mostly unaugmented is important for Major in the Ghost in the Shell anime film, whereas in the live-action film Togusa just exists to be contrasted to other augmented characters. On the other hand, Chief Aramaki in the anime films and the live-action incarnation seems to be of similar disposition. I really like him as a character, and if he were real, I’d really like him as a person.

I don’t recall if it’s ever mentioned in Mamoru Oshii’s films, but in the manga the corporation that provides and cares for the augmentations and artifical bodies of the people in Section 9 is called Megatech. Hanka Robotics fills that role. I believe the name change was done because, in the 90s, ‘Megatech’ was just a low-key name for a megacorp of a cyberpunk world, whereas in 2017 it’s a clichéd name that today’s genre-savvy audiences are going to find cheesy. This film does not want to be cheesy. So there has been some changes made in service of better translating the film to modern audiences. Note that this is not a consideration for Western audiences in general, just a capitulation to the awareness of genre tropes in today’s audiences.

Overall, I think the changes have been in favour of the narrative… for the most part.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Rosario is an early-twenties, outspoken woman, who likes to burrow between piles of books, and store miscellaneous trivia in her head.