a review by the Crow.
In the summer of 2003, I picked up a magazine from a local newsagents’. This magazine (since loaned to a friend and therefore lost) introduced this crow to the works of Hideshi Hino, the recently-released Oldboy, and Ghost in the Shell (a promo for the English release of Innocence graced the cover, and it contained a review of said movie). One could say that the magazine represented a significant turning point in my life.
Some weeks later, I came across an episode of Stand Alone Complex on the telly. So, I started following the show. And once I’d caught up via the magic of re-runs, I was hooked.
I immediately went looking for what other things Ghost in the Shell there were to be found. At the time, there were two feature-length animated movies, three manga collections, and the anime series – all of which belonged to different fictional universes, mind you, but more on that later. And oh, how long I’ve wanted to talk about the franchise.
Recently, with trailers dropping for the upcoming Hollywood live-action movie, I’ve been meaning to do an analysis on everything Ghost in the Shell; however, no matter where I start, the road gets rocky. So – this crow thought – why not go back to the beginning and build from there?
Leading up to the release of the live-action movie (which I intend to thoroughly preview), The Corvid Review will do a complete breakdown of the series.
And we’re going to start with the first movie as our access point. After all, it recently became 21 years old, and I’m a bit ashamed I never managed to do this in time for the anniversary.
For now, I’ll keep things light, but as these posts start to pile up, I’ll start analysing and interpreting the many facets to this franchise.
So, let’s not wait around any longer. My ghost, it whispers to me. Let’s dive in.
ALL OF THE WHISPERS
WARNING: THE SECTIONS BELOW CONTAIN MAJORteehee! SPOILERS
Ghost in the Shell opens with a meeting between Section 6 chief Nakamura and an American diplomat who has been working to help a programmer defect from Japan. Major Motoko Kusanagi stands above the building they are in, listening to their conversation. When the diplomat, faced with charges, claims immunity, she takes off her overcoat and drops off the roof.
On the way down, she assassinates the diplomat and turns invisible (a future projection of therm-optic camouflage) as the security detail and SWAT team equivalent look on in disbelief.
Most people miss the importance of this scene. This isn’t just showing off how much of a badass the Major is (this is just not the sort of woman you want to cross), but it’s a small plot detail that I recommend paying attention to.
From here, we segue into the “making of cyborg” sequence (otherwise known as the “shelling” sequence). Set to an orchestral backdrop conducted by the master Kenji Kawai (who himself plays some of the drums on occasion), we get to see the creation of Major Motoko Kusanagi.
In the world of Ghost in the Shell, technology has advanced far enough that prosthetic body parts and organs are commonplace, and the net is far more interlaced with our physical reality than we can even think about today.
The Major is a full-body cyborg. The only “original organic” parts of her are her brain, and possibly some pieces of spinal column.
Following the “making of cyborg” scene, the Major wakes up in her apartment (a scene that has since become one of the many iconic scenes of the movie over time).
Throughout the movie, we see Kusanagi wandering. First, she takes a journey across the very Hong Kong-inspired Tokyo of 2029; and later, we see her diving in the ocean. These are both beautiful scenes (especially the first), but I’ll get to their relevance later on in this post.
During this time, Section 9 (the public security outfit the Major works for) is hot on the heels of a master-hacker known only as the “Puppetmaster“. In the world of Ghost in the Shell, technology and society have become so interconnected that you can literally “ghost-hack” people. And so, all Section 9 have come up with so far are proxies being played to some ulterior motive or the other.
As the investigation continues, and Section 9 comes upon dead end following dead end, a mangled female body is brought to Section 9. A few hours ago, a prosthetic body factory was hacked, and the body was put together autonomously. After exiting the factory, the body was run over by a truck.
Section 9 discovers that there seems to be a human “ghost” inside the “shell” (see what went on there? See it?). Section 6 shows up, and it is uncovered that the “ghost” inside the body is the Puppetmaster itself (or himself, as some of the characters gender it). The Puppetmaster is the product of one Project 2501, a venture masterminded by Section 6 to create a system which can “ghost-hack” people and use them as proxies for espionage (and to otherwise act in Section 6’s interests), despite Section 6’s initial claims of Project 2501 being built to capture the “elusive” Puppetmaster.
During its ventures on the net, a part of Project 2501 gained a “ghost” (i.e.: became self-aware), and has since formed its own goals. Section 6 and other involved parties, have since been trying to trap the Puppetmaster, fearing the consequences of a rogue machine consciousness. And they’ve finally succeeded, by luring it down to a single body. Since Section 9 usually handles the “dirty work”, they’ve been made part of the process as well.
Section 6, however, raids Section 9 and makes off with the Puppetmaster. Section 9 gives chase, and it ends in a scene where the Major squares off, one-on-one, with a tank.
Following the battle sequence, in which Batou arrives to provide a much-needed assist, the Major and the Puppetmaster have a conversation.
The Puppetmaster is frustrated with its status as the ‘Other’. Unique as it is (superior, even), its immortality and its inability to reproduce make it feel an outcast, and so, it has used those very inadequacies to give itself a purpose.
And it’s purpose? To seek out someone who can be the bridge between it and humanity. And the perfect bridge, it has found in Motoko Kusanagi, since she is like it – only from the human side of things.
During the movie, the Major’s disconnection with the world has been driven home. The scenes highlighting this are the “wandering” scene and the “diving” scene. Even Batou – the closest person she has both in terms of cyberisation and friendship – is far, far more human than her. Kusanagi simply doesn’t feel human enough. All that makes her human is others’ treatment of her as one.
Batou tries to stop the “dive” (the interlink between them), but is hacked by the Puppetmaster. The two stare into each other’s ghosts awhile, and just then, Section 6’s snipers blow their heads (literally, in the case of Kusanagi, despite Batou’s attempt to save her) off.
At the very end, Kusanagi wakes up in a child’s body, which is the best Batou could do at short-notice from the black market. She reveals to him that while she is now something new – a new consciousness born of the merger between her and the Puppetmaster, but who is neither of them.
She decides to leave alone, and Batou reminds her he’ll always be around if she needs him.
She stands at the edge of a hill by Batou’s safehouse. Contemplating what comes next, she stares out across the vista and says:
“The net is vast and infinite.”
SOME OF THE GHOSTS
In this section, we’ll be taking a quick look at the craft of the movie, as well as touch on the concepts it deals with.
Ghost in the Shell is a marvellously made movie, and while some might prefer the “updated” CGI-aided Ghost in the Shell 2.0 remake, I think the original is vastly superior. After having watched so much Ghost in the Shell over the years, every time I rewatch the “making of cyborg” sequence, I’m surprised to how quick things move. It’s perfectly paced, but something about the scene – the visuals, the music, everything – puts me in mind of a much slower pace.
The art is stunning, and the few minutes that we spend wandering around the city with the Major are a stunning achievement. Pictured above is a similar scene, but from a different point in the the movie. The above is the location from which Batou and Ishikawa start narrowing down one of the proxies’ locations while relaying information between Section 9 Chief Aramaki, and the Major and Togusa, who are also on the move.
The detail put into the scenes is amazing, and the way in which the “camera” glides through the city makes for one long spectacle.
And the music of the movie, oh my dear ghost! Is it ever lush. The soundtrack drips with strings and chimes that line up perfectly with the visuals. Better soundtracks are rare to come by. Just sitting and listening to it with your eyes closed puts you in exactly the frame of mind that the movie conveys.
Ghost in the Shell involves far too many concepts for me to talk about all at once in this post. I’d have to turn my Žižek mode onsniff-sniff! and yammer on for hours, arguing this and that (and possibly drop a “dirbty joke!” for good measure); but I promised I’d touch on all those things at some other date. For now, I’ll just list some of the major points the movie raises out:
What makes one human is the primary question running throughout the movie. It’s explored by both Kusanagi and the Puppetmaster, as well as by Batou, Togusa, and others. Now that you have a general idea of what happens in the movie, you can probably guess to what ends this question leads and how.
The most significant supporting themes are replication and mirroring, variety, identities in posthuman environments, virtual memories, real memories, and emergence (I’m going to leave this term on this loose note). Ghost in the Shell has its own answers to some of the questions the concepts raise, and briefly argues the others as and when they come, but we don’t live in its universe. So, the movie closes its own loops where it can, but we’re left with the prospect that in the future we’re headed to, these questions will inevitably become real-world issues.
NONE OF THE SHELLS
In terms of characters, Ghost in the Shell is quite a sparse movie. And to be honest, doing a character-by-character breakdown wouldn’t be appropriate. The only real character here is the Major.
Now, I’ve spoiled the movie completely enough that not much is left to say to her. No one else does anything. Batou has a few moments in the movie; Togusa and Ishikawa do their jobs; the Chief is the stolid leader he has been since the first manga series; and Nakamura resigns in disgrace. The Puppetmaster is the only other persona in the movie with any characterisation; and even it is naught but a mirror-image of the Major.
There are parts of the franchise where a character-by-character review would be important, but this movie is not one of them.
I haven’t yet mentioned how massive an influence Ghost in the Shell has been on me.
While since but only a babe I’ve had the intention of writing SF; it was only in 2006 that I started the draft of what will be my debut novel (to finally be a thing sooner rather than later, hopefully!) The story that eventually grew into the novel had been kind of slowly coming together over the years prior. And in the middle years, it was certainly heavily inspired by the franchise (specifically Stand Alone Complex).
The Puppetmaster pretty much influenced the make-up of my “It”, once I figured out where that angle would go; and while my novel’s since departed from the heavy influence of Ghost in the Shell, I still have immense respect for the franchise.
The legacy of Ghost in the Shell is undeniably epic. The pitch for The Matrix apparently happened in an actual elevator, where the (then-brothers) Sisters Wachowski convinced Joel Silver to sit down and showed him this movie to make him understand that it was a workable idea.
The movie’s influences (from the manga and beyond) and its immense legacy will be a topic I’ll tackle at some other time. Like I said, I’ll keep this review light. But oh, gracious me, is there a lot to talk about!
Expect lots more Ghost in the Shell from The Corvid Review in the coming weeks. We’re only just getting started.
If you need to keep yourself busy in the meantime, remember:
“The net is vast and infinite.”
There’s things to keep you busy until your beloved birds return (admittedly, they’re not so interesting). Next up will be an overview of the original manga series.
Until we meet again, Major.