I’ve been debating on writing this post for a couple of weeks now. Debating because when I saw the movie – and enjoyed it. I’m a huge fan of the original anime and I wanted to watch the movie to see how well they handled it. There are several issues surrounding GITS including the ‘whitewashing’ and the ‘westernization’ of it. I understand and agree with it all and there is enough to fill another blog post, but I wanted to focus this post on the plot, visualization and themes the movie explores. At least at this point. I may work on a second related post talking about whitewashing in Hollywood cinema, but there are several of those out right now that are more informative, researched and presented than I could ever write.
Before I continue, please be aware there are spoilers! Many of the points I’m writing about deals with knowledge of both the original anime and the live action version. If you haven’t seen them and want to – avoid reading this post until you do.
In the live-action Ghost In The Shell the plot revolves around The Major, a cybernetic body with a human mind inside. Placed on a task-force called Section 9 that deals with terrorism and stopping terrorists, they face a new threat called ‘The Puppet Master’. While tracking down this terrorist, the Major faces her own suppressed memories and questions her existence and learns that Haka Robotics lied to her about her past.
This plot differs slightly from the original anime version. Though elements are the same, there is enough of a difference to change the outcome of the movie. In the original there was never any ‘origin’ moment. There is a well animated opening sequence of the Major’s body in development, but when the movie begins with the Major taking down a terrorist attack, we are to accept everything without explanation. We learn throughout the movie of her cybernetic body and Haka’s involvement with that but there was no story arc in that regards. She works for Section 9 and in all honesty there is little character development with the Major other than her curiosity over the identity of the Puppet Master that borders on obsession.
The new plot for the live-action GITS is interesting, once it gets to the point about the Major’s memories. In the early stages of the movie there are scenes with Major in her apartment injecting herself with Haka Robotics approved packets in the back of her neck (where she connects to devices and uploads information) to help her mind accept her cybernetic body and not reject it. At first it makes sense, but as Major has more and more memories surface – those that don’t line up with the story Haka Robotics told her what happened, she questions everything and also the Puppet Master. These sensations and flashbacks get stronger after the Major ‘dives’ into a robot the Puppet Master had hacked and taken control of in the earlier terrorist attack to find the Puppet Master, his identity and where he’s holding up. It is through this first connection and a few others later on that we get the pieces of the Major’s real past and the secrets behind Haka Robotics and her own existence.
The Puppet Master:
The main ‘villain’ of the movie is the Puppet Master. Believed to be a super hacker with the ability to ‘ghost hack’ – taking control of a cyberized person’s body without their knowledge.
Even the identity of the Puppet Master changed between the original anime and the new live-action version. In the new version, we discover the Puppet Master is just like the Major, a previous test subject of Haka Robotics by placing a human mind in a cybernetic body. To control them, they give them the same fake story of them being a sole survivor of a terrorist attack. Thus giving them a purpose to use their new power towards fighting terrorism for them. The story gets much deeper than that!
It turns out that to find the test subjects for this process, Haka Robotics took several runaway kids, the Major and the Puppet Master are just two of them. Once Haka learns that Major is rebelling against them, they order her termination, and threaten Section 9 with closing down their division if they don’t give up the Major. The Chief of Section 9 sides with the Major and against the president of Haka Robotics and we see some amazing scenes the show how bad-ass members of Section 9 are!
In the original anime, the Puppet Master is a program created by Section 6 called Project 2501. An advance AI that went rogue, escaping it’s firewall confines that Section 6 put in place by using a factory produced robot body. After being hit in the road by a truck and sent to Section 9, it surprises everyone by asking for asylum as a sentient creature. Claiming self-preservation of its programming does not differ from DNA. At the end of the anime movie Major links or dive with the Puppet Master and converses with it, learning it wishes to pass on its ideas and evolve like any other biological creature instead of just making copies. Before Section 6 shoots both the robot body of the Puppet Master AND Major, Major agrees and merges. Having her own body shot up and destroyed along with the Puppet Master, she wakes up in a new prosthetic body – a new body for a new being.
As you can see above, by changing the identity of the Puppet Master the endings of the live action movie is different. Where Major gets a new body and a new identity in the anime, the live action avoids that and we see Major in her original body all fixed. How that happens when she’s on the black list of Haka Robotics – I don’t know. Yes, she has her original memories, a mother, but does that count as a new identity? Sorry, as you can tell I prefer the anime’s ending over the live action one. Maybe, just maybe had they placed her in a new body, made it Asian… could that have saved the movie from the onslaught of bad reviews?
The main theme, idea that struck me the strongest throughout the movie (both anime and live action) is the ‘ghost-hacking’ the ability or potential ability to hack a person’s mind. In the GITS setting, we are in this futurist world where cyber implants is everywhere and all the rave. Not just physical parts, but also it seems mental parts, downloading holographic images of the mind and so forth. But with that comes the potential of being hacked. In particular in this movie, the people don’t know their hacked. The only way to tell is the alternating of memories.
Given the way technology is moving, this feels like something to worry about. Not to mention how frightening it could be to not even be able to trust your own memories! How could you defend against that?
The visuals of the live action movie was amazing. Full of large holographic images on sides of buildings for ads – the new build boards, the depiction of diving or linking with robotic programs, and the creation of the Major’s body – and to add to that the way the body is mended after being cut/broken. The entire live action movie had a brighter-cleaner sleekness to it. It was a little different from what I remember from the anime, both my boyfriend and I agree the original anime seemed to depict more of a ‘Blade Runner’ feel, so a little dirtier, worn in feel. But still, the bright lights and look of the technology used in the movie is spectacular.
In the live action movie the main theme that seemed to come out is that of identity, and what a ‘ghost’ means. In the movie we hear reference to the Major to trust her ghost, or her soul. But being in a full cybernetic body with only a human mind, were does the soul come from, or where is it stored? I’m using ‘ghost’ and ‘soul’ interchangeably thinking they are meaning the same thing. So as the Major discovers the meaning behind her dreams, and her real identity she is also forced to deal with herself, whom she become and who she wants to be. Basic questions that hall humans experience and goes through. It is a better story arch than the anime – at lest in my opinion, but they could have gone further.
In the movie we learn that the Major was in fact Asian, and her mind placed in a Caucasian looking body. There could have been a theme surrounding that aspect – but I understand by then there was no time for her to dwell on that one aspect as the climax was approaching and ending in sight.
Another theme I wanted to touch on was the roles of woman in technological fields. I hear a lot about the lack of women in science fields and the lack of role models to help young girls get interested in such studies and fields. In this movie we see at least two prominent women in leading cybernetic and robotic fields. Dr. Ouelet and Dr. Dahlin. Outlet had direct correspondence with Major and deals with both her psyche and body, and shares almost a mentor/student or mother/daughter relationship. Although I still understand the issues surrounding the whitewashing, I still like seeing at least two female scientists in the movie with lines and a personality.
I enjoyed the movie, the visual and themes within the movie. As much as there are problems with the live action movie, if wish to avoid that, at least find the anime and watch it that way. There are now several new versions of anime relating to Ghost in the Shell, and I’m sure there will be other new versions like this western one. I hope if there will be a next live-action movie the makers of the first will learn their lesson and listen to the fans and treat their audience with respect.