What You Ought to Know About ‘Ghost in the Shell’

By  · Published on March 27th, 2017

Get ready to hack the ghost.

The groundbreaking anime that lead to countless imitators both live-action and in the realm of animation, Ghost in the Shell has long been thought of as a masterpiece. With the new live-action feature lifting sequences right from the pages of Masamune Shirow’s manga, its the perfect time to ask why has Ghost in the Shell influenced so many? And despite the hotly debated casting choices, how will this new adaptation possibly live up to the legacy of its fore-bearer?

The cyberpunk series first got its start from the mind of Masamune Shirow. Shirow had been writing Manga throughout the 1980’s including one of his biggest hits, Appleseed. Appleseed had all the trademarks of Shirow Manga; philosophical, hard science-fiction stories with adequately sexualized female characters. That played well toward a Western market that was just beginning to have access to Japanese Manga and Anime in the early 90’s. When Shirow created Ghost in the Shell, it was destined to receive a feature length adaptation.

Art from Ghost In The Shell ‐ Genga Shuu from Catsuka

Mamoru Oshii, who had previously found success with other Anime titles Urusei Yatsura and Patlabor, was brought on to direct the project. Oshii took select chapters from the source Manga and created one complete story, that of The Puppet Master. Even if apprehending The Puppet Master was not all that vital to the bigger aspirations of Ghost in the Shell.

Ghost in the Shell features Major Kusanagi, a human only because her ghost still exists within an entirely artificial shell. Think of ones ‘ghost’ as their soul, at least that’s how I’ve always viewed it. While the military organization she works for, Section 9, looks to apprehend a suspicious terrorist known as The Puppet Master, Kusanagi is more interested in the mind. The Puppet Master was never originally an organic life form, but at what point do androids become real? Beyond all else this is what Ghost in the Shell tries to answer.

Perhaps that’s why the movie has been in development for so long. For all the special effects and jaw dropping action sequences, its just fancy window dressing for a far more elaborate plot. That might’ve drawn the ire of some viewers just looking for a simple science fiction story. The Ghost in the Shell of ‘95 is far more interested in its philosophy.

There is no question that animation has evolved since the film’s original release, but it still showcases some magnificent talent. As seen above, there is a wonderful sequence that is used as world building, that really allows the animators to go to town.

Ghost in the Shell has long influenced Hollywood films. The Wachowskis used the film in a pitch meeting for their science-fiction opus, The Matrix. They basically told the studio that, “[they] wanna do that for real.” James Cameron ended up creating Avatar, which allows human to put their personalities into another body. Not to mention he owned the rights to Battle Angel: Alita, a very similar cyberpunk Manga that Robert Rodriguez is directing. Steven Spielberg has made similar films like A.I. and Minority Report; he is also one of the founders of Dreamworks who is releasing the new live-action Ghost in the Shell film.

The effects of the film weren’t solely connected to Hollywood though. Ghost in the Shell rocked the Anime industry and became a worldwide phenomenon. There was very little in the realm of Japanese animation that provided hard hitting stories for adults. Ghost in the Shell has been expanded throughout the years to include multiple series including Stand Alone Complex and sequel movies.

The new Ghost in the Shell, featuring Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi, seems to be taking the material and taking another approach. Whereas the ’95 film had Kusanagi questioning her humanity and what exactly it means to be human; the new film has her damning the people who put her in her new shell. Instead of working with Section 9, as in ’95 and Stand Alone Complex, she might go rouge to seek revenge on those who took everything that made her real. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Johansson have large expectations to fill, from a fan base that doesn’t believe they will even come close.

Regardless on whether or not the 2017 film will be a success, Ghost in the Shell has continued to influence countless properties across vast mediums. The reason for its vast popularity stems from the cyberpunk origins, philosophical theories, and detailed designs among many others. Perhaps most of all, when a animated film can make you contemplate what exactly defines life, well you’ve got a landmark feature.

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News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.