Ghost in the Shell – The First Trailer
A while back, I published a post entitled (unfortunately) “Ghost in the WTF”, which was a quick overview of leaked photos of the major cast from the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action movie. I was not entirely kind and in many ways, it’s a regretful post that I might consider sweeping under the rug if it weren’t for the fact that I’m sure someone read it and might call me out on its conspicuous absence in light of this post.
I’m never one to proactively shit on entertainment; it’s entertainment. It’s supposed to be consumed for enjoyment, but the Internet’s crass feedback loops often times run on self-satisfaction of being thought of as a “critical thinker”, which is why we have shot by shot breakdowns of advertising materials and why people mistake “complaints” and cynicism for “critical analysis”. I prefer to enjoy my entertainment in the spirit in which it was offered, and not enter into negotiations with such things as if I’m owed everything in the catalog of my wildest dreams. Naturally, that’s going to be really difficult when we start talking about something like Ghost in the Shell, which is without a doubt my Star Wars, my Firefly, and my favorite fiction possibly of all time. When the cast pictures were leaked — stills, and not very good ones — I had no context except the catalog of the series with which I was familiar and found the materials lacking. Lacking what? Lacking the exactitude of established art; drawn art, sure, but the drawn art was GitS, right? I jumped the gun and assumed what I saw was everything I would see, and made some knee-jerk decisions.
As of this writing, I have watched the above trailer three times. I will watch it several more times, because while I might prefer not to throw entertainment under the bus, I won’t sit still when I see something that excites me. This trailer has moved me well beyond excitement, and here’s why:
Like I said, the stills of the cast, in poor lighting, on grainy film scanned or photographed and published online, didn’t “do it” for me because there was nothing that lent itself to reality. There was no motion or conversation. They were just people standing awkwardly for some kind of photoshoot in the real world, dressed up as characters.
The trailer gives us context. We see Scarlett Johansson move and fight as speak in character. We see Pilou Asbæk as Batou with his cybernetics (and briefly without). We get an out-of-context glimpse of Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki. These are now the characters inhabiting the world of Ghost in the Shell, which is really the only way we can fully judge the final result.
Above all else, the tone of the trailer is what nailed it for me. It’s also the most difficult thing to describe. If you’re not familiar with GitS, then talk about the “feel” of the trailer isn’t going to mean anything to you; it’ll just be a bunch of weird scenes of some Blade Runner like ripoff, Johansson in an almost-naked bodysuit, and people shooting other people behind a slow-mo revision of a Depeche Mode song from the 80’s.
The GitS movie (the original) is about a future in which cybernetics have become commonplace and almost necessary in order to keep up with society. It’s about a government police force applied to special situations like terrorism and kidnapping. It was about a high-tech future that was just a little beyond our current and relatively low-tech present, such that the two can exist side by side without someone bringing up the dichotomy in a “gee whiz” fashion every ten minutes. There was a lot of shooting, a lot of explosions, and a lot of action.
But it wasn’t an action movie. It was a philosophical movie. It seems trite in text, but it dealt with the concepts of humanity in a world dependent on technology, especially when the dependence revolves around the idea of consciousness — the “ghost” — inhabiting a technological construct — the “shell” — and without the traditionally human biology, is a consciousness actually a living thing. The anime movie favored the philosophy when it came to the presentation, the cinematography, and the soundtrack. It plays more like an arthouse film than a traditionally Western action movie with all of its explosions, soaring orchestra, and witty one-liners. The movie is designed to haunt viewers visually, audibly, and mentally.
Although the trailer isn’t a full-length movie, the trailer gave me the same impressions. A scene doesn’t have to make sense at the time. It doesn’t need to beat us over the head with symbolism. Symbolism can be made clear in context, but directors often overdo it on the context because a lot of audiences can’t be assumed to “get” subtlety. GitS has always presented the plot almost entirely from the point of view of the character’s reality without dropping hints here and there about what X means or how Y is relevant to the plot. These characters inhabit a world unlike our own, and they don’t have time to wink and nod and explain how it’s different. They’ll leave that to you to suss out as you go, and if you don’t get it all the first time, watch it again. And again. And again. When you finally put the pieces together, the only thing you can do is sit back and think, “damn”.
The trailer did leave a few questions, though. For example, the sum of the scenes in the movie suggest that this is not a re-telling of the original animated movie. There’re several scenes in the trailer which are obviously from the animated movie — the Major’s swan-dive from the building, her brutal thermoplastic camouflaged uppercut to the thug in the slums, her and Batou on a boat — but there are also scenes which appear to be very similar to scenes from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (GitS: SAC) and the GitS: SAC Second Gig series, such as the tea-room of dignitaries and robotic geisha assassins.
The one thing that the trailer implies, but which neither the movie nor the series ever really focused on, was the actual origin story of Major Kusinagi. I think this is one of the IP’s strengths, and I’d be saddened a little if the movie turned out to be mostly an origin story for a single character, mainly because we’re neck-deep in origin stories (thanks, Marvel!), and GitS has always been about more cerebral topics than one person’s inner monologue about where they came from. Plus, the Major’s origins have always been one of the best ongoing mysteries of the franchise. I wouldn’t want to see it answered in 90 minutes when several dozen hours over the course of almost 20 years haven’t bothered to bring that story to the fore. If they were to wipe away that mystery, then any subsequent films (assuming there are any being considered) would be poorer for it.
After posting, I did a little walkabout and collected some additional information from around the web (actually from the fact that GitS is trending on Facebook) and have a few other things I want to add to this post.
First, there’s this:
This is a press recorded screengrab of a video presentation made during a concert featuring the title music from the original anime. The video itself is a live-action/CGI rendition of the intro to the anime. If you compare this to the official trailer, you see the same shot where the synthetic shell flies apart from the Major’s newly formed cybernetic body, leading us to believe that this sequence will actually be in the movie.
Yahoo was kind enough to enumerate “What is Ghost in the Shell? 47 things we learned from set“. I won’t rehash all 47, except to say that the article confirms that this is not a remake of the anime movie, but combines scenes from the movie and the Stand Alone Complex series…specifically 2nd Gig. The main antagonist of the new movie is ID’d as Kuze, who was the antagonist from that season of the series. 2nd Gig focused on a refugee crisis and the terrorist organization the Individual Eleven, so it looks like the movie might be following that storyline very closely.
In addition, 2nd Gig was the series that came closest to providing the Major with a backstory in the episode Kusingai’s Labyrinth.