Ghost in the Shell – First Pass
In this adaptation, we hit the ground running by being introduced to Mira Killian who we are told was rescued from a terrorist attack. Although she was gravely injured, the medical team at Hanaka Robotics was able to implant her brain into a fully cybernetic body — the first transplant of its kind.
One year later, we see Major (now a name and not a title, apparently) Mira Killian kicking ass in the oft-seen non-trailer edit Geisha scene. Further investigation leads Section 9 and Hanaka (running parallel investigations) to find that the Geisha were hacked by an individual named Kuze. This leads Major Mira Killian to interface with the Geisha under investigation, where she finds herself being back-hacked by Kuze’s remote connection.
This meeting puts Major Mira Killian on a path of self-discovery because this is an origin story and we need to know the reason behind the “glitches” that Major Mira Killian is experiencing. Hanaka doctors claim that these are normal and meaningless, but Kuze tells Major Mira Killian that the medicine that she takes to prevent her brain from rejecting her body is suppressing actual memories of her actual life before she was “rescued” by Hanaka, and that what they told her about her circumstances isn’t true. When Cutter, the head of Hanaka, learns of this exchange, he orders Major Mira Killian to be terminated, and Section 9 along with her.
A selfless act by Dr. Ouelete (who was responsible for getting Major Mira Killian‘s brain into her new body and repairing her repeatedly) brings Major Mira Killian to an apartment building — the apartment of her mother. This is where we learn that there is no such person as Major Mira Killian, but rather a young woman named Motoko Kusinagi who was a runaway and who vanished and was presumed dead. When Whoever She Is travels to the last remembered location as Motoki Kusinagi she meets up with Kuze, and remembers that they knew each other as different people among a group of runaways who were living in an abandoned part of the city. By this time, Section 9 has defeated the Hanaka strike teams (because of course), but not before Cutter sends a spider tank after Whatever Her Name Is and Kuze. Wasserface is ripped apart, Kuze transcends into the ‘net, and Aramaki shoots Cutter etc etc etc.
Let’s start off positive. Visually, the designers nailed pretty much everything, which I suppose wasn’t all that difficult considering that GitS has a very specific aesthetic that could be (and sometimes was) lifted directly from the anime. I think they kind of overdid it with all of the holograms, but at least it was set in Japan*, there were no flying cars, and there was that sense of overcrowding going on right next to examples of excess.
The writers and designers had a lot of material to go on — several movies, and several series-worth, actually — and trying to piece together where this scene originated or where that scene originated probably would require instant recall of all of those elements (which I certainly don’t have). I recognized a lot, though. The opening sequence, Kusinagi’s apartment, the Geisha scene, Kuze as a character, Batou’s boat, and even very, very specific scenes like the giant transport plane flying slowly overhead when Kusinagi is chasing the garbage collector through the alleys. Those were features of the movies or the series, although not all of them were from the same movies or series.
And that brings us to the close of the positive, I’m afraid…
First and foremost, I can’t figure out why the writers opted to introduce us to Kusinagi in the way that they did. Sadly, I suspect it’s because they felt that they needed an origin story, and there isn’t a satisfying one in the existing canon. As I have written before, this (for me) is one of the series’ greatest strengths: although canon leans towards Kusinagi as the main character, the rest of Section 9 is featured prominently enough that we understand that they aren’t “The Major and Her Team”, but an actual team where all members are strong and important. Here, the writers have elevated Kusinagi as the focal point, and because American audiences aren’t smart enough to follow anything that isn’t presented in “Marvel fashion”, the writers apparently believe that we need to know who she is and where she came from in order to know where she’s going. But still, finding out that the character is named “Mira Killian” was a head-scratcher — there was no point to that. Hanaka could have told her that her name was “Breadloaf Soupcan” and she would have believed them; had they hewn closer to the truth, then Kuze’s revelations wouldn’t have had the impact (narrative-wise) when she found out her name was actually Motoko Kusinagi.
One thing I did end up appreciating, though, was how the writers merged Kuze — who was at the center of the Individual Eleven storyline in GitS: Stand Alone Complex. The AI that is the antagonist in the Ghost in the Shell movie is the one that can wipe and reprogram people’s memories (i.e. the garbage collector who believes he has a wife and daughter when he actually is a bachelor who lives alone). The AI of the movie seeks to leave the cybernetic body it has been imprisoned in and ascend into the ‘net, which is also Kuze’s goal in the live action movie. When looked at from a distance, giving Kusinagi an adult history and a link to the antagonist meant that the antagonist had to be a real person as well, so they couldn’t have used the AI from the original movie. Since Kuze was the only other rogue hacker in the canon (the Laughing Man notwithstanding), I can see why the writers went there.
The whole identity bait-and-switch threw me enough that I couldn’t get into that place where I was watching objectively. I started asking why almost from the get-go, and then was disappointed by the only plausible answer (i.e. origin story). GitS is at its best when it’s featuring the complex intertwining of political intrigue, and also when it focuses on Section 9’s military exploits — and those are the two halves of the original canon. This movie was about Kusinagi, her history, and how she felt about it. To me, that’s not GitS. It’s not smart, it’s not as action-packed as it could have/should have been at the points where it could have/should have been, and it seemed to go out of its way to be different in order to cater to the lowest common denominator. The thing is, we see movies all the time where we don’t get origin stories. We don’t expect to start at the police academy for a story about a 40 year police force veteran only two weeks from retirement. We accept that this office has seen some shit, and we infer parts of their history from their actions in the present.
I called this post “First Pass” both as a play on “Second Gig”, but also because I want to watch the movie again at home. I suspect that I might have been too expectant, and realize that once I got thrown off kilter, I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile what I was seeing with what I had wanted to be seeing. What did I want to see? A retelling of the original GitS? That would not have been bad at all, really. The series are too dense over too many episodes to condense into a 90-minute movie and be coherent. I’m kind of sad that they pilfered all kinds of elements from across the GitS spectrum, though, because Kuze’s actual story is a whole season’s worth of stories, and so is The Laughing Man, and whatever the heck was going on in Solid State Society (because I can’t remember right now).
Unfortunately, I don’t think this movie is going to do well enough to warrant a sequel, which is both sad and a good thing. Sad, because there’ll be no shot at redemption. Good, because they crammed a lot of canon into one movie and have little else left to go on, almost as if they knew this was going to be their one and only opportunity.
I’m not going to go on record and say that this movie “ruined” GitS. It has not. It’s another entry, or an off-shoot, but it’s hardly a speedbump because we still have all of the content we’ve come to love that we can watch any time we want to remind ourselves why this franchise is so great. If anything, I think we can be disappointed that the one time an opportunity presented itself to bring this series to people who wouldn’t watch “a cartoon”, what we got was a lackluster interpretation that doesn’t “bang” so much as “wheeze”. But then again, I am a fan of franchise, and I’m not objective. Maybe someone who knows nothing about anything GitS would see it differently, but I am not holding my breath.
* There was a lot of hay made about the “whitewashing” of this movie by casting Scarlett Johansson as Kusinagi, but personally I didn’t ever care. After watching the movie, we had white men and women, a black man, a Middle Eastern woman, and a crapload of Japanese actors, one of whom spoke only in Japanese. It’s later revealed that Kusinagi the runaway was Japanese, but was put into a caucasian body. Why? Because in the future, Japan is a multi-cultural melting-pot, apparently. In fact, some of the more caucasian-looking characters in the GitS canon (specifically Togusa) were now being played by Asian actors. I guess any controversy is a good controvery.