Somewhere in my bookshelf sits a copy of the compilation of all the issues of Ghost in the Shell. The original Japanese version. No English translation. In addition, two of my favorite anime films are Ghost in the Shell and its sequel Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. The manga and the films are very different, but both excellent for different reasons. This is why I’m so concerned about the new live action film starring Scarlett Johansson.
What made the manga work was the inventive story and artwork by manga master Masamune Shirow. Shirow’s artwork is always on point, but he also peppers his stories with philosophical footnotes and ideas about how things work in terms of politics, society, mechanics or just about anything else.
What made the anime films work is that they focused squarely on the philosophical aspect of the intersection of technology and humanity. The first anime discussed the nature of evolution within a technological context, as well as philosophical ideas behind identity and existence in a world where a body can be completely replaced and a brain is modified at will with surgically implanted parts.
Leaving aside the whitewashing involved in casting Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, there are fundamental concerns about how the filmmakers are handling the story. The first anime film discussed the idea of humanity and evolution in a cybernetic world and the sequel discussed the need for humans to mold the illusion of humanity in technology instead of just finding humanity in each other. From what little I’ve seen in the trailer, the filmmakers have absorbed the unique look of the manga and the films, but have also reduced the story to a conventional action film. The story seems to revolve superficially about the main character’s sense of identity, but there’s a kind of superficiality to it. This superficiality is common in American action films, but it seems out of place in the trailer. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems to put forward the idea that the main character thinks she is a modified human when she might be an android. It’s the kind of thing I would almost expect from a Bladerunner knock-off. I just don’t sense anything deeper to the story.
I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t have a lot of faith in remakes these days. I’m betting that this live action film will show some sex, lots of violence and some interesting visuals. I also bet that it will not have Shirow’s characteristic humor and philosophy or the deep philosophical exploration of the anime films.
I’m happy to be wrong, though. It’s just that right now I don’t think I am.