Film - Ghost in the Shell

Susan Omand comes out of her shell with some concerns about the impending remake of Ghost in the Shell...

I’m worried. Nothing new there you might think but this time I’m worried about a film reboot and that is usually the job of our esteemed bossman Steve. The one I’m worried about though is the live action remake of the classic Manga film, Ghost in the Shell, due out in 2017 and starring Scarlett Johansson.

I am a huge fan of both Manga and anime. I love this film and watched it again recently just because I could. It’s a gorgeously drawn piece of Japanese magic that is now nearly 20 years old and has been the inspiration for every film that you thought was new and different in those last two decades. You loved the Matrix? You need to watch Ghost in the Shell. You loved the whole genre of hacking/whistleblowing/government conspiracy films? You need to watch Ghost in the Shell. You loved The Machine or Ex Machina? You need to watch... you get the idea. So obviously it’s ripe for a remake right? WRONG! And wrong on so many levels.

Although it’s not quite as batshit crazy as Akira (which I must watch again soon), Ghost in the Shell has a very complex story that seems very simple on the surface and that is partly what I’m concerned about, that the subtle nuances of the tale are lost. On the surface, it’s a story about a cyborg government agent, “Major” Kusanagi, who, with her mostly human partner Batou, heads up Section 9 and is trying to track down a hacker called the Puppet Master, who is manipulating the brains of essential staff within the government using a virus program for who knows what purpose. It’s all high tech, including wonders such as Barrier breakers to get past the security links of the jacks that feed into everyone’s brains for communications, and thermoptic camouflage which renders the wearer near invisibility. And this, I believe is the line that the remake will take as it has Hollywood action flick written all over it. Good guy and bad guy are well defined, there will be a lot of dramatic fight scenes and CGI, especially with the helicopter shootout at the end, the bad guy will get captured, government corruption will be called into question and the good guys will live to fight another day.


But there are subtleties in the animation that could well be totally lost if not handled carefully by the director, purported to be Rupert Sanders who directed Snow White and the Huntsman. Subtleties like the whole subplot of computer sentience, the “ghost” of a soul in the “shell” of an animatronic body. We only need to look at the film AI itself to see how badly/obviously that can be handled as a subject. In the original Ghost in the Shell animation the anguish of this sentience is really only hinted at until the last section of the film and the Project 2501 monologue from the Puppet Master. And those hints really are subtle, like the change in the tone of voice of the major while she is out on a night dive, her statement to the rookie, Togusa, that “If we all reacted the same way, we'd be predictable” or the fact that a tree of evolution carved into a wall is completely destroyed in the final shootout. Even in the words of that monologue itself, with the Puppet Master stating that “Life perpetuates itself through diversity and this includes the ability to sacrifice itself when necessary”.

I’m also concerned about the casting of Scarlett Johansson. If I’m going to be fickle about it, and why not because everyone else will be, the role really needs someone who just happens to be female and Ms Johansson can never be described as “just” anything, she is a big name draw meaning that the character will be her and she will be the character. If they had to go for a known name they should have done it with one of the other characters, Batou for instance and let the Major develop in its own right in the hands of an unknown, so that no prejudices or presuppositions come in to play.

The choice of screenwriter is also a cause for concern for me. With word reaching us recently that Straight Outta Compton scribe Jonathan Herman has signed up to rewrite the screenplay, I am concerned that, even if the film doesn’t become the all action flick that I think it will be, it will swing to the totally opposite end of the spectrum and become all worthy and moralistic. Whether it will be better than the current script, penned by Ray Donovan’s William Wheeler, also remains to be seen.

The involvement of Dreamworks also horrifies me as this masterpiece of Japanese animation runs the risk of becoming fully Disneyfied and I can only hope that the rumoured Dreamworks/Universal deal comes off beforehand and the remake, since it is going to be made whether or not, lands on the Universal slate, along with Spielberg’s own next project, Ready Player One.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the original Ghost in the Shell is perfect (especially some of the badly dubbed English versions out there that are more confusing than the original language). What I am saying is that Ghost in the Shell should be left as it is, as an ancestor and inspiration of some of the most exciting film making out there. But Hollywood is a harsh mistress so all I can ask is please, be gentle. The Ghost in the Shell is very fragile.

Image - IMDb

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