Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

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colinr0380
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Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

#1 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Aug 13, 2017 8:13 pm

Spoilers:

The live action Ghost In The Shell film has perhaps done the best thing regarding the previous productions (the Masaume Shirow manga, the 1995 and 2004 anime features, the mid-2000s Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex series and feature, the Arise origin story) that have all had their own takes on the material that aren't canon with each other but instead differently weighted interpretations on particular themes and images (the corporate/military/political intertwining together in backroom board rooms; group dynamics and the pleasures of working as a team; the potential intrusion even into a person's memories and entire sense of identity; the fleshy ties and responsibilities of the physical world versus the liberation of the mind into pure autonomous artificiality of cyberspace; the use of liquids, mirror images and diving as metaphors to express a mental state, duality and the online sea of information in general - a fast linear movement in a cluttered and overcrowded world) and gone its own way with its storyline whilst incorporating a lot of the most memorable imagery from all of the sources.

It seems particularly focused on the 1995 Mamoru Oshii film, though other sources inspire certain moments. For example the chain smoking doctor figure played by Anamaria Marinca in the film is somewhat inspired on the character from Innocence, and the main villain is a kind of fusing between the Puppet Master from the 1995 film, and the two antagonists from the two Stand Alone Complex series - the terrorist Laughing Man from series 1, and romantic, betrayed rebel leader Kuze himself from series 2. Which I guess makes sense in the film going for a different angle from the 1995 film, which seemed to celebrate the liberating power of escaping the 'shell' and moving entirely online as an entirely new form of being (even if that gets alluded to in the final scenes with the offer being turned down). The 2017 film is a bit closer in tone to the Stand Alone Complex series in which the Major is part of her Section 9 team and dealing with terrorist situations, and like Stand Alone Complex it still stays strongly tied to the physical world throughout as being where the Major belongs and has a future. Though even with that different philosophical approach, I was impressed by just how many elements of the 1995 film were kept in there (the diving scene; the wiped and false memory implanted bin man turned sleeper agent; the spider tank and side by side chat; even the nod to the Basset Hound, which was Mamoru Oshii's big talismanic symbol added to many of his films: Ghost In The Shell, Innocence, appearing at the turning point resolution of the mystery in Patlabor: The Mobile Police, even in the live action Avalon), whilst letting the film create its own, more emotional backstory.

Watching the latest film, it did sort of strengthen that sense of Ghost In The Shell being in the same area as RoboCop, which has never really come across so clearly as it does here. Not so much in the satirical sense but more in the way that the Major is someone pared down to a brain in an artificial body and that comes with a host of questions about who owns her 'intellectual copyright', and pays for all of her, presumably massively expensive, repairs and upgrades. With the inevitable answer that the military and/or tech corporations will, but they'll of course have their own agendas that they want fulfilled by their 'equipment' in exchange for their investment! (One of the big ideas running underneath all of these works is about what happens once someone has 'combined' with technology and has to deal with obsolecence, becoming outmoded and having, consciously or not, signed over control of their existence, both physical body and the contents of their minds, to a corporation. That's obviously only become more relevant in the social media age). That whilst not feeling pain to the same extent and being more powerful in general is an advantage and lets the body get pushed past breaking point to achieve a goal, it also comes with concerns about repair costs and cost vs result calculations! And I liked the idea that does get dealt with to some extent in this film of someone (in this case Juliette Binoche's scientist character) having access and the expertise to see every thought that the Major had, poring through the paper readout like it was a seismograph chart after an earthquake! That's a scary addition to the material, with its suggestion that there's no privacy to have your own unbridled thoughts in that situation, because someone is always going to have a record of everything that crossed your mind! (Plus how much of 'you' are 'you'? How much has been artificially suppressed through drugs, or was cut away in the surgery, based on the decisions of what someone else felt was 'enough' to leave you with? Is this world as it exists in the film moving towards recreating a person entirely from their brainwaves, or would that result in an even cruder artificial intelligence? The end point this film appears to come to is that a merging of flesh and technology together is the better option, rather than a total mind-body split one way or the other)

The Stand Alone Complex series was a bit less concerned about those existential threats and seemed generally fine with people gradually becoming more artificial (especially in the series ongoing subplot of Togusa getting steadily upgraded after beginning 'pure' human, something which gets passed over to Batou having his 'origin story' in the 2017 film, though it is nice that Togusa, along with Saito briefly at the end, still turn up as characters here), it did have some moments in specific episodes involving ideas around the economic upkeep aspect of an artificial body. The 2017 film sort of splits the difference by taking the mind and memory based approach of the 1995 film, as well as keeping the inherent primacy of the physical form (even if it is a newly artificially created one) as providing a grounded sense of self, and the idea of 'growing into' your new body and finding a confident identity and role in the world by the end, which is perhaps closer to the Stand Alone Complex series.

That all seems to feed into that idea in the 2017 film that perhaps the corporation and scientists doing these 'shelling' experiments were on the wrong track by wiping a memory at the moment of implantation and trying to create new memories around particular events most useful to their needs (a bit like going into the army and having individuality broken down to get re-moulded as an effective, or efficient, soldier) when there is a suggestion that knowing your past also helps to ground you and then move on using it as a basis, rather than being tormented (or at least distracted!) by coming from a scary blankness regarding your origins. The 1995 and 2017 film are interesting to compare in that they both feel somewhat hopeful, but while the 1995 film sees 'letting go' of the physical entirely to become pure mind and synaptic impulse as the new stage of humanity, the 2017 film sees being at peace in your own body and reconnection with social (family, colleague) ties as being worth celebrating. Both ends of the spectrum, but they sort of come to the same conclusion of the Major finally having some sort of 'autonomy' over her own actions again, after having been so estranged from even her own sense of self.

It does make this latest film feel a little more conventional than its source material, in the sense that we get a lead character getting betrayed, finding out about her past and coming to a big action climax against the actual bad guy rather than the relatively more sympathetic monster they were initially after. But I think that works in providing a strong plot for the imagery to support, and since a lot of the imagery is coming from a lot of disparate sources, I was surprised at how effectively it all got weaved together into something different.
SpoilerShow
I particularly liked the irony of an anti-technology runaway getting kidnapped and transformed into the ultimate cyborg. Is the relatively happy ending meant to have a certain conservative tinge to it (which has often appeared in the series, and can occasionally tip over into something that's a little bit too pro-secret military police Section 9, but usually gets somewhat mitigated by Section 9 often dealing with higher up government and corporate corruption than 'punching down' at easier targets!) in that the runaway, albeit forced, has now 'gotten over' her rebellious streak and now has a reconcilliation with her mother and a good government job at the end of it? The Major at least has seen everyone involved in the nefarious cyborg experimentation programme come to some form of justice for their actions, even if it was the ostensible villain who helped her along with bringing everyone to account!
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I really like the way they treated the fluid sexuality aspect of the material (in the sense that when you are just a mind in a swapped out shell doesn't that liberate you from gender norms, not to mention racial and sexual ones. Anyone can potentially be anything they wish), in the way that the moment of hiring the prostitute is about her being flesh-and-blood human above all. That it is about the yearning to be able to touch warm and living flesh physically, which of course is bound up with sexual notions but also just about the contact between two human beings in general.

The casting of the film was also fun. Of course Scarlett Johansson is great in another role where she has to be impassive and kind of emotionally blank and distant for the majority of the time (its tempting to call this a trilogy with Under The Skin and Lucy, where the more arthouse ideas of Under The Skin are getting refitted into more commercial cinema modes. There's a moment of the Major looking into a mirror in her bedroom that is both perfect for the material of Ghost In The Shell and also similar to the scene in the mirror in Under The Skin, of someone looking at their image to try and understand who they are in their world. And the diving scene here, despite being a straight homage to the scene in the 1995 film, also contrasts amusingly with the under-gloop scenes in Under The Skin!), but its also great to see Juliette Binoche with quite an important role too (and she lasts longer here than she did in Godzilla, which was wonderful!) and Takeshi Kitano gets to speak in Japanese with subtitles here (which likely makes sense in a world where everybody has a Babel fish app in their augmentations! Though it would have been amusing to know if the characters actually see the subtitles floating in the air or not!), and has the required action scene of someone with his past filmic history of having a gunfight in and around a car!

If I have one concern with the film its that its almost too in thrall to recreating iconic imagery, to the extent that it was less about seeing a new setpiece than finding out how a pre-existing sequence had been adapted for the new film. That's always the issue with remakes/adaptations to some extent - stay too faithful and there's little reason for existing, yet stray too far and there was no point in working with the material in the first place - and I think this film does the best it can within that pre-existing framework. In some ways the moments where the film adds its own slight twists to the imagery and story work the best (the shattering mirror as someone is shot through it; the above mentioned prostitute scene; the circular apartment block), and kind of work because the film has entirely nailed the smaller but crucial elements of the world (the above mentioned Basset Hound homage; the beautifully cluttered hyper-megalopolis based seemingly on a future vision of Hong Kong; the slightly disturbing 'just following orders' way that the 'heroes' of Section 9 have no compunction about summarily executing criminals, Judge Dredd style) that sort of suggest that not just the surface imagery has been adapted, but a lot of the tone and worldview of the source material too. After a while, I felt the adaptation was in safe hands and almost wanted them to expand into other areas of the world rather than stick to the small story they had. But that sense of wanting them to have done even more (as in the 2012 Dredd film) is probably a good feeling to have been left with, rather than the more usual sense of despair in adaptations that all the 'cool' images that inspire a project had been used as a shell, but none of the philosophical intent behind the eyes was the same!

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Re: The Films of 2017

#2 Post by Black Hat » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:24 am

Colin I'm not even going to attempt to add anything which will surely pale in comparison to your thoughts if only to say I loved this film. I think it's important to note I saw this in imax 3D which I'm sure had to a lot to do with how taken into, not to mention mesmerized I was by this film's visual world. What I loved about this film was despite its genre and visuals was how normal it sounded. For once a film of this nature was understated, without exhausting 'are we there yet?' action sequences. Scarjo and Binoche played off each other well without falling into the same old banalities. In fact it's extremely rare for a 21st century science fiction/action film to have one character allowed to have a depth of emotion you can relate to, but Ghost in the Shell had numerous characters that brought the feelings. Beyond that when was the last time a male/female partnership stayed based on respect and didn't evolve into some kind of lust, passion play affair of the heart? The response to this film I found mind boggling as it reeked of people wanting to pile on before they even sat in their seats instead of give the flick a fair shake. Not to knock Logan, but if people were falling over themselves over that largely due to Wolverine being allowed to feel then how was Ghost in the Shell trashed the way it was? Ghost in the Shell was damn good in my eyes and the arguments I've read against it haven't added up to much.

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Re: The Films of 2017

#3 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:44 pm

I've always liked the Major/Batou relationship too. That's also sort of splitting the difference between the 1995 film where its all a bit more distanced (though that's where the scene of turning away as the Major gets out of her wetsuit on the boat comes from. In that one Batou almost literally becomes fatherly to the Major in the end, as she ends up in a child's body wearing his coat against the chill night air in the final scene) and the Stand Alone Complex series, which is more about the Major being the leader of the squad with Batou her right hand man. And the couple of times where he does come onto her in the series she usually rebuffs him, including hacking his body to make him punch himself in the face in one memorable moment! The 2017 film has a number of extremely brief moments where Batou is perhaps trying to suggest he has an interest in the Major, or really just concern for her that might unintentionally reveal his feelings, and even those moments of connection are verging on a little bit too much, but even so I thought they were handled well enough.

That reminds me that in making the 2017 film an origin story of both the Major and of 'the shell' cyborg body itself (so our main character as a full body transplant is really the pinnacle of technology at the moment of the film), it has interestingly muted the way that everyone else in the other versions of the story has varying degrees of cybernetic limbs and other augmentations. Its there throughout the latest film too but sort of feels quite early on in that development in the world of this film, compared to it being seen as weird not to be totally enhanced (especially in a security SWAT-team role, constantly getting into dangerous situations, as shown with Togusa's almost perverse wish to stay fully human in those situations, though he brings his own unique perspective to situations because of that and is at the opposite extreme of the spectrum of human experience to the Major) in the 1995 film and Stand Alone Complex Series. That's an interesting new perspective being brought to the latest version.

On the early response to this film before it was even released, I hesitate to bring it up but the whole 'controversy' surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johannson in the lead role of this as opposed to having an Asian actress in the role was a bit ridiculous and rather misguided, especially where 'body issues' are perhaps the whole core of the themes of the story itself, where the specificities of race and even gender are kind of being rendered meaningless (this doesn't happen in the 2017 film, though the scene with the prostitute feels like a very slight allusion to all the gender and sexual politics areas covered in the other iterations of the material, but there was a slight suggestion in the earlier works that the Major was 'originally' male and just chose a female body to be transplanted into. Whether that's actually the case or just speculation by guys faced by a confident and powerful woman, who may incidentally also prefer the company of other women, is left nicely ambiguous). The 2017 film itself even deals with this aspect to some extent by the Major's backstory:
SpoilerShow
Where she first meets Kuze and learns her name "Motoko" and then seeks out her Japanese mother. So the film itself is kind of showing through the backstory that the "Scarlett Johannson body" is the (presumably Westernised, corporate designed, audience tested) shell for the consciousness of an entirely different person, both of a different race and of different militant original beliefs regarding cyberisation! That also seems to suggest that Kuze (albeit failed) and Motoko have been forcibly modified into the Adam and Eve figures of this film, heralding a new form of manufactured bodies to particular standardised features.

By the way I really liked the way that the name aspect was handled in the film, because while the previous versions of this material have always had the character both as the Major and "Motoko Kusanagi" in this version she is only ever referenced by, and talks about herself as being, "Major" for the longest time, because the people who created her are trying to have her start again as a completely blank slate without any past and only her military handle to identify her (name and duty rolled into one). Then she learns her name and starts to own it, before finally at the end of the film being comfortable with being known both as "Major" and as "Motoko". I thought that was another area that the film quite sensitively handled.
I'd also say that one of the great things about this film is that it doesn't really negate any of the pre-existing material. In fact I think it works as a good introduction to the world from which to go back into the other films and series from. Especially to see the Puppet Master, Laughing Man and Kuze 'villains' (who all have different agendas and attitudes towards technology) each have the space to get their own story arc, rather than getting elements of them combined together into one single character as they are here.

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Re: Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

#4 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 3:52 pm

And this is an interesting, more negative take on the film. I'm not sure I'd fully agree with the criticisms (the film is building its own world with its own concerns, albeit from iconic imagery), but its always great to be reminded of just how well made that 1995 film was. And that the Basset Hound turns up again! (Usually to highlight a breakthrough moment a character has, in this moment about reality of an artificial memory)

In some ways, I kind of see the version of the 'wake up' sequence in the 2017 film as much in the vein of the opening of Lost In Translation as it is a recreation of the 1995 film! It feels more interested in the character than the city that the character operates in. The 1995 film is very much a 'city film' (as much as say Man With A Movie Camera in its central montage section, which is interestingly tied in with the themes of the film in itself by having an animated film lovingly dwell in detail on tiny moments of human life reproduced within a 'virtual', entirely manufactured medium. Even if it is somewhat based on Hong Kong!), which ties in with its much more philosophical intent and is quite a different thing from any other Ghost In The Shell piece. The Stand Alone Complex series is much more socio-political sci-fi thriller, whilst the 2017 film is more of a personal journey. They're all interesting and worthwhile.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Sat Jun 09, 2018 6:55 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

#5 Post by Brian C » Fri Sep 01, 2017 8:48 pm

This afternoon I Redbox'd the Blu-ray for this based entirely on the positive reactions here, and I wanted to thank you guys for convincing me to watch a movie I otherwise would have dismissed. I'm not at all familiar with the previous Ghost iterations, but I still enjoyed this a great deal.

It's rare to encounter a movie these days with action scenes that are so heavily stylized yet still feel restrained, but I guess the word that comes to mind to describe the action scenes here is "concise". They're mostly pretty short, yet have a wonderfully kinetic feel. It's interesting to me to read that the movie borrows so much from the imagery of past versions, because I didn't get the same sense of slavish devotion I got from, say, Zack Snyder's Watchmen, the source material of which I was also unfamiliar with going in but still could feel the oppression of runaway fan service.

And the result here is that the movie really surprises with its focus on character. It loses its way a little towards the end, I thought, with the spider tank battle at the end being slightly disappointing for being so conventional. And while I respect the work to make Kuze less of a cipher, his motives turn out to be pretty conventional; it might have been more interesting to give him more to say about the application of the technology aside from his own personal pain, which renders him somewhat self-absorbed ... understandably so, to be sure, but his character is built up, I thought, as more interesting than someone merely out for simple revenge. For example, not much detail is given about the network he was constructing or what its implications would be, and at the end it's even presented as a kind of nirvana that Major could escape to, but it can't really be that simple, can it? Her choice would have had more weight if we'd been given more of an idea of what that choice really entailed.

Still, overall I was pretty impressed and pleasantly surprised. I know better than to trust a film's marketing campaign but still I expected something that was completely neutered of any care or concern for the material and bludgeoned me with incoherent start-to-finish CGI action scenes. So it was fun to find instead a thoughtful, well-made, and even occasionally unsettling film about technology and identity. Honestly I wish I had caught it in a proper theater!

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Re: Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

#6 Post by domino harvey » Wed Feb 21, 2018 5:06 pm

I found this shrill in the extreme, a lot of digital noise pummeling the audience with nothing else to latch onto. A film this bad really lets one appreciate how good Blade Runner 2049 truly is, especially with their not dissimilar core elements. No world-building, no suspense, no entertainment, nothing on screen but rampant and incessant ugliness and grating mechanics of emptiness. It takes a truly bad film to make me long for something like Johnny Mneumonic instead, and here we are. Perhaps if I'd been as big a fan of the source material as Colin, I could have done more legwork for the film and enjoyed this, but frankly, absolutely nothing about this makes me want to see more of it in any medium whatsoever.

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Re: Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders, 2017)

#7 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 4:42 am

One of the issues that a Western adaptation of this material may have had is that the anime was such a seemingly unacknowledged influence behind the scenes of a lot of sci-fi stylings of other films (which is an interesting inversion of the key influence that a trinity of Western sci-fi had on anime throughout the 80s and 90s: Blade Runner, Mad Max and Aliens) such that a straight remake can sort of bring nothing new to the table but already mined images.

But I thought they made a good attempt at it, especially as the anime series itself had already run into a few bumpier patches with the rather unnecessary prequel series Ghost In The Shell: Arise and its associated 2016 film Ghost In The Shell: The New Movie.

I forgot to mention above that I really like the shot of the Hong Kong location which reminded me that it got used for the funeral of Ewan McGregor's character in Peter Greenaway's Pillow Book film! (I would guess it was not consciously chosen for that reason, probably more that it makes for a wonderfully striking location. It is even filmed from a similar angle, perhaps for practical reasons!) On looking it up, it appears to be the Permanent Chinese Cemetery in Tsuen Wan.

EDIT 3rd March: This was another interesting video about all the media surrounding the series (I would also recommend Stand Alone Complex as a good general entry point, and a good selling point for the forum is that one episode ("A Modest Rebellion") is an artifical love story that pays homage to the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Breathless in particular!). One of the aspects that it does not bring up though is that the main reason why all of the different adaptations are worth sitting down with (even Arise and the US film adaptation) is the way that the Major's backstory, and the governmental politics surrounding it, all end up being quite different. For example in Stand Alone Complex series, the Major was 'cyberised' as a child and re-shelled over and over (at great expense) to artificially mimic the growth to adulthood, with the suggestion of having been a 'war orphan' and that this affects her attitude towards collecting similarly outsider figures into the Section that she leads. In the US film she is an anti-augmentation militant ironically becoming the embodiment of something she was fighting against, and almost losing her previous identity and sense of humanity in the process. In the 1995 and 2004 films the Major is a much colder figure, wondering whether any part of her is actually real and unique anymore, and perhaps coming to the sense that there is no need for the restriction of any body, real or manufactured when consciousness can inhabit cyberspace.

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