What is ‘Ghost in the Shell’?

Pictured: Left - Scarlett Johansson in 'Ghost in the Shell' (Paramount Pictures) | Right - Artwork from 1989 manga
Pictured: Left – Scarlett Johansson in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (Paramount Pictures) | Right – Artwork from 1989 manga

Scarlett Johansson’s next appearance on the silver screen will be in the starring role of the upcoming sci-fi flick Ghost in the Shell. Johansson plays Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg police officer in a futuristic setting that looks more likely to happen as technology presses on. But who is Motoko Kusanagi and what does the title of the film mean? Kenneth Szeto explains the history of this series and its presence in popular culture.

The Ghost in the Shell first appeared in 1991 as a manga (or Japanese comic) written and drawn by author Masamune Shirow. The story takes place in a future where technology has advanced to a point where humans can digitise their minds and transfer themselves into different bodies. The main focus of the story is on Security Section 9 and their leader Motoko Kusanagi, commonly referred to as ‘The Major’ by her subordinates. Section 9’s duties include the protection of politicians, the uncovering of illegal ghosting activities and other covert operations. All the while, they must face the truth that not everyone likes a world where cyber-crimes are rampant and information can be pulled right out of their brains.

The manga, as well as the rest of the series, does much contemplating about the human condition, asking questions such as what constitutes humanity and if an inorganic lifeform can develop a mind of its own. The term ‘Ghost’ used by many of the characters refers to the theoretical human side of a person compared to the thinking mind – a soul or conscience essentially. A ‘Shell’ refers to the robotic bodies a person’s mind can be moved into; hence, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ means a human soul in a body that isn’t human.

'Ghost in the Shell' (Madman Entertainment)
‘Ghost in the Shell’ (Madman Entertainment)

The Major is often the focus of these discussions as she reflects on how she can’t remember her time as a human, being converted at a young age because of an accident. With her body a machine and her mind just a few bits of transferrable data, she contemplates on whether she can still qualify as human or if she even has a ghost. This makes the Major a compelling character as she tries to hold onto her human side despite her skills and stoic manner.

The series manages to balance its action and dialogue scenes by being creative in its storytelling, as Section 9 are never on the same type of mission twice and the subjects they discuss are related in some way to their current job. It’s a unique experience, and one that requires careful attention to understand it.

The first outing in the West came in 1996 with an animated film, simply titled Ghost in the Shell. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film premiered at the 1997 World Animation Festival and was praised for its animation and story, most notably its mature atmosphere and the execution of the film itself. It broke new ground for not relying on spectacle and instead let its ethereal subtlety do the talking. Director James Cameron has been quoted describing the film as “the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence”. Ghost in the Shell is not only considered one of the first anime works to resonate in the West, but also as a cinematic classic.

A sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, was released in 2004 and changed the protagonist to Batou, a member of Section 9 and who is implied to have feelings for the Major. Taking place two years after the end of the first film, Innocence followed Batou investigating a series of sex robots going berserk and killing their owners. The film received mixed reviews, praised for its visuals but criticised for being very dialogue- heavy and introspective.

'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' (Madman Entertainment)
‘Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence’ (Madman Entertainment)

A TV anime series was produced in 2002 with the moniker Stand Alone Complex added to the title’s end. Taking place in a different continuity, yet still retaining the main qualities of the series, Stand Alone Complex once again followed the activities the Major and Section 9. The show gave the other members time to shine with their own stories and some received more development than in the source material. Stand Alone Complex ran for two seasons, each with their own story arcs, and helped to further the popularity of the series. No research has been done, but we’re sure you can find sexual hentai versions of Ghost in the Shell through Your n1 source for anime porn, animehentaivideos xxx if that’s your thing.

Being a hugely respected and well-known title, the live-action film has big shoes to fill in the eyes of fans. The decision to cast Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, in the role of a Japanese-originated character has raised the issue on alleged whitewashing in Hollywood. Arguments have been made on whether Johansson is suited for the role or her race even matters. Counter arguments propose that there are ample actors of Asian descent in Hollywood and that Johansson was chosen to take advantage of her star power. Whatever the reason, Johansson has much to be worthy of the Major’s mantle, a character renown not only for her strength and professionalism, but also her struggle to maintain her humanity.

The film also has the monumental challenge of having to please audiences new to the series while doing enough to satisfy long-time fans. It has to carry the main themes of the series fans are familiar with, but not go so deep to alienate the newcomers. It will need action, but not so much that it overrides the subdued tone it must replicate. It is a delicate balance of considering what needs to be done to appeal a series known only by a select fanbase to a greater audience.

Will mainstream audiences be able to appreciate the series’ signature cerebral philosophy? Can the film please the most ardent of fans? Will Scarlett Johansson be able to live up to the Major’s title? Ghost in the Shell arrives in Australia on March 30 and hits the US on March 31.

'Ghost in the Shell' (Paramount Pictures)
‘Ghost in the Shell’ (Paramount Pictures)