As the release of the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell approaches, we take a look back at the anime classic and the films it’s influenced over the last 22 years since its release.
While anime, manga and their offshoots (Pokémon anyone?) are wildly popular worldwide now, it can be hard to believe that this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 90’s, outside Asia, anime still had a relatively small audience and impacted on mainstream entertainment. Only a few films and series received widespread releases. In such a climate the partnership between the UK’s Manga Entertainment and Japan’s Kodansha, Bandai Visual and Production I.G. to co-produce Ghost in the Shell, was truly historic.
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written Kazunori Itō and directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film was a mix of striking imagery, slick action and philosophical musings. Ghost in the Shell (GitS) told the story of Motoko Kusanagi and her cybernetically enhanced colleagues in Section 9, an elite counter-terrorism unit.
In a future where the majority of citizens were technologically augmented, the team pursued a hacker known as “The Puppetmaster” to prevent him hacking people’s “cyber brains” and tampering with their “ghosts” or minds/souls. In between action scenes, The Major and her partner Batou debated just how human they remained, seeing as almost their entire bodies were cybernetic.
More human, than human?
While you can find references to Ghost in the Shell in almost any cyberpunk film, some have worn their influences a little more prominently on their sleeves.
According to Joel Silver, the producer on the Matrix films, when the Wachowski’s first pitched the film to him, they showed him a copy of the film and then “they showed me what they wanted to do with that type of action and photography and try to make it with real people.”
While the iconic, green scrolling Matrix code is probably the most obvious reference, the GitS credits featuring the same kind of treatment, many scenes in the Matrix feature incredibly alike composition to those of the earlier film. Some are blink-and-you’ll-miss them moments, like extreme close-ups of characters waking up, but others, like Neo’s escape from agents at the film’s climax and Batou’s pursuit of a suspect through a market, are too close to be coincidental. The video below gives you a pretty good idea of just how many scenes the Wachowski’s homaged (or outright stole!)
There are even more comparisons at this site. If you’re not convinced, just take a look at the watermelons and the legendary lobby sequence, which seem to take liberally from the climax to GitS. Both sequences prominently feature our hero sheltering behind support columns grumbling under sustained gunfire.
Director James Cameron also declared his admiration for the movie early on. Cameron went so far as to providing a box quote for the DVD release, calling it “A stunning work of speculative fiction, the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence“. After that, it’s hard not to see some connection between the use of the Avatar bodies on Pandora and the spare bodies used in GitS?
Other filmmakers have not been quite so vocal about their inspiration.
Part of the Puppetmaster’s plan in GitS involves a pair of waste collectors who’s ghosts he’d hacked. Implanting false memories, he overwrites their original memories, so they will carry out tasks for him. In Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb used a dream sharing device to insert a memory into a CEO’s mind in order to inspire him to take a specific action with his company. It’s a bit more complicated than GitS, but parallels can be drawn. Nolan did cite Satoshi Kon’s Paprika as an influence, so we know he watches anime. It’s not such a stretch to think he might have gotten some ideas from The Puppetmaster?
Similarities can also be seen in Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis, which featured a world where most people used a cybernetic body outside their houses. They still retained their original bodies, however, controlling their surrogates remotely.
Don’t leave home without it!
Some filmmakers, may be influenced subconsciously (and some are even aware that it is happening!). In an interview about Elysium from 2013, Neil Blomkamp (District 13) was asked about the influence of anime on his work, especially regarding mecha, guns and design similarities to Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed. He replied “It does, it does. It’s true. Briarios, yeah. You know, Tetra Vaal was a good example, because that was 03. I was 23 then, and at that stage, I was really into all of that shit – like Masamune Shirow and all of his stuff. But not so much now that I’m older. But that doesn’t mean that all that stuff didn’t psychologically lodge itself in there.
Now my thing is less about consciously taking influence from somewhere, and more about consciously trying to build what I think is functional technology, whether it’s guns or ships or whatever. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not subconsciously influenced by my period of Ghost In The Shell, going nuts for his stuff.
Although Chappie, the film I’m about to do, is based on Tetra Vaal. So you’ll see some more Briarious ears. “
Funny how he mentioned Chappie at the end there. With a prominent A.I. character the use of a device that would look right at home in Ghost in the Shell to copy some characters minds or “ghosts” into robot bodies, it looks like quite a bit of that “stuff” definitely did “lodge itself in there“.
A new kind of life form, a new step in evolution
Another film that may have adopted elements from GitS is 2004’s I, Robot. While it included robots and the three rules of robotics, the film shared little else with Asimov’s Robot stories. Asimov also didn’t include much speculative technology in his stories apart from robots. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that director Alex Proyas and the filmmakers decided to give Will Smith’s Del Spooner a cybernetic left arm and internal organs after watching GitS? The nature and goals of artificial intelligence also featured quite heavily in both films.
While we can thank Steven Spielberg for the upcoming live action versions (he snapped up the rights to GitS in 2008 through Dreamworks), it’s also possible that he was influenced by the anime back in 2001 when directing A.I. Artificial Intelligence. While the film took inspiration from Brian Aldiss’ short story “Super Toys last all Summer Long” and Stanley Kubrick’s attempted adaptation, the A.I. in the film were referred to as “mecha”, surely a reference to an interest in anime?
I didn’t ask for this?
The list of anime (and to an extent tv shows) influenced by GitS is far too long to cover, the firm marking a new era in more adult-themed productions, but outside film, videogames took inspiration from it. One of the most obvious being Adam Jenson in the most recent series of Deus Ex games; Mankind Divided and Human Revolution. Jenson struggles with cyber-terrorists and with his new cybernetic arms, having “not asked” for augmentation. Luckily for him (and the player), those new arms are packed to the elbows with deadly features. He even sports shades with no temples, that attach to his face, very similar to those worn by the terrorist the major fights in her therm-optic camouflage in GitS.
Like Jenson’s, less famous (but still kick- ass) brother, Miles Kilo from EA’s Syndicate shares a little too much with Major Motoko Kusanagi to be coincidental. Both selected from an early age to be enhanced and become an agent of their respective employers in a cyberpunk world where brain hacking is a key regular occurrence.
In thine own image
Ghost in the Shell is also one of the few properties to manage to be an influence for itself. In 2002 the animated TV show Ghost in the Shell Stand Along Complex depicted the alternate adventures for a Section 9 that still included the major (she left at the end of the movie).
Somewhat confusingly Mamoru Oshii also returned with his own take on a cinematic sequel in 2004 with Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. The sequel followed on from the first movie, ignoring the TV show and featuring the Major’s partner Batou and the remainder of Section 9 investigating multiple cases of gynoids, or sex robots, malfunctioning and killing their users. The less savoury impacts of cybernetic technology, the uses it can be put to, “ghost dubbing” or copying a human’s ghost and the fate of the major were all included in the story.
We mention these sequels as the upcoming live action Ghost in the Shell seems to be influenced by these as well as the original, rather than just adapting the original manga or Anime.
What’s Old Is New Again
In an interview with The Den of Geek, Sanders has said “When Steven Spielberg approached me… I kind of made a graphic novel. I shot stills of the original anime, I shot stills from Innocence, and I shot stills from Stand Alone Complex, and I made a graphic novel, and I kind of wrote a story that went beside the images. I then took that back to Steven and said, ‘This is how I feel the film should be’, because originally, the version I wanted to do was borrowing from the first, but… I think it’s a hard story to tell cinematically. There’s so much philosophical introspection that it’s not an easy multiplex filler.”
This would seem to be backed up by the trailers and plot synopsis for the film which has plenty of imagery from the first film like the spider tank, the robo-geisha’s from Innocence and at least the name of the character Kuze from the second series of Stand Alone Complex.
Now we only have to wait until the end of the month to find out if this remix will be successful or not…
Ghost In the Shell is released in Malaysian cinemas on March 30th.
By the way, if you’re interested in watching Ghost in the Shell way before it releases on March 30th, we’re having an awesome fan event and screening in collaboration with United International Pictures Malaysia, Comic Fiesta and Outpost Productions on 29 March. Want to know more and how to attend? Just click on the button below!
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