Reviews - Updated on April 14, 2022

Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson has been on the Russian box office since March 30. This is a remake of the 1995 animated film that served up cyberpunk with a Japanese twist, turning director Mamoru Oshii into a rock star at the same time. Of course, the Hollywood adaptation does not claim the laurels of the original, but rather uses them to the fullest. So, before going to the cinema, it is worthwhile to figure out why for more than twenty years Ghost in the Shell has not only not been forgotten, but also continues to be discussed, quoted, used as a source of inspiration and downloaded from trackers.

Code under the major’s feet

If you don’t really quote anime, but still decide to get acquainted with it, the starting point will almost certainly be the film Ghost in the Shell, or, for a better understanding, Spirit in the Shell. This is classic cyberpunk, where the low standard of living reigns with high technology – this is exactly how its apostles saw the genre, William Gibson (William Gibson) and Bruce Sterling (Bruce Sterling), whom Oshii quotes freely.

The entourage really seems to be written off from Neuromancer: 2029, the world is run by corporations, and the most popular commodity is the data circulating on the Web. In order to quickly process them and at least somehow settle in the new reality, people implant implants for themselves – from simple brain amplifiers to a complete reassembly of the body. Under such conditions, it is damn difficult to understand whether a person is in front of you or a machine, therefore, to separate the lambs from the goats, the concept of a “ghost” was introduced – the sum of the experience of a rational being. Indeed, even in a mechanical body, a person can be considered alive if it is formed in a natural way, and not by programmers. Moreover, the system is built in such a way that individual citizens have nothing left but this very soul. Watch your hands: you go to work in a corporation where they give you cyber prostheses for greater efficiency, but when you retire, be kind enough to return corporate property back.

Approximately on such conditions, the fighters of the Ninth Division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Japan serve: Major Motoko Kusanagi, a veteran of the Third World Bato, a judo hacker Ishikawa and Togusa – the only person in this band of flesh and blood who leads the life of a family man outside of assignments. The scene is the metropolis of Newport City, an island of civilization in the middle of a war-torn world. It was here that the underside of the rampant fashion for implants appeared. Since the soul can be copied and recorded on electronic media, then hacking it does not present any particular difficulties. Hackers of the future manipulate the memories of their victims, extract state secrets from officials, make people go crazy, and robots – to organize local riots in the spirit of the “Terminator”.

Non-Fictional Cyber ​​Squad: Voice of Puppeteer Yoshiko Sakakibara, Director Mamoru Oshii, Voice of Protagonist Atsuko Tanaka, and Akio Otsuka, Voice Actor for Bato.

The most dangerous of Newport’s cybervillains is someone nicknamed the Puppeteer, who is assigned to a special squad to deal with. But it was not there: the criminal turns out to be not a person, but an artificial intelligence that grew out of the Project 2501 spyware. And all that drives him is the desire to live, and, oddly enough, to multiply. The hunt for the Puppeteer sows doubt in Kusanagi: is the soul of the heroine original or still a copy, can she be called a real person and is she on the right side of the barricades? “Ghost in the Shell” gives out scenes one more beautifully – there are chases, and shootouts, and kung fu. But the hallmarks of the film are only three moments – this is the assembly of a cyborg, Motoko Kusanagi’s “leap of faith” and her battle with a tank in a museum. The longest of them lasts at most a few minutes, but to fill these moments with beauty, the authors spent a lot of effort.

You can’t just go and make a masterpiece

The original film is based on a 1989 manga drawn by Masamune Shirow, translated from Japanese as “Mobile Armored Police Unit”. The title for the English edition, Ghost in the Shell, was proposed by the author himself – they say, this is more understandable for the Western public, even if this led us to a completely abstract “Ghost in the Shell”. Be that as it may, among the Japanese who fell under the spell of the manga was Mamoru Oshii, a director, writer and philosopher. “It used to be thought that humanity is changing under the influence of ideology, religion,” Oshii shares his thoughts in an interview, “but this is not so. I think that technology really changes people, and for modern Japan, this approach is very relevant. While other Japanese people were fond of tourism and fishing, I was one of the first to buy a computer.”

Major Kusanagi practiced parkour before it became fashionable.

Mamoru grew up on the European cinema of Fellini (Federico Fellini), Bergman (Ingmar Bergman) and Andrei Tarkovsky. Therefore, after graduating from the university in Tokyo, he connected his life with films – he got a job at Tatsunoko Productions, where he worked as a storyboard artist. As soon as he filled his hand, as the head of the studio “Piero” Hisayuki Toriumi (Hisayuki Toriumi) invited Oshii to him. And five years later, in 1985, the future director of “Ghost in the Shell” again changed jobs and joined the Deen team, where he created the first film that brought him fame – “Angel’s Egg”. Since the late 80s, viewers outside of Japan have learned about Oshii’s work, the director received creative carte blanche from publishers and invited friends to cooperate – this is how the triumvirate of Mamoru himself, composer Kenji Kawai (Kenji Kawai) and screenwriter Kazunori Ito (Kazunori Ito) . Thanks to these “three musketeers” Ghost in the Shell appeared in the form in which we know it.

“Shooting live-action movies in Japan, drawing anime is a matter of budget. The first is usually cheaper than the second. Therefore, if I have enough money, I make an animated film, ”admits Oshii. Well, after the success of the television series and the full-length dilogy “Police of the Future”, the director had enough funds. The production of the film cost about five million dollars. But do not rush to conclusions: for comparison, the fee of Scarlett Johansson alone in the modern remake is twice as much.

The scenery here is a painting in itself.

There was also no shortage of specialists who wanted to work with Mamoru Oshii: as a production base, the director decided to use the Production IG studio, where in the mid-90s there was the most modern equipment. There was another reason for choosing the format, a subjective one: “Intuition told me that this story about the future carries a warning to the current world. There aren’t many Hollywood films that deal with the influence and power of computers, and I figured animation would do a better job of it.”

However, Oshii would not be himself if he followed the source word for word. First of all, he threw away all the humor from Masamune Shiro’s manga, together with the character designer Hiroyuki Okiura (Hiroyuki Okiura), aged the heroine’s shell for several years, and to thicken the colors, he created a dark, but overloaded with images scenery. Like the ones Ridley Scott used in Blade Runner. Hong Kong was the inspiration: “Because the information network is invisible, I thought about how I could represent it visually. When you think of Hong Kong, you imagine a city of information – countless signs, a cacophony of voices. And as soon as I visited it, I immediately came to the conclusion that it provides an ideal setting for revealing both the story itself and the time when it unfolds. A reminder of the film’s prototype metropolis is San Miguel beer, which is in demand in real Hong Kong and sipped on the deck of a boat with Kusanagi Bato.

Even scenes with an abundance of computer effects were first cropped in detail by artists.

The backgrounds for the anime scenes were made by hand, using tempera applied to wet paper. But moving, rotating scenery had to be designed in the form of 3D models and combined with a hand-drawn image. Such is the peculiarity of “Ghost in the Shell”: CGI is combined here with hand-made shots, and so elegantly that in some episodes it is difficult to distinguish one from the other. If, for example, everything is clear with cybernetic interfaces, then the effect of Kusanagi’s thermo-optical camouflage or bullet marks already raise questions: how did they manage to do this in 1995?

The answer is simple: when working on the film, the employees of Production IG applied the innovation of the time – “digital animation”, or DGA. In addition to rendering 3D objects, it helped create a lighting model akin to those used in games today. But despite the technical advancement of the “Ghost in the Shell”, the effects do not interfere with the perception of it as a man-made work. Even the form here works for philosophy, because the balance of the machine and the living in the film is medically accurate and truly unique. To understand this, just look at the digital remake – Ghost in the Shell 2.0, released in 2008. In it, the authors changed the sound and piled up 3D effects, but as a result they destroyed the charm of the original.

3D outrage at its finest is Ghost in the Shell 2.0!

Actor Akio Otsuka, who gave the voice to the cyborg Batou, before the premiere of “Ghost in the Shell” offered the viewer his view of Oshii’s work: “This is not the type of film that you can watch, reflecting on the story or setting – you will not enjoy it. Instead of focusing on individual aspects, it’s better to just relax and watch with your heart.” Of course, Production IG put on a brilliant show, otherwise the Wachowski siblings wouldn’t have quoted him frame by frame in The Matrix, the exact same technological breakthrough of the late ’90s. But does such a point of view dismiss the author’s intention? We talked about beauty – now about the meaning.

In a healthy body healthy mind

Don’t let Motoko Kusanagi’s blue eyes fool anyone – unlike many films in the anime genre, Ghost in the Shell is by no means a frivolous spectacle. The authors raised two topics that do not lose their relevance both in the context of cyberpunk and in the general human sense – the connection of the soul with the body and evolution. And both are revealed as well as it can be done in 82 minutes.

The first revolves around the aphorism of Rene Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” The 17th century philosopher saw a difference between the body as a physical thing and the soul as an immaterial substance. To declare its existence, it is enough to possess the latter, and the body is just an appendage. This lends itself well to the Ghost in the Shell scenario, where the characters directly compare the DNA code and machine code in computers. In the universe of the film, the self-aware program is the same soul: both Motoko Kusanagi and the Puppeteer understand that they are unique individuals, but at the same time both wonder: are they really living? And what do they need for real life?

Yes, the same thing as any biological species on Earth – evolution. Remember Hosea’s words that “it’s not religion that changes humanity, but technology” and add to them the scene in the museum where the tank is revealingly shooting down the family tree of homo sapiens. You give, they say, transhumanism and the further development of our species by an artisanal method. It is not for nothing that one of the symbols that permeate the film is a cloudy reflection, a symbol of imperfection. It is about him that a mysterious voice speaks, confusing Batou and Kusanagi while they ride on a boat. Of course, this is a biblical quote, the meaning of which is that the more perfect a person is, the more clearly he sees God, but what is God in Newport? And please: in the end, the hybrid of two spirits sees its reflection in the mirror quite clearly.

We will not deceive anyone by counting a wagon with a cart of such tricks from Mamoru Oshii. The director has been reproached more than once for sacrificing action for the sake of meaning, which is why his work consists of three-quarters of an arthouse that is unpleasant to the general public. Hollywood operates differently, so you should not expect the same thoughtfulness from the “Ghost in the Shell” with Scarlett Johansson. But what will certainly not be superfluous is to look at the original one more time before buying a movie ticket. We hope our material will also help create the right mood.

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