My first experience of Ghost In The Shell was way back in the winter of 1995. At that time I became a fan of Oshī Mamoru by way of the Patlabor movies. I can’t remember exactly how I got to know about the Oshī-helmed animated GITS film (probably from Empire magazine) but my housemate and I got whiff of a screening at, of all places, Sunderland University[1].

It was a 30-minute drive to Wearside and we barely just caught the beginning of the memorably hair-tingling cyborg assembly intro containing Kawai Kenji’s 「謡I」. The film was an English dub unfortunately but I remembered being blown away by the superb[2] animation intermingled with computerised GPS graphics. I understood the basic concept of the ‘ghost’/soul (without going all pretentiously philosophical about it) but some aspect of the plot was quite confusing as to who exactly the antagonists were. I have to admit that it probably would have helped if I had read the seinen manga by Shirow Masamune, but it did take a second sitting in London a few months later to at least make some bits of the story a tad clearer. During that same trip to London, I came upon the Dark Horse graphic novel[3] by Shirow. Since I felt it could help me understand the story better and in some depth, I bought it.

The basic premise of the story in Oshī’s adaptation is about a cyborg named Kusanagi Motoko who belongs in an anti-crime unit called section 9 investigating a series of cyberterrorist events orchestrated by someone called the ‘Puppet Master’. The film is alas an adaptation of a component from the original manga. I can only presume that if I had read the manga at the time it was published, seeing the film later would probably be a bit easier. I noted that I had to kinda dissect the story whilst reading that graphic novel to see the context of Oshī’s film. Shirow’s manga of GITS is a different kettle of fish than what Oshī had in mind, if I should say so myself. Violence and nudity[4] aside, the manga has less serious moments, falling short of funny sometimes, than what you see in the 1996 film.

When GITS was finally out on VHS, the initial release by Manga in the UK was the same English dub[5] I saw in the cinema, and it wasn’t until a few months later when much to my happiness that the original nihon-go film was finally out with English subs. It wasn’t until much later that follow up TV tie-ins and a film sequel were made.

GITS: Stand Alone Complex was a series of a made-for-telly anime that ran for two seasons, containing events unrelated to the timeline shown in Oshī’s 1995 opus. Oshī made a sequel to the film in 2004 entitled Innocence which again was loosely adapted from a part of the story told in the 1995 graphic novel. My experience of the former was from an infrequently-watched combo of fansubbed anime on the net as well as badly-subbed DVDS I bought in KL, whilst the latter was a DVD from a *koff* shop near Damansara Uptown[6].

Fast forward to the present day, I remembered how excited and dismayed I was when a live action film of GITS was to be made, for obvious reasons. Like many fans of the original media I was unsure if a non-Japanese[7] was the right choice for Kusanagi (dubbed The Major in the film), and with Kikuchi Rinko being in the actioner Pacific Rim, many (myself included) felt that she was the better choice. Taking a step back, however, if I were just to take Oshī’s depiction of Kusanagi, the cyborg shell she was in distinctly had western features, although not in the typical wide blue-eyed anime types we all know very well. The build up in the media to the film was pretty promising. The trailer looked good, although I personally thought the cityscape looked a tad bright and sterile (then again this wasn’t the 2019 Los Angeles of Blade Runner).

The special GITS event in Tōkyō at the end of 2016 had Kawai Kenji performing「謡I」live which gave me some degree of optimism, further reinforced after watching the subsequent Q&A sesh with the director and the main cast. Despite all these, I didn’t get a chance to catch the film when it was finally released in March this year. I tried very hard not to read anything about the film’s plot, opting to wait for the blu-ray release. I noted that the discs sold in Japan had a Japanese dub. And it wasn’t just any bunch of actors doing the dub, but they had the original seiyuus from the anime doing the main characters[8].

I have to admit I enjoyed the film. I first watched it, weirdly enough, with the Japanese dub and English subs on[9]. I tried not to watch the lip movements because of this, but despite the simplified exposition on Kusanagi/Major’s struggle with duality, for one, I felt that it was a good yarn with a decent pace to it. I applaud Rupert Sander’s effort in providing a reinterpretation[10] of the GITS ethos yet at the same time retaining elements of Shirow’s manga and Oshī’s films. I particularly love the eerie gynoid geishas at the beginning (modelled after Fukushima Rira who played one of the gynoids herself). I didn’t like the renaming of Kusanagi in the film (there was a reason for it in the story) and the less gritty portrayal of Niihama-shi (the city was not named in the film) which I mentioned earlier.

It remains unclear if there could be a sequel, especially with the film not doing as well as expected in the box office. From a story point of view, I thought the film’s ending would allow for a sequel if the film studio wants. I had seen the film again, this time in the original English audio.

But I had to revert it back to the Japanese dub after the first few minutes of dialogue. Weirdly enough.

[1]I was living in Newcastle at that time.
[2]Felt very groundbreaking for 1995.
[3]Couldn’t remember which store it was, although it was likely Forbidden Planet on New Oxford Street.
[4]Since picking up the 1995 graphic novel recently, I noted that the manga originally had a scene where Kusanagi has virtual sex with her friends which is pretty hard core ecchi. This was published uncensored just one time in English, but Shirow omitted it himself in the subsequent editions published as the sex scene was non-contributory to the plot whatsoever.
[5]Boo. Hiss.
[6]I have the proper blu-ray disc now.
[7]This was never about ScarJo.
[8]Apart from Aramaki (played by Kitano Takeshi).
[9]I then realised that the Japanese dub option was also on the UK release.
[10]GITS has also been “reinterpreted” as an OVA series called Arise in Japan in 2015, with a feature length imaginatively titled GITS – The New Movie.