(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Ghost in the Shell (1995) and 1989’s Ghost in the Shell Vol. 1–11 and features adult material not suitable for younger readers.)
#GhostintheShell‘s first live-action adaptation will be released later this month and if all goes well, it’s likely that this could be just the beginning for the Scarlett Johansson-led franchise. Recently, IMDB has confirmed that 2017’s adaptation has been created with a PG-13 audience in mind. There are benefits to being teen-friendly, particularly if the story gives new interest in science and science fiction among a younger western audience, but could shying away from Ghost in the Shell‘s adult material hinder the film’s potential?
From the very beginning of the Masamune Shirow manga, subjects such as sex, politics and existentialism have been used to explore the human psyche. Focusing primarily on volumes 1–11 of the original manga, lets explore some of the ways in which complex adult themes add depth to the philosophy and iconography of Ghost in the Shell — something that would be sorely missed in a PG-13 live-action adaptation.
Sexploitation, Art And Philosophy
The manga series coined its name after “Ghost in the Machine,” philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s description of René Descartes’s mind-body dualism. The Ghost in the Shell series focused on Public Security Section 9, a unit led by Major Motoko Kusanagi in the fictional, futuristic city of Niihama.
Section 9’s central mission throughout the series is to locate the Puppeteer, an ongoing chase that shows Motoko question her own life and the existence of her “ghost,” the story’s parallel to what we would call the soul. While the 1995 anime masterpiece focuses on the mission at hand, the original manga contained further insight into the everyday life of Motoko. This allowed Shirow to further show the nihilism in Niihama’s cultured human-AI coexistence.
While the 1995 movie uses architecture, sound and symbolism to explore Motoko’s personal journey, Shirow’s manga took a realistic approach to the needs, desires and temptations of the city’s inhabitants.
Temptation: Drug Abuse And Information Trips
When depicting her first (and last) time on leave throughout the manga, Motoko is caught by Batou in a drug-induced fantasy. In Niihama, the lines between AI and humans are blurred (Motoko is mostly cyborg but has human elements, such as her ghost) so the world caters to the desires of humans and androids alike, regardless of the existence of a “ghost” or not.
Exploring drug abuse in the series is a reflection of Shirow’s understanding of the human psyche. Throughout history, humans have chosen to augment their reality with drugs for pleasure, curiosity and life experience. If we were able to delve into the mind of any human on the planet, we’d find some wild desires in each and every one of us. As Ghost in the Shell allows us inside the mind of our protagonist, it makes sense for the franchise to address this aspects of her that are human without pulling any punches.
An Exploration Of Sexuality And Gender Neutrality
The “ghost” within Motoko Kusanagi is a huge curiosity throughout Ghost in the Shell, and there’s also the question of what is “naturally” a part of Motoko and what is programmed (in the 1995 adaptation, we see this more explicitly in the film’s iconic opening images). In the manga, Motoko is bisexual and is even shown having intimate encounters with both sexes throughout volumes 1–11. In fact, during the same instance as her drug-induced fantasy, Motoko partakes in a psychedelic orgy with two other women, using upgrades and illegal mods for their extreme, mind-altering pleasure.
Let’s be real: This was never going to make it into a Hollywood movie, and isn’t necessary to providing the existential sci-fi film fans deserve anyway. However, the instance is worth bringing up because it has an interesting history with censorship, and Shirow’s reaction may show some insight as to how the live-action adaptation could take shape with a PG-13 rating. The two-page scene was removed from Studio Proteus’s localization of the manga, despite being included in the initial Dark Horse release.
Toren Smith commented on Studio Proteus’s actions, claiming that requirement of the “Mature Readers Only” would translate into a 40% lost in sales and likely have caused the immediate cancellation of the series. Shirow, who grew tired of “taking flak” over the pages, opted to remove them and reworked the previous page as necessary.
With Shirow’s mild reaction to censorship and the similar issue of alienating a younger audience, it explains the PG-13 rating and why the live action feature may be something akin to Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.
This sequel didn’t shy away from the city’s brutal underworld completely, and even opened with a victim’s suicide, which gets increasingly tragic as the plot unfolds, but Innocence hardly addressed the subject of gender or sex at all — showing how far removed it had become from Shirow’s original 11 volumes. Either way, Motoko Kusanagi’s sexual preferences are a part of her ghost and therefore part of the franchise, and may be included in 2017’s live-action movie.
Motoko also changes gender in Ghost in the Shell vol. 11, when she is mistakenly given a male replacement shell by Batou. Unphased by this, the series ends with a blasé reaction from Motoko.
So despite being 27 years old to date, Shirow’s story has a refreshing open-mindedness when it comes to sexuality and gender, while also taking a grounded approach towards society and international politics. For example, the Tachikoma droids are first seen discussing a socialist rebellion, and later in the series we see actions from the Soviet Union and Zionist conflict.
It would be wrong for next year’s adaptation to meaninglessly include adult themes, but it’s undeniable that Ghost in the Shell is known for discussing topics that are unsuitable for a PG-13 audience. It’s also important to remember what is at the center of the Shirow’s story. As a franchise, the series explores how individuals would see themselves if they lived in a world where we could exchange entire bodies, merge minds and lose interchangeable body parts — all the while questioning whether this has an impact on who we truly are underneath. Focusing on an individual like Motoko, it’s not about her sexual preference or preferred gender, it’s about her ghost. This is why the needs, desires and temptations of #ScarlettJohansson‘s Motoko, a sentient being (quite literally the “ghost in the shell”) should be the focus of the movie — with no restraints.
Ghost in the Shell is in theaters on March 31st, 2017. Let me know your thoughts on the upcoming movie below.