Disclaimer: I will not be talking about the “white washing” in the 2017 Ghost in the Shell remake. That subject deserves a whole blog devoted to it, which I may or may not post later on. I will be solely judging this movie on quality alone. This blog contains SPOILERS.
Remakes – Our New Reality
Remakes have an interesting history. Remember when they were considered blasphemous? If someone dared to suggest remaking something, everyone’s monocles would pop out and there would be gasps of fear and disgust.
Now we seem to be more desensitized to them. They’re the norm and are coming out on a regular basis. Just look at the line up of live-action-Disney-remakes we’re getting for the next 20 years!
So I wasn’t too surprised when I heard that the 1995 version of Ghost in the Shell was coming out as a live action film. I was intrigued from the moment I saw the trailer.
Of course, I saw the original movie first before seeing the remake like most people did. And I honestly have to say that I prefer the 2017 version to the 1995 version.
Otakus and weeaboos, please hear me out before you crucify me.
First, let’s get into the similarities.
Similarities Between the Movies
To be fair to both films, let’s talk about how they’re similar. Everyone knows that good remakes have to be 100% carbon copies of the originals. Why bother with a remake if you don’t do it shot for shot?
Both the 1995 and 2017 versions of Ghost in the Shell have the core of the story. A woman is actually a soul/spirit/ghost in a robot or “shell” and works as a cop/detective for some undisclosed government organization and is chasing down an unnamed cyber terrorist known as “puppet master” who is hacking into people’s brains.
They both share themes of identity, self awareness, questions of where life ends and begins, the anxiety of technology taking over our sense of humanity, and governments/corporations abusing their power.
These are noble themes and both movies succeed in exploring them.
The Glaring Differences
The main difference between the 1995 and 2017 versions of Ghost in the Shell is the direction they go with the themes and messages.
The 1995 version treats Motoko’s plight more positively than “Major’s” in the 2017 version. Motoko lives with the fact that’s she’s pretty much 99.9% robot and even cracks jokes about it.
Major on the other hand doesn’t feel comfortable in her skin as a robot and envies people with minimal amounts of “upgrades.” Her journey is more focused on finding out her past and identity.
Which leads into another interesting difference. In the 1995 version, her name is just Motoko. She has a full name, but it’s in Japanese, not English. She doesn’t learn about her past or have any interest in it.
“Major” is the rank of the main character in the 2017 version. She is given an English name, but everyone just calls her Major. She doesn’t learn her real name until her past is revealed.
I personally thought this was an interesting choice. Some might say it’s insulting to the original since it’s such a huge change, but I think it’s fitting with the theme of lost identity and recovering it that they were going for.
The endings are also very different.
The 1995 version ends with the combination of Motoko’s and the puppet master’s “ghosts” being transferred into a little girl robot and we’re left to assume she wanders around Tokyo looking for a plot for the sequel.
The 2017 version ends with Major, now Motoko again, rekindling her relationship with her mother and going back to work as the female Robocop.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
The original Ghost in the Shell is a marvel of cinematic history and has had a lot of influence on sci-fi as we know it. I appreciate it as a classic and a part of anime and movie history. It’s also a beautifully animated film, so it makes sense why the remake took some exact shots from it.
Personally, I found it to be mostly dry in tone and boring at times. There are some things I do like about it. It is very creative with interesting and thought provoking themes and visuals. I do like the world and atmosphere building scenes, even if it does sometimes remind me of Bladerunner.
I see why people love it, but I wouldn’t put it on my list of favorite anime films.
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
The 2017 remake is not faithful to the original movie, but it has great visuals and expands the story and universe a bit. The original has some visuals that seem inspired by Bladerunner, but the remake definitely has parts of the city that are directly influenced by Bladerunner.
The visuals and design of the city in both movies pretty much sums up the differences between them. The city in the original has a lot of ghettos and slums surrounded by tall skyscrapers and giant neon signs. The culture seems to be more focused on improving technology, but not the quality of life.
The city in the 2017 remake is much shinier in most scenes. Everything has been upgraded and looks like one giant neon sign. Major doesn’t see the slums of the city until she meets her mother later in the film. I think this was intended to make the city seem fake and Major doesn’t see the real side of the city until she learns the truth about her past.
Scarlett Johansson was good in the role. I understand why the studio chose to cast a big celebrity. Any strong actor could have played this role. It was just a studio move to get butts in the seats in theaters. Despite “being the wrong race” her performance was fine.
I will say one thing about the race controversy. Major/Motoko as a character does not have a race… because she’s a robot with a human brain. I don’t think it really matters what her “shell” looks like or what body her “ghost” originated from. I can understand people being upset with the “white washing,” but the population in the city in the remake is diverse enough that it doesn’t bother me that much.
The remake also has some typical Hollywood movie tropes, like a big bad corporation/government organization playing God with people’s lives. There is a hint of that in the original, but they aren’t portrayed as the main villains and they aren’t taken down by the end.
As far as anime remakes go, there are a LOT worse. Actually, almost all of them are pretty bad. This one at least has a competent story line and can stand up well on its own. I saw where Major’s story was going a mile away, but I was still more invested in it than I was with the original movie.
Mentality Towards Remakes
Overall, both the original and the remake have their good points and bad points. I think both films deserve equals amounts of praise and criticism for different reasons, not because of what they may or may not have in common.
A common mentality when going into a remake is tallying off what the remake “got right” (or left in from the source material) or “got wrong” (what was changed or left out). I don’t think this is a good mentality to go into a remake with. Remakes should be able to stand up on their own and be good and entertaining on their own merits.
So I would recommend this movie to even the most die hard 90’s Ghost in the Shell fans and ask them to give it a fair chance. I don’t think it will be for everyone, but I think some viewers will be surprised.