Beginning as a manga by Masamune Shirow in 1989 and later a film adaptation in 1995 by Mamoru Oshii and Production I.G., Ghost in the Shell is a cyber-punk fan’s wildest dreams come true. The anime sets its sights on cyber-terrorism in a futuristic version of Japan as its focus, with Public Security Section 9 being the group meant to fight against these crimes. The series posits a cybernetically enhanced future where much of the population have “cyber brains,” which are housed within prosthetic bodies. While this set-up has its luxuries and a degree of immortality, cyber brains are also open to attacks from hackers, which essentially turns the individuals into puppets who are being controlled by the hacker.
Ghost in the Shell follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyber brain in a prosthesis, as well as one of Public Security Section 9’s most formidable counter cyber-terrorism agents. Shirow’s original manga has spawned a whole franchise at this point, with even a live-action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson about to hit theaters. In honor of the title’s resurgence and the property feeling more relevant than ever, Here Are 15 Things You Never Knew About Ghost in the Shell.
15. It Was the First Anime Film to See Simultaneous Release in Japan, US, and the UK
Some very lofty goals were set in place when Ghost in the Shell was gearing up for its release. This film was seen as a transformative, pivotal piece of anime and Production I.G. wanted to capitalize on this in an effort to bolster anime awareness overseas. Modern anime audiences have gotten spoiled with simultaneous releases being a rather typical event, but back in 1995 this idea was especially uncommon. In fact, Ghost in the Shell is the first anime film to be released in Britain and the United States at the same time as it was in Japan, November 18, 1995. In spite of this concentrated effort to give anime more prominence in the US and the UK, the movement was ultimately unsuccessful. Ghost in the Shell might have not made a huge impression on North American box offices, but the film would find popularity and an audience in VHS and DVD sales. Ghost in the Shell would even go on to become the first anime release to hit Billboard’s #1 video position.
14. Major Appears Younger and More Sexualized in the Original Manga
Both Masamune Shirow’s original manga and Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film adaptation excel at telling a deep, prescient look into a more futuristic version of the world. Shirow and Oshii’s visions align for the most part, but there are a few areas in which the two diverge, with their interpretation of Motoko Kusanagi being a significant one. In Shirow’s manga, Motoko appears as a much more youthful looking character who is likely skewing more towards her mid-20s. This younger look for the character also comes along with her making comedic facial expressions, rebelling like some impulsive youth, and a heavier degree of sexualization. However, Ghost in the Shell’s character designer and key animation supervisor, Hiroyuki Okiura, thought that these traits seemed less appropriate in the more mature film. Accordingly, Okiura put Motoko in a much more physically mature body that better reflects the mental age of the character’s cyber brain. The translation is one that certainly works for the character (it does Major no favors for her to be interpreted as a child), with this older model for Motoko becoming the standard in a lot of Ghost in the Shell-based content.
13. The Matrix Was Heavily Influenced by Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is clearly a very stylized, influential film, with the ideas and visuals that it was pushing back in 1995 really grabbing the attention of some accomplished filmmakers. One of the most extreme examples of this is in the case of Ghost in the Shell being a major inspiration for the Wachowskis’ iconic Matrix trilogy. The Wachowskis’ love for this film is so intense that when pitching The Matrix to Joel Silver, they allegedly showed him the final shoot out from Ghost in the Shell and then added, “We wanna do that for real.” The Wachowskis got pretty damn close to their goal with not only several set pieces from the film capturing Ghost in the Shell’s essence, but concepts like the jacks in the back of people’s necks and the digital code “rain” title sequence both being straight from Oshii’s film.
Even people like James Cameron—whose Avatar also bears a few similarities to Ghost in the Shell—were deeply moved by the film, with him saying that it’s “the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literacy and visual excellence.” And Cameron knows a thing or two about cyborgs.
12. It was the Most Expensive Anime Film of All Time Upon Its Release
A lot was riding on Ghost in the Shell’s release, with the anime very much being seen as a prestige project. Mamoru Oshii of Patlabor fame came on board as Ghost in the Shell’s director, increasing expectations in the process. Anticipation and trust for the project became so immense that the film was given a budget of $10 million, making it the most expensive anime film to ever be made at the time. This budget certainly didn’t go to waste, with the film constantly striving to stand out. New, unconventional production methods were being used across the board which inevitably give the film its unique, impressive look, but also weren’t cheap. For instance, the film saw the advent of a new digitally generated animation style that combines cel-shaded animation with computer graphics, as well as mixing this with digital audio. Other impressive work in the areas of lighting effects, rendering software, plus the film’s simultaneous international release plans also contributed here. Ghost in the Shell would go on to quickly make a name for itself and inspire a legacy of supplementary content to follow it, clearly showing that the initial investment in the project was worth it.
11. Ghost in the Shell Has Several TV Series, Specials, and Film Sequels and Expansions
Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film, Ghost in the Shell, has stood the test of time and earned itself a sterling reputation in the process. Many people, whether anime fans or not, are familiar with Ghost in the Shell in some capacity. However, what’s much less public knowledge are the numerous, intricate further stories of Public Security Section 9 and Motoko Kusanagi. In addition to the 1995 film, there is the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex television series that explores alternate material from Shirow’s manga involving Motoko. Solid State Society is a film that caps it all off. Additionally, there is also Ghost in the Shell: Arise, which is both an OVA series as well as a film that’s more or less a reimagining of the original manga. There are also two additional Ghost in the Shell features, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which focuses on Batou and the creation of sex androids, as well as the unfortunately titled Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie, which acts as a bridge to Arise. As complicated as all of this sounds, it doesn’t require a cyber brain to sort it all out.
10. Ghost in the Shell Contains Numerous References to Oshii’s Previous Film, Angel’s Egg
Oshii now has an acclaimed reputation as a director, but this wasn’t always the case. Prior to Ghost in the Shell, Oshii’s 71-minute OVA, Angel’s Egg, would stir up a lot of controversy and turn into an incredibly polarizing project from the director. Angel’s Egg is an incredibly minimalist endeavor that’s told almost entirely without dialogue. The film chronicles the journey of a young girl in a dystopian wasteland as she tries to look after the giant egg that’s within her possession. The film is rife with Biblical allusions and is often looked at as Oshii’s most personal piece of work. The challenging, existential film is certainly an acquired taste, but it obviously means enough to Oshii that he wanted to pay honor to it within Ghost in the Shell. Surprisingly, a number of references to Angel’s Egg appear throughout the film, like the visual of the Tree of Life being surrounded in a room full of fossils. Ghost in the Shell’s conclusion tips its hat to Oshii’s previous work in a number of ways, too. Both films also use the same visual of feathers in their climaxes. Maybe the release of Angel’s Egg: Stand Alone Complex isn’t far off?
9. It was Re-Released in 2008 with New Animation as Ghost in the Shell 2.0
Ghost in the Shell still looks stunning for a piece of animation from out of 1995, but when Mamoru Oshii was releasing his new film, The Sky Crawlers, in 2008, it allowed him the opportunity to put out an updated version of his cyberpunk classic. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 would replace its original animation with the latest current technology, like 3D-CGI. This extended into the film featuring a new opening scene, more of a digital presence, as well as holographic displays. Furthermore, the film’s soundtrack and dialogue were re-recorded and arranged in 6.1 Channel Surround Sound. Minor edits were performed to the script, and in the case of the Laughing Man, Iemasa Kayumi would end up replacing Yoshiko Sakakibara as his voice talent.
The changes present in 2.0 aren’t purely aesthetic though. After having made Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in 2004, Oshii was eager to tweak elements of the original film that no longer complimented the sequel. The director’s perspective and ideas had changed since 1995 and he thought the update should reflect that. Hopefully another epiphany isn’t reached that causes a 3.0 to come out in 2021.
8. The Film’s Iconic Opening Song is a Mix of Traditional Japanese and Bulgarian Styles
Ghost in the Shell is a sheer visual extravaganza, but the film’s soundtrack and musical selections also offer up just as much nuance and depth. Kenji Kawai is the composer of Ghost in the Shell’s score, and perhaps the most striking musical number from out of the film is its opening theme, “Making of a Cyborg.” When composing the theme, Kawai tried his best to capture the core of this futuristic universe and would meld a few styles together in order to tap into Motoko’s eclectic world. “Making of a Cyborg” features lyrics from the ancient Japanese language of Yamato that is paired together with a traditional Bulgarian harmony. The effective chanting vocals throughout the piece also callback to a traditional Japanese wedding song that’s typically sung to help rid evil spirits. Kawai’s original intention was to use Bulgarian folk singers to honor what he was pulling from, but instead went with Japanese folk singers, which ends up mixing these styles even further. With such a deep collaboration of influences here, it’s easy to see why the song makes such an impression and conjures chills whenever it comes up in the film.
7. There Are Several Ghost in the Shell Video Games
Ghost in the Shell depicts a futuristic world that’s full of chaotic action scenes and brilliant displays of gunplay. It’s the sort of material that feels tailor-made for a video game adaptation, with Ghost in the Shell actually having a handful of titles out there. Impressively, all the way back in 1997, the original PlayStation saw a Ghost in the Shell game, with it even being localized and featuring the same English voices as the anime. While the third-person shooter PlayStation title is actually considered to be one of the better anime game adaptations out there, it puts the player in a Fuchikoma tank for the whole game! People want to be running around and clipping ghosts as the Major! This was somewhat rectified with the two Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex titles that were released on the PS2 and PSP (but not as a port). Pulling from the anime television series, the titles are considered to be less polished, but do let players control Motoko at least. Finally, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – First Assault Online is a free-to-play online first-person shooter that actually really plays as a love letter to the series.
6. The Film Features Bible Quotes, A Trademark of Oshii’s
Even though Masamune Shirow is responsible for conceiving the Ghost in the Shell series, Mamoru Oshii saw no problem in taking ownership of the property and inserting a number of his personal trademarks into the film. Oshii has seen a tumultuous history falling in and out of being religious, and it’s resulted in him often putting Bible quotes into his films. Ghost in the Shell is no exception here with the whole, “When I was a child…” speech coming from Corinthians. It happens to be a rather relevant passage for Oshii to pull, as it touches on the reality of cyborgs becoming normalized being “like a dim image in a mirror” as well as reflecting on humanity’s ultimate naivety. Oshii goes one step further in his Ghost in the Shell sequel, Innocence, where every single character is constantly throwing out quotes by famous philosophers. He drowns the audience in these existential allusions, with it apparently being an idea the director got from Jean-Luc Godard’s films. Another Oshii trademark present in both of his Ghost in the Shell offerings is the constant appearance of basset hounds. So stop trying to crack the symbolism of those dogs. Oshii just likes them.
5. Shirow Had to Fight to Keep the Title Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell might seem like a pretty bad ass title, but believe it or not, it’s actually something that manga author, Masamune Shirow, had to fight pretty hard to retain. Shirow’s publishers loved his story, but somehow preferred the extremely derivative title, Mobile Armored Riot Police. Shirow insisted in keeping his original title because so many of the themes and ideas that his manga introduces are a tribute to Arthur Koestler’s formative text, Ghost in the Machine. Shirow was intentionally trying to draw connections there that the publisher could care less about. Even in the end, a compromise ultimately had to be made where the title of the series in Japan is Mobile Armored Riot Police: Ghost in the Shell. It’s the subtitle, which still seems like a slap in the face. Admittedly, a lot of the Ghost in the Shell expansions have names like Stand Alone Complex, Solid State Society, and Alternative Architecture that just sound like jargon. Mobile Armored Riot Police sounds like any other futuristic police anime though.
4. The Film Is Widely Thought to Be Set In A Futuristic Version of Kobe
One of the most beautiful things about the world of Ghost in the Shell is the stunning picture of the futuristic city that it paints. While the exact location that the film is set in is never revealed, many viewers have gone on to assume that this is naturally some sort of Neo-Tokyo situation. Oshii has said that he used real streets from Hong Kong as an animation model for the film, as well as stating that the city’s busy, loud vibe would be perfect for the anime. Even the beer that appears in the film, San Miguel, is a Hong Kong brand of the beer. In spite of all of this, there’s still a strong argument that the film is actually set within the port city of Kobe. As time has passed, Ghost in the Shell has increased its association with Kobe City. For instance, not only does Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie pull from real-life places in Kobe for inspiration just like the original film did with Hong Kong, but the Kobe City Government has actually teamed up with Ghost in the Shell in a bizarre PR project known as Section 9!
3. The Villain in the 2017 Live-Action Adaptation was Originally Laughing Man, Not Hideo Kuze
The upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson has gone through a number of shifts and changes throughout its production. While many of these production shuffles took place before Johansson was even a part or the project, a rather large change did end up taking place further down the road. Michael Pitt has been tapped to play the film’s villain, with the antagonist originally set to be the mysterious Laughing Man. Laughing Man is a wonderful character with a truly surreal look to him, but he was eventually swapped out for Hideo Kuze. Kuze might be less flashy of a character, but he’s someone that actually shares a backstory with the Major, which was clearly thought to be a more compelling narrative for the film.
What’s really interesting here is that Laughing Man and Kuze are both villains from Stand Alone Complex. While clearly the film is still paying a lot of respect to the original anime, it’s exciting to see that other source material is also going to be reflected upon.
2. The Crew Flew to Guam to Shoot Guns… For Animation Purposes
The authenticity and degree of professionalism that Oshii was attempting to bring to his film have been listed here, as well as the hefty budget that the production was trusted with. Animation director Toshihiko Nishikubo is someone who pushed Oshii to embrace realism even more. Some of these considerable attempts for realism resulted in streets and locations being based off of actual areas in Hong Kong, but even greater lengths would be resorted to when dealing with the animation of the film’s weaponry. Oshii and Nishikubo went as far as flying the crew out to Guam so they could fire fireweapons at different materials and chart the different reactions for animation purposes. This research is put to practice in the film’s tank scene, such as when the tank’s bullets create sparks when hitting metal, but don’t when hitting stone. These are such insignificant details, but they all build to the greater feeling of this film being something more. Such effort is being put into it.
1. Motoko Doesn’t Blink in the Film
Mamoru Oshii goes to some painstaking efforts to take Shirow’s vibrant source material and make it resonate even more effectively. A lot of these touches have to do with the futuristic world that the story takes places in. Shirow’s original manga doesn’t hide the fact that Kusanagi is a cybernetic shell housing a cyber brain, but Oshii is able to have a lot more fun with the idea. For instance, eagle-eyed viewers might have observed that Major Kusanagi doesn’t blink during Ghost in the Shell. The detail is so minor, but it goes an incredibly long way and perfectly captures Oshii’s desired effect of Motoko feeling “doll-like.” Even without noticing this creepy touch about the character, the detail just creates the feeling of something being off about her. The effect seeps in subconsciously and it’s a rather inspired way to indicate that Motoko is different from regular humans. It’s also something that Shirow wasn’t really able to achieve in his manga due to the medium being made up of still images – blinking (or a lack of it) is a luxury of animation.
This is a healthy helping of Ghost in the Shell goodies, but if there’s even more fascinating trivia from the futuristic world of 2029 Japan and the workings of Public Security Section 9, let it be known in the comment section below!
Ghost in the Shell will be in theaters on March 31, 2017