The arrival of the visually arresting live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell was immediately met with controversy. Many fans of the original Japanese anime took issue with director Rupert Sanders’ decision to cast Scarlett Johansson, rather than an Asian actress, as the Major, a one-of-a-kind hybrid human/cyborg black ops warrior who works for a division called Section 9 that protects a futuristic, cyberpunk Tokyo from technological extremists. Meanwhile, other fans decry other creative changes made in the film, which borrows and adapts aspects from the previous Ghost in the Shell animated films and source material.
The villain in the film, Kuze (portrayed by Michael Pitt), is presented as an enhanced cyber-terrorist, an extremist, and the last member of a terrorist group called Individual Eleven. The name Kuze is familiar to Ghost in the Shell fans, but the movie presents a different take on the character. This Kuze is an amalgam that borrows from facets of the anime, including the Puppet Master storyline.
We already have a detailed breakdown of the differences and changes between the original Ghost in the Shell and the 2017 film, as well as our take on the whitewashing controversy that ensued over the casting and how it affects key creative decisions in the film. To round out our coverage, let’s take a look at the villain in Ghost in the Shell and find out more about how the film presents its version of Kuze.
Who is Kuze?
When Ghost in the Shell begins, the Major intervenes when a high-ranking Hanka official (Michael Wincott) is attacked during a dinner negotiation with the African Federation. The Hanka Robotics Corporation is attempting to create a business deal to sell hybrid cybernetics technology to Africa when armed soldiers burst into the restaurant and open fire. The Section 9 team kills the terrorists while the Major performs a cybernetic “deep dive” into one of the attackers, a robotic geisha. When she makes that connection, her consciousness briefly goes out “in the open” and Kuze, the being behind the attack, is made aware of her existence, becoming enthralled with her
Kuze’s cyber attacks on Hanka involve murdering several scientists who worked on a mysterious Project 2501. Little does the Major know, but when she begins investigating these attacks, she is actually walking into a carefully laid trap by Kuze. His intent isn’t to kill the her, but to illuminate her with the truth.
Kuze is a cyborg “like the Major,” or at least he should be like her. He was a failed previous attempt to create a human/cyborg hybrid, and not the first failed attempt, either. Kuze reveals to the Major that he is one of 98 prior failures, and his “ghost” rejected its new “shell” as did all of the others. Kuze’s physical appearance isn’t “beautiful and perfect” like the Major’s. Kuze is a deformed cyborg; he walks with a limp and curiously speaks with the voice of a Japanese man but filtered through what sounds like a vocal synthesizer not too dissimilar from the one used in real life by Dr. Stephen Hawking.
When the Major’s partner, Batou, and Section 9 arrive to rescue her, she goes “off the grid” to find the truth rather than returning with them. In her investigation, she discovers that Hanka’s previous 98 attempts to create a cyborg involved the kidnapping and killing of people for the experiments. What’s more, she herself was one of those kidnapped – the memories she had always known, such as the death of her of her parents, were all false memories implanted by Hanka. The Major even meets a woman who was the mother of one of the missing, a young Japanese runaway named Motoko Kusanagi who lived in the “Lawless Zone” of Tokyo. In their conversation, the Major begins to realize that the ghost in her shell was originally Motoko Kusanagi, and that Mira Killian, the name she believed was her own, was just another memory implanted by Hanka.
The Major travels to the Lawless Zone to where Motoko lived. Between “glitches” to her memory as well as the reappearance of Kuze, the truth is confirmed: not only is she really Motoko, but Kuze is Hideo Kuze, Motoko’s boyfriend. They were both kidnapped, their bodies stolen from them, and their ghosts placed in shells by Hanka. It’s then that Hanka attacks them with a giant Spider Tank. It seriously damages Kuze, but the Major is able to destroy it, also suffering damage in the process. The two lay together as Kuze dies from his wounds. Now that she’s armed with the truth and in contact with Section 9, the Major is ready to bring down the corrupt corporate element in Hanka.
The Real Villain
If it wasn’t already evident Ghost in the Shell‘s true villain was always the Hanka Robotics corporation and their methodology to develop the program that ultimately became a success with the Major. Hanka’s evil is personified by its CEO, Cutter, portrayed by Peter Ferdinando. It was on Cutter’s orders that 99 innocent people were kidnapped and experimented on to perfect the human/cyborg hybrid, failing 98 times before finally creating the Major. Once Cutter realizes the Major has learned the truth, he orders Dr. Ouelet, played by Juliette Binoche, to wipe the Major’s mind clean and “kill her.” Binoche rebels and allows the Major to escape. Cutter than murders Dr. Ouelet in cold blood and orders Section 9 to apprehend the Major.
When the Major makes contact with Section 9 and reveals the truth about Cutter, he orders Hanka security to murder the members of Section 9. However, Section 9 is ready for them and takes care of Hanka’s forces while Section 9’s Chief Aramaki, played by “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, kills Cutter to exact “justice.” By the end of the film, it’s implied that Hanka continues on despite Cutter, but the Major remains the key crime-fighting figure in Section 9 regardless of who created her and why.
The villainous Hanka corporation ultimately serves as a commentary on the abuse of technology at the expense of innocent human life. The film examines how greed and corporate interests can lay waste to people’s rights to privacy and sense of self, with people being literally abducted, their identities stolen, and forced to become experiments to further corporate goals in the name of progress and the bottom line. These are heady themes, and while the consequences are far more dire than anything we see today, this message is still ever relevant to the real world as our rapidly evolving technology continues to change the ways in which we live our daily lives.