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Ghost in the Shell + DreamWorks << Ghost in the Shell

Posted by Doug on October 18, 2008

Motoko KusanagiFive months after Variety runs the article, I read that DreamWorks has secured rights to Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga, and intends on adapting it into a 3D live-action film.  To quote Han Solo, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

I’m a GitS fanboy.  I’ve read the original manga, and Man/Machine Interface, and Human-Error Processor, and The Lost Memory, Revenge of the Cold Machines, and White Maze novels.  I’ve seen the Ghost in the Shell movie, and its sequel, Innocence.  I’ve watched Stand Alone Complex, SAC 2nd Gig, and Solid State Society more times than I probably should mention.  This is not to say I am in any way special—my point is merely that I am fairly familiar with the original work and its direct descendants.

A significant part of what I enjoy about Japanese anime, manga, and film is the cultural differences in storytelling.  Take for example Kurosawa Akira’s Seven Samurai and its American remake, John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven.  The story in both is essentially the same: farmers are harrassed by bandits, and decide to hire warriors on the cheap to defend them, seven warriors are recruited and proceed to train the villagers to defend themselves, there is a romance subplot involving the least experienced warrior and one of the village girls, there is a climatic battle against the bandits, and ultimately only three of the seven warriors survive.

But Seven Samurai is my favorite movie, a superlative film, and I would describe The Magnificent Seven as above average, but only if you enjoy westerns.  If they are so much alike, how can one be so much better than the other?

It’s the details, of course.

For example, take the “romance subplot” I mentioned above.  In The Magnificient Seven, it is Chico the young gunslinger and Petra the farm girl.  In the end, Chico stays in the village with Petra—a typical ending in an American film.  But in Seven Samurai, it is Okamoto Katsushirō the young rōnin samurai and Shino the farm girl, and despite their romance, in the end Shino shuns Katsushirō, and he leaves Shino and the village behind to continue his rōnin lifestyle.  To a Western audience, that ending to the romance subplot is unexpected; people would likely complain, feeling that they were somehow ‘cheated’ out of a happy ending.

Seven Samurai does not have a happy ending.  The farmers are still farmers, their immediate problem solved, to be sure, but they are really still in the same predicament that they started out in.  The surviving samurai have nothing to show for their efforts except the memories.

Oh, man, I forgot what I was getting at…oh yeah, DreamWorks, Ghost in the Shell, right.

Simply put, I believe that the elements of Ghost in the Shell that appealed to its fans and earned it the appellation “classic” will be either sugar-coated or dumbed-down or both.  Horrible “adjustments” to the storyline and characters will be performed—I would not be surprised if Kusanagi were to reject the union with Project 2501, or if Major Motoko Kusanagi became “Major Michelle Kowalski” and suddenly became blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  Batou will become “Brighton,” have normal-looking eyes and goofy sunglasses, and be “Kowalski”‘s lover.  The Fuchikoma will be a Knight Rider-esque police car.  The philosophical and ethical themes Masamune Shirow wove into the storytelling will flat-out disappear.  It’ll be just another senselessly hyperviolent sci-fi actioner that just so happens to have the name Ghost in the Shell.

Short version: I predict DreamWorks’ version of Ghost in the Shell will suck.

Use Ghost in the Shell as inspiration, as a stylistic guide—this worked fairly well for the Wachowski brothers.  If you’re going to adapt it into a film, don’t destroy everything that made it what it is.

tl;dr

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2 Responses to “Ghost in the Shell + DreamWorks << Ghost in the Shell

  1. Steve said

    I know you wrote this a while ago, but I’m just stumbling across it while looking up info on Real Drive. At any rate, I agree with your assessment of a possible GitS movie. I’m also a fanboy, and have also read all of the above and seen all there is to see. But mostly I’m just obsessed with Major. I can’t see any way it can translate into anything but gibberish at the hands of an American production crew. I will say that I always thought Kate Beckinsale would be a good Major, despite many people crying foul at the fact she isn’t Asian. But who really looks Asain in GitS? I mean, Togusa looks like Bon Jovi half the time. (Lord, forgive me for that comparison!) So, here’s hoping the budget is too excessive and Hollywood is too scared to do another huge live-action Anime after Speed Racer. (Even though I loved the Speed Racer movie, I can easily see how people would be turned off by it. I don’t think it deserved all the bad press, however.)

  2. Doug said

    Kate Beckinsale as the Major? Maybe, but I still have my doubts that the Major could ever be convincingly portrayed by a live-action actress, mainly due to all the other problems that would come with converting an animated character into a live-action one. She might be a good actress, and she might approximate the look, but the other problems (as mentioned in my post) would drown all that out, I fear.

    Rather than a good anime-to-live-action adaptation, I more than anything would like to see animation rescued from the “animation is for kid shows, period” mentality that dominates the Western entertainment industry. Disney is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing, but they can do so much more with animation. Animation is a medium, not a genre.

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