Ghost in the shell has come a long way from a mere manga evolving into the vast sci-fi cyberpunk universe we now associate it with. While there have been numerous adaptations of the manga(there are so many and so different in flavor that relating them is easily too exhausting) the universally accepted crowning jewel is the 1995 adaptation of Mamoru Oshii. While the new movie tries hard to emulate the brilliance of its 1995 brother it fails miserably in many important aspects.
This might have occurred because the movie writers seem to have increasingly “dumbed-down” the brilliant and thought provoking story involving questioning life and its significance, to a story of reunion of friends, all for ease of understanding for audience. Which in my opinion causes it to become another one of the innumerable and forgettable “Blade Runner”esque sci-fi movies.
In the 1995 adaptation we can see the protagonist, Major Motoko Kusunagi(who is a complete cyborg leave her brain) questioning her humanity and what a ghost is(which across the movie is shown as the key to calling something alive), contrary to her is the prime antagonist who is referred to as the “puppet master”, a sentient creature who was created in the sea of information seeking to grow beyond his boundaries and evolve. This aspect of the original 1995 adaptation shines and adds a philosophical touch to the story.
In the current take the antagonist is just like the Major(Mira Killian), a runaway who is at the wrong place at the wrong time ending up as fodder for experimental purposes by a certain capitalist “Hank robotics”. The story just turns into a search fest followed by a revenge quest. This choice to alter the story by the movie makers made the movie too prosaic and devoid of any philosophical flavor the original had.
The excellent 1995 adaptation manages to successfully transport the audience from a mundane day to day life to a completely alien but relatable universe. This is achieved by the excellent sound track which uses traditional Japanese chants sung in the folk Min’yō style along with intense Taiko drumming. These unfamiliar but enchanting sounds help improve the already excellent story telling transporting us to a mesmerizing yet alien world.
While the OST is outstanding, what shines in the original are the induced moments of pure silence along with a timely chime of a Kagura Suzu bell, again a traditional Japanese instrument which helps intensify the importance and relevance of such moments. In the 2017 edition the sound track feels too familiarly relatable and never manages to captivate or enthrall.
There is an extended long scene in the 1995 adaptation which involves just visuals of the world with such enchanting music, it mesmerizes one and sells this overly complicated world to them.
Don’t get me wrong ,the 2017 edition is not a bad watch, its visual design is nice and the action scenes are very well done. It takes the best of all the adaptations and sticks them into an action filled 2 hours. It picks the geisha scene from the “Stand alone complex” and borrows a lot from the 1995 version also, be it the final spider tank battle or the fight in the “kowloon”esque suburbs with the ghost hacked human.
The casting choices of the 2017 adaption also seem a little off. While it is likable the fact that Aramaki(Section 9’s chief) was voiced in Japanese and played by an actor of Japanese origin. Scarlett Johansson though a big name in Hollywood fails to potray the character very well as most of the movie she is shrugging and is never shown as a deadly weapon that she is.
Most live adaptations of pre-existing legends try to take the original story and change everything about it so that it seems fresher to the same audience. Contrary to this norm this live action rendition of Ghost in the shell is too reminiscent of the original which forces people to draw comparison with it.
In conclusion, the original being only one and a half hrs long manages to be exponentially complex questioning the meaning of life and evolution while the live action adaptation cheapens it with a love story of runaways on a quest for retribution. That is why the original will always be better (it deals with complex ideas and is ages ahead of its time), cheap Hollywood ripoffs can never match the greatness of this timeless epic.