Rewritten: Ghost in the Shell (2017)
April 3, 2017 by Xander Davis
Some of these are directorial and editorial changes, as a movie is written three times (in scripting, directing, and editing). Four if you count here, with me.
This is also an attempt to apply rewrites to Sanders’s film specifically, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. An alternative directing choice could’ve approached this entirely differently altogether.
Obviously, SPOILERS ahead.
Firstly, I would’ve set this in CinemaScope. At the very least, Univisium. 16:9 or whatever weird aspect this was in just feels so un-cinematic for a live-action film.
Next, I would’ve done this at a place like Netflix or HBO. You could’ve told the same story, but over a much longer 10 hour odyssey that would more properly allow us to dive into all of the rich ideas and characters that the GITS franchise offers. This is why my own titles at Lore Method, such as NEON ECLIPSE, adopt this episodic formula that works perfectly with the novel format.
But going forward here, we’ll presume it is still a Hollywood feature film.
Changes in Acts I & II
To start, there would be some general changes for the first two acts:
I would’ve definitely had the iconic theme from the 1995 GITS as the theme in the identical shelling sequence intro. It makes a statement. It really sets the tone and tells people, brace for impact, we’re going to challenge you. Even 22 years after the original, this will still immediately feel haunting and arresting to American movie-going audiences in such an exciting way.
Next, we needed to ratchet up the dystopia and alienation way, way more. The City is way too bright and shiny and clean and vacant for this. It was actually appealing, which isn’t the case as much in the original. Here, we needed to be constantly shown examples of why cyberization is stealing the soul of humanity at large. These examples could actually be quieter, stiller, more haunting. Like the original.
To go a more bright and shiny dystopic route, you could go even more overboard with ‘solograms’ in your face, constantly hitting you with information-overload that would make going outside terrifying. Newscasts and advert audio sounds off everywhere, but at 4x speed. Just ridiculously overwhelming. I’m not saying do this for the sake of more eye-candy. I’m saying, do it in a way that is an unnerving, inescapable pop-up advert psi-op hellhole on purpose, to convey life in a City where you can learn fluent French in a few seconds and the bid for attention is desperate. In that world, you’d have to better communicate how it pulls apart and suffocates people’s minds and souls as it “empowers” them.
The Yakuza club needed to be way, way louder and more frightening a place. It was pretty tame and lacked the energy and adrenaline the cliche “club scene” setting is innately supposed to inject. This is where we can really dive into the underbelly of cyberization as culture.
The City needed to be more cramped and overpopulated too. There never should be a scene ever, where the city isn’t overflowing with people and traffic. Yet, almost every scene in the actual movie is pretty light on population. The streets are pristine, even. We needed “futureshock” in an overwhelming and disturbing sense, way more than we got, instead of it looking like a cool video game setting.
Ultimately, either way, the City needed to make us feel desperately lonely in a crowd.
While Pilou Asbæk was likable, we need to re-cast Batou with an A-list actor on par with Scarlett Johansson, purely for franchise purposes and narrative reasons you’ll see below.
The ghost-hacked garbage man definitely needed to be cast with reality-confused specialist Keanu Reeves for an amazingly super-meta treat. Keeping the Garbage Man combined with the original separate ghost-hacked criminal still stands as a clever streamlining.
Drop this whole “consent” thing. It’s just odd. Even if thematically a great place to punctuate that would’ve been at Kuze’s proposal, Motoko doesn’t need to verbally initiate a legally-binding contract as if she’s a robotic lawyer. It’s got some pretty annoying and ruinous overtones, explained in my Commentary. She can just humanly say “yes” or “no”.
Give Batou and Togusa more screen-time and importance, to set up their roles more in what would become a sequel more consistent with the 2004 Innocence, based on the Act III changes you’re about to see. Like in the original 1995 GITS, Major and Togusa should’ve been on the trail together for a bit too. But we needed to strengthen the relationship with Batou and Major, beyond moments of her flipping him off that just fell flat, only to have Batou pine for her more. Then seeing her go with Hideo in the end is a moment that breaks his heart in a guarded, quiet way, and sets up his own ‘lost-puppy’ state for the sequel.
Aramaki should not also have a revolver. I don’t buy it that he could’ve taken out all of those Hanka hitmen with it, first of all, and secondly the revolver used by Togusa is a commentary on his uniquely stubborn, slower old-school human ways. Aramaki should’ve had some crazy future weapon hidden in his brief case that ultra-violently ripped apart those Hanka hitmen in a shockingly over-aggressive way, which plays into the legend of having Beat Takeshi play the part at all. Then we really, really will believe that you don’t ever mess with Aramaki, who otherwise stays reserved as a true, wiser master would. This crazy weapon would demonstrate his reliance and deployment of advanced technology to fight, which is consistent with how he uses the Major to head Section-9 investigations and tactical combat.
At this point, we get into the end of Act III, where most of the deep, but brief and simple changes need to take place.
Narratively, we do keep the written combination of the Project 2501 (Puppet Master) / Kuze characters, because it gives so much heart to the story in a positive way. But where we go with it changes next. We find out Kuze was literally called “Project 2501”, while Motoko was called “Project 2571”. This means there weren’t merely dozens of previous prototypes. There were precisely two-thousand five-hundred and seventy before Motoko became the Major, including Hideo.
Changes in Act III
Firstly, when Ouelet saves Major, she redeems herself too. Major needs to then save Ouelet and not just leave her to die, which isn’t very appealing for Major’s character. Ouelet living and her reconciliation with Major by bringing her to her real mother can also reinforce a theme of Mothers and Daughters between all three of them. After Ouelet leads Major to Mrs. Kusanagi’s apartment, Major goes inside alone for the truth. To justify attention on Mrs. Kusanagi’s missing daughter, Major claims she’s with Section-9 investigating the unsolved case. This more logically explains why Mrs. Kusanagi lets Major in so warmly. Ouelet stays outside.
When Major meets Mrs. Kusanagi, the elder would’ve revealed that her daughter was in love with a young man named Hideo, and they both were deeply concerned that technology was destroying the world (they would’ve been right). They stood up for what they believed in and were persecuted for it. They weren’t just misguided dumb youths. They were right. And they paid the ultimate price for it at the hands of those with this power, ceaselessly bringing about this dystopia.
At that point Major accepts her identity is actually Motoko Kusanagi. From the apartment, Mrs. Kusanagi takes Major to the grave site. Ouelet tags along, but keeps her distance. There, Major reveals she is really her daughter and they hug at this point. It’s a huge emotional catharsis not just for Mrs. Kusanagi, but mostly for Major. Ouelet fully comprehends the depths of what she has done and emotionally regains all of her own humanity too.
But the apotheosis isn’t over yet. Major still needs to converge her investigation on Kuze… or rather, her long lost and tragically victimized boyfriend Hideo.
When she does meet back up with Hideo, she accepts the truth between them, which had been stolen from them. She remembers their love they had together. After she valiantly saves him from the Spider Tank via the control of Cutter (the real antagonist), she accepts Hideo’s proposal to go with him into his network. She definitely agrees with Hideo that they have no place here; she definitely doesn’t think she belongs here. Not when she has been discovering that truth throughout the entire film. Cutter’s snipers shoot Hideo and Motoko, destroying them. But it’s too late.
Batou arrives just in time to see this, breaking his heart, as Hideo and Motoko have already initiated the process of running away again together. But this time, they’re not just going to run away. They will seek their revenge against their oppressors out of a sense of justice, not vengeance. This can be how Motoko ends up truly saving Hideo’s soul in balance with him setting her onto the truth.
We take this further, more consistent with the 1995 film, in that they merge into a new and true posthuman Hideo/Kusanagi hybrid entity, which we’ll call the Datachild (like the Child at the end of 1995 GITS and the Starchild in 2001). I’m less inclined to actually show the Datachild eventually in a cyborg child’s body. Instead, leaving it more figurative might be best. This is because the Datachild will spread and live throughout all human brains connected to the network, impossible to destroy and now totally elusive, angelic even.
The fact that it doesn’t just live throughout the Internet, the “vast sea of information”, but also through humanity is what makes it more than just an AI. It’s both AI and human and more simultaneously. I wrote about this before, that it may already be happening in collaboration between the Internet and the humans who use it, in my previous editorial The Cloud Wakes.
Aramaki kills Cutter in self-defense, but also, by his own volition, on behalf of what Hanka has done to Motoko Kusanagi, Hideo, and all the others they’ve abducted. The scandal Section-9 now can expose will bring down Hanka entirely. Ouelet formerly defects to Section-9, which they accept granting her immunity, in exchange for all the evidence they’ll need to prove everything.
We end with Batou standing on a rooftop, staring out over the City as the sun rises. With Ouelet having brought him up to speed, he looks over a paper photo of the real Japanese Motoko Kusanagi, heartbroken that she is gone from him now forever. But then Batou looks back towards the cityscape horizon glistening in sunlight. He and Ouelet wonder just where the Datachild has now gone.
“Everywhere,” Batou says warmly, with some solace. He tears up the paper photo. “She’s gone everywhere. The net is vast and infinite.”
Batou casts the torn paper photo into the wind, where it flows and soars over the city, freely.
With Changes, Where to Take Sequels
With the above changes, we can go into far more interesting territory for the sequels.
For the first sequel, and because we’ve changed Batou’s casting to also be an A-lister, he carries this film with Togusa. Scarlett Johansson would appear, but only by Act III.
As the Datachild becomes the more ethereal presence and ghost of both Hideo and Kusanagi that we see as the PuppetMaster/Kusanagi hybrid in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Batou spends this next film tracking her down while also investigating seemingly unrelated cyber-crimes (that ultimately are directly related). In the process, Batou and Togusa are caught up in a web of conspiracy that Section-9 is investigating, while realizing the Datachild is investigating this too. When Batou and the Datachild meet up again, they bring part of this conspiracy down together.
Because Ouelet is not killed in the first film now and has redeemed herself, she is instead recruited directly into Section-9 by the second film. With Hanka brought down in scandal, Ouelet is able to bring over all the tech she needs into Section-9 to build a new Major body.
By Act III of the sequel from this rewrite, Batou manages to persuade the Datachild to join Section-9 in a body that looks like the Major to help them. While she does this, the Datachild is also not limited to this one body and is simultaneously operating elsewhere, even in different cyber-bodies and ghost-hacked humans.
(Why we need to do this is of course we need to bring back Scarlett Johansson in for all of the sequels. But she won’t be playing the same character in them. Motoko Kusanagi will have been thoroughly and existentially dead and gone at this point. Instead ScarJo will be playing the cybernetic child of Hideo/Motoko as the Datachild in a new and identical ScarJo Major body made by Ouelet at Section-9. This is where the Datachild, in the body of the Major, could still legitimately be referred to as simply “Major”.)
All subsequent sequels, which could go on forever, feature the Datachild in a ScarJo Major body collaborating with Section-9 to bring down vast and unending conspiracies and other cyber-crime in different ways, more like the ongoing rebooted TV series. However, at the same time, Datachild Major is alien to Section-9 and Batou, which freaks them out. The romance between Batou and this new Major could still continue, but would definitely be a bit awkward and unnerving. It could probably also never complete, instead just remain as an unspoken bond that runs deep, like Mulder and Scully. This is while, even at times, the Datachild often appears to be working against Section-9 while really working with them in ways they cannot comprehend until all is revealed to their mutual success. They learn to trust her, but cannot help but be haunted by her too.
Throughout, we hint that this merger was inevitable and we are ultimately thankful it was between two cyberized human minds gone rogue (Hideo / Motoko), and that they are generally benevolent to the humankind they came from. We’re also thankful they work with us to stop those with malevolent aspirations in trans/posthumanism, protecting what’s left of humanity. This is in contrast against the alternative, some cold alien pure-digital AI (as in the original GITS) will likely not care at all about obsolete humans anymore, viewing them now as mostly obstacles or pests. The Datachild Major and Section-9 could even confront such a loose AI that challenges her own new unique state in another sequel.
A GITS Film Deserves GUTS
Considering the film currently has a 44% on Rotten Tomatoes and is underperforming in its opening weekend to Boss Baby, these changes would probably all be entirely justified.
To stand with the likes of Oshii, Ghost in the Shell needed to be directed by someone more like Christopher Nolan, if not Nolan himself, than the guy who brought us Snow White and the Huntsman. This was just a total misreading on what makes GITS special by the studios that greenlit this. They got a lot right, and some things were downright clever, but what they got wrong, they got way, way, way wrong.
These changes essentially re-align the franchise towards Oshii’s vision and away from the newer anime TV series reboots. Oshii’s vision challenges its audiences, whereas the new TV series feels more like it’s just for kids or casual cyberpunk fans. Oshii’s are works of art, which is exactly what has made GITS so special. Going with the more ‘Saturday morning anime cartoon’ route obviously failed. It especially failed in how they tried to hijack Oshii’s plot with it, creating such disappointing and generic dissonance and, ultimately, disposability.
Just like how the original ALIEN was first written to be a cheap low-budget, cheesy Roger Corman film, but the producers knew “The way to do it is to scale it up, to make it something special,” that’s what needed to happen here. Scaling it up here doesn’t necessarily mean visuals, but more so ideas and execution.
Double-down on making this film for the fans. Make it longer. Make it more trance-inducing. Make it less verbal. Make it more visual. More cryptic. More thought-provoking. Make it raise more questions than it answers. Don’t just accept that you will confuse most of the audience, embrace it. All like the original 1995 GITS. Like the original 1999 Matrix. Less like Damon Lindelof with Prometheus. Why you definitely bet big on the film this way is because it already worked with the 1995 GITS. It’s why the 1995 GITS is still around today and is in fact now still the best GITS film ever made, 22 years ago.
If that means it’s as long as Interstellar, so be it. In the age of Netflix binge-watching, I don’t see why movies still feel like they need to be 1.5 to 2 hours. 3 is totally viable, especially for fanboy franchises, whose fanboys have been waiting two decades to see the movie you just spent all this time and money making, in the end, rather pointlessly. It’s unfortunate for all of us, fans and those who worked so hard on this alike.
In just a few minor changes, you fix a ton of thematic, logical, archetypal, narrative, and architectural cognitive dissonance in Sanders’s film, while simultaneously taking the series conceptually into more interesting territory. Maybe someday we’ll see a reboot that properly does this justice. Until then, you can always go back to watch the original 1995 film and appreciate it in all new ways now.
In the meantime, you may see some of these ideas being used in various ways in my own cyberpunk espionage thriller, NEON ECLIPSE, going forward, so be sure to check that out! You can start by reading NEON ECLIPSE Episode 1 for free now!