Ghost in the Shell (2017) versus (1995), Geisha’s Compared

The story of Ghost in the Shell 2017 differs from the 1995 anime, but it does recreate scenes and characters. The changes in the recreated scenes might give clues about shifts in ideas concerning real, virtual and cyborgs then and now.


Major. In the 1995 anime a badass, witty, able, philosophically questioning her own being with others without psychological drama, open, jumping off buildings in the nude with hard nipples and camo tech, but also looking like a man with muscular arms and back when she rips open something to morph into a child later.

2017 Major. A woman, always unmistakably a woman. But something is off: she is not able to move smoothly. This stiffness is a moral statement thrown in your face, cyborg: bad. Enhancements: bad. She walks exactly ‘like a robot’. Nobody wants that. She is also not happy, she feels alone, disconnected, lost, self-obsorbed. The cyborg life is not to be desired and in the portrayal of Major we see the fixation of the 2017 movie: humans, and the human body (human body: good).

The Geisha’s

The geisha’s are not part of the 1995 anime, but they are present in Innocence, and the series.  Here again, there is a striking difference regarding the body. While the old geisha’s look exactly like people, the new geisha’s don’t. Both have a mechanical inside that can jump open, but when the old geisha’s opened up it was a shock. A shock to see their flesh could be ripped apart. A shock to see what was underneath; the mixture of humanlike and mechanical parts. The familiar and unfamiliar skull.

The shocking effect of the new geisha’s is not about them. The shock is about us, the human body. The new geisha can hack you via tentacle-wires, she can physically enter your body, she can send fluids into you. The new geisha violates en penetrates us.

The most interesting image of the entire new movie was when a geisha, with her tentacle-wires inside her victim, moved away like a spider, crawling up against the wall. Moving like insects is associated with disgust, (a typical tool of horror, to attach disgusting features to the feared object) and here the moving like an insect is shown as a robot (technology). A disgusting mixture of biology-technology: the new geisha is to be feared.

The type of questions of the anime revolved around interest in the robot and the cyborg: how does it work, what does it imply, how will the world look?

This outward focus has made place for an inward focus in the 2017 Ghost. We, humans, are the good guys. Robots are to be feared as things around us, and morally bad as parts of us. We, humans, are biological creatures. When Major is created in 2017 she gasps for air, like a baby being born. The same scene in 1995 is drenched in numbers (like The Matrix). Major’s body in 2017 is visibly ‘made’, clunky and static and she spends a lot of time in hospital type situations, all of this shouts at you that enhancing is bad.

Major’s 2017 fate is dire, but the movie soothes us: her mother can still recognize her, ‘she’ is still in there, her memories are still there, she only had to stop making pills (= to stop adjusting herself even more). The movie ends with her saying that she now knows who she is. A human mind, with a fabricated body, but her virtue is humanity (= the original brain cells?).

Reviews often state that the 2017 Ghost in the Shell is, although visually stunning, a lot of shell, and not much ghost. However, it is hard or almost impossible to ask any philosophical questions about cyborgs, if you have already made your mind up about it morally.


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