For this analysis, I will discuss the 2017 Ghost in the Shell film (USA) and the 1995 Ghost in the Shell animated film (Japan). There are spoilers for both.
There are several differences between the first (1995) Ghost in the Shell film and the recent (2017) Hollywood adaptation, but I will be focusing on the endings of the films and how they take the fundamental message of the story in completely opposite directions. This deviation comes during the Major’s final confrontation with the Puppet Master (who is called Hideo Kuze in the 2017 adaptation).
(The Puppet Master is probably the character whose appearance changed the least in this adaptation, despite being the opposite apparent gender.)
In the 2017 adaptation, the Puppet Master is revealed to be the product of a failed attempt at the same cybernetic procedure that the Major underwent. He offers the Major the option of joining him by having their minds uploaded to a cyber network of his creation. However, the Major chooses to remain in her cybernetic body and fight Hanka, the company that performed this procedure on the Puppet Master and the Major.
By rejecting the Puppet Master’s offer, the Major chooses to fight to be treated as a human. Although she fears that she is no different from a robot, soulless and inferior to humans, she overcomes this fear and stands in defiance against those who would treat her as less than human.
This ending preaches the idea that there is inherent value in being human. The Major’s friends reinforce this idea when they encourage the Major and say that she has a soul, or what they call a “ghost,” which puts humans above robots. The Major finds peace only when she finds identity as a human. The audience is comforted, because the divide between humans and robots is made safe and secure.
Pictured above: A cybernetic Caucasian body with a Japanese woman’s mind inside.
In contrast, the 1995 adaptation takes the audience down a less comfortable rabbit hole. The Puppet Master is revealed to be an artificial intelligence that has gained a “ghost,” meaning that its ability to think and feel has become indistinguishable from that of a human. Thus, there is no real difference between the Major and the Puppet Master. The line between robot and human is erased, and the Major’s worst fear becomes obsolete.
The Puppet Master then offers the Major the option of having their minds uploaded to a cyber network to be merged. The Puppet Master’s desire is to evolve. After a tense climactic scene, the Major accept the offer as a means of escape. They merge and become a new entity, and this new entity is downloaded into a new body.
Unlike the 2017 adaptation, this ending rejects the idea that there is inherent value in being human. Instead, the Puppet Master explains that value comes from progress. Old definitions of humanity are discarded in order to explore new possibilities. The film ends with the “child” of the Major and the Puppet Master, standing on the brink of a new and exciting world.
Pictured above: A cybernetic Japanese child’s body with an A.I. and a Japanese woman’s mind inside.
The fundamental difference between the 1995 and 2017 adaptations of Ghost in the Shell lies in what the films say about humanity and human ideals. The 2017 adaptation takes comfort in the idea of inherent value in being human, while the 1995 adaptation challenges this idea. It is an unsettling thought that humanity may not have any inherent value over artificial creations, but it is a thought that is becoming increasingly important in our rapidly progressing world.