The live-action version of Ghost in the Shell has a number of marked differences from the 1995 film of the same name. While director Rupert Sanders attempted to bring in a number of familiar elements to his 2017 adaptation, such as the chase and capture of the unfortunate garbage man and the scene of Major Motoko Kusanagi waking up within a dark frame with the bright city behind her.
However, many of these familiar scenes and visuals felt hollow in comparison to the original because the story of the live-action shifted the tone and message of the original in an attempt to make an original hybrid story by combining events from the movie and anime. Even Kusanagi, or Major as she is referred to in the live-action, felt like a pale shadow. When discussing the character from here on out, I will refer to the 1995 version of the character as Kusanagi and the 2017 version as Major since they are distinctly different characters.
In both versions, Kusanagi and Major are curious individuals but they express their inquisitive nature in different ways and for different reasons, although both do share a desire to uncover and understand their movie’s respective antagonists. Major is interested in unearthing her past and defining what exactly she is. Meanwhile, Kusanagi is much more interested in defining and understanding her world as a whole. Their interactions with their respective settings and the visual choices of their films further solidify their different perspectives (I will touch further on this later).
Kusanagi is often seen pondering her surroundings and the people around her. Her inquisitive nature is extroverted in the sense that it isn’t inwardly centered, but rather drawn to everything around her. The film opens with her listening to broadcasts and she often talks about gaining outside perspectives because an echo-chamber of the same ideas stagnants development. Major, meanwhile, focuses her inquisitions inward, attempting to define herself as an individual through the comparison of those around her…while also trying to fit in with the greater picture. Though somewhat paradoxical, she essentially tries to define herself through the comparison of the whole. Major views herself as an Other who wants to be part of the whole, only to realize that she is part of a whole, but still ultimately an individual. Meanwhile, Kusanagi already sees herself as part of a greater whole and wants to further herself through the introduction of new ideas and ideals, which is why she ultimately agrees to merge with the Puppet Master. Major, meanwhile, rejects this merging (even if it means allowing Kuze to die), opting instead to remain an individual.
The 2017 film focuses more on the idea of consent and individuality within a greater whole, whereas the the 1995 version focuses on the creation of a new identity and resisting a stasis status-quo. Both films focus on identity but they look at identity in different ways. Perhaps the reason the two films come off as so different is because of the way these themes are tackled. Where it felt like the 1995 film had a distinct direction, the 2017 film felt fickle at times, tugging in different directions. While both focus on Major/Kusanagi as the protagonist, her demeanor greatly changes the outcome of the story. It isn’t just her demeanor that’s shifted though–the entire cast seems more biting and overt in the 2017 version of the film. Sympathy is lost on the garbage man who was tricked. Many of the scenes that should be emotional in the 2017 film felt stiff (and not due to performance). It was stiff because it was muddled, the focus lost. While both films are visually stunning (I still can’t get over the animatronics for the geisha scene in the live-action version), the story from the 1995 version was overall more complete.
Note: There were a lot of other issues with the 2017 version that I chose not to talk about in this article since I wanted to focus specifically on the themes/characters of Major and Kusanagi.