Despite all the bad reviews that the recent Hollywood reboot of Ghost in the Shell received, one thing that can't be overlooked is the setting. One of the main complaints is that the new film doesn't stay true to the philosophical landscape of the original, however, what the remake has managed to do is render the environment faithfully and fantastically.
New Port City, the setting of Ghost In The Shell, is a city that is mapped by the city's veins and capillaries - the waterways and dark back alleys. It seems very much alive, but there is very little in the way of a 'beating heart'. There is movement and action there, the place is a fascinating example of cyberpunk futurism, but like the part-robotic inhabitants, has an inherent emptiness - it lacks any feeling.
Everything in the city seems like it's slowly dying. The walkways are damp, the signs are beginning to rust and corrode and fresh air looks like a commodity. It is capitalism run riot, with huge billboards, posters and hologram graphics many stories high advertising the perfect gym body or beer.
Roughly tied to a futuristic Hong Kong, it feels equally as cramped, a city designed for the purpose of consumption, work and very little play. None of this is off-putting enough not to make you want to visit it though. The original, released in 1995, imagines a mid 21st century Asian metropolis, with trippy signs and a constant neon glow that wouldn't be out of place in the hallucinogenic film, Enter The Void.
When the film interacts with the city, it is done so with a 3 minute long sequence featuring a traditional-with-a-twist soundtrack that gives it a more humanistic 'feeling'. The people, whilst busy, seem happy to be there. It rises from the ground like sharp glass crystals from the foundations of a grubby Venice, and working symbiotically with the musical nod to the city's far-distant past, a slow 3-minute sequence in the middle of the film looks as imposing and grand as an urban environment could. The scariest thing is that all of this makes it seem possible.
The animation of the original could only do the vision limited justice. To bring it fully to life, to make it more relateable to us, it required a more realistic three-dimensional treatment. The juxtaposition of city-shot and music in the original's interlude captures the environment visually, but doesn't give a true sense of how living there might really be, it feels far removed, a place where we remain only onlookers. In the new version of the film, the city feels more atmospheric, a city with more hustle and bustle, a place that one day we will live.
New Port City's hyper-stylized sprawl of conglomerated steel, water and neon lights feels dangerous as Scarlett Johansson's Major navigates through the claustrophobic streets. As she weaves through pushers and prostitutes, it is clear that the city is as much a product of the people as the people are a product of their city.
The original, from the imagination of Mamoru Oshii, showed unparalleled vision at the time, but it took the technology that we have available now to better understand the potential future of our cities. The remake has been knocked by critics for a lot of things, but no one could grudge them their depiction of New Port City, for their bravery to turn a futuristic animated vision into something tangible and not too far away.
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