Ghost In The Shell is easily in the upper echelon of legendary anime & manga franchises and it’s seen multiple re-inventions since Masamune Shirow’s original manga & Mamoru Oshii’s original film introduced Section 9 to the world. One of the most iconic re-imaginings of the franchise is the Stand Alone Complex series that was introduced in 2002. It introduced a number of new concepts and built on the themes Shirow had introduced in his original works. Now a new vision for Major Kusanagi and her cohorts is being realized with roots in the Stand Alone Complex concept. EXILE NESMITH sits down with directors Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki to talk about the upcoming Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, the parallels that can be drawn between it and modern society, and the actual process that goes behind the CG animation production. Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 will be available to stream on Netflix worldwide from April 23rd.
NESMITH: The last time I was here at SOLA DIGITAL ARTS, it was to talk about Ultraman. This time, I’d like to hear about your upcoming work, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045.
Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki: It’s a pleasure to be here.
NESMITH: When I first saw the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) movie, I was still a kid. However, I think it’s hard to understand just how deep some of the themes are unless you’re an adult. Of course, when I was a kid I still felt that the movie was cool even if I could not understand everything, and I was moved by it. But now that I’ve seen it again as an adult I can really appreciate it for what it is. I think that’s really impressive. After the original movie, there was a TV series, a live-action movie, and now another TV anime. Seeing the series be reborn in so many ways is really exciting. Mr. Kamiyama, in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002 series) there’s a heavy depiction of rebellion against society, but is that something that you think is highly valued?
Kenji Kamiyama: I would say so. I think that reality in 2020 is now catching up with the cyber-society depicted in the original manga (1989).
NESMITH: That’s true!
Kenji Kamiyama: When I was first making the 2002 series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (S.A.C.), it was an era where you could only send 140 character texts via your cell phone. About 20 years have passed since then, and the evolution of technology has changed the way we communicate and has changed the forms of crime and terrorism. Society itself has undergone considerable transformation, and problems like refugee crises have become highlighted in Japan, and things like the aging society have become more serious. These issues were also touched upon in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG (2004) and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – Solid State Society (2006), but in reality what kind of society will the youth of today live in in the 2030s and 2040s, when the Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. series is set? I think fleshing this out is the binding theme between everything. So when we decided to make Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, we thought about how reality is now much closer to the world we are depicting. Thinking about to what extent IT technology has actually expanded to, and where society is headed. I gave a lot of thought as to how I was supposed to draw that.
NESMITH: It’s definitely hard to predict the future 10, 20 years from now.
Kenji Kamiyama: to be fair, I have no intention of trying to predict the future. By creating the “now” of each work, I’ve been able to make themes that, even looking back 10 years later, still hold up. I have a lot of pride in being able to do that. The same is true for this time. By reevaluating the Japanese society of “now”, we’ve inevitably ended up with some new themes.
NESMITH: Cyberterrorism, refugee crises, an aging society…. What issues are you directors trying to focus on this time?
Kenji Kamiyama: This time, thinking about a reality where AI is more intertwined with everyday life, the story is based around the possibility of a singularity (a paragon of civilization’s progress appearing on behalf of humanity) happening sometime soon. At the same time, I’ve included my anxiety, anger, and anxiety about society as themes in my work. However, that unreasonable anger I had in the past has begun to fade away. Maybe it’s due in part to getting older.
NESMITH: I see. I feel like I get that.
Kenji Kamiyama: I’m now at an age where I can see the circumstances behind some of my past righteous indignation, so I have to approach these issues with a more realistic viewpoint, as opposed to just being brash and headstrong. Mr. Aramaki and I talk about this quite a lot.
Shinji Aramaki: Yes, we do. This time we started writing while simulating approaching these different issues, and ended up chatting about how the years have gained on us. Will humans be able to respond quickly and effectively when AI is fully integrated into our daily lives? What kind of distortions will appear in individuals and in society….
NESMITH: Even in S.A.C. it was described that an ego was born in each individual AI, and they, in turn, would act independently. I think it’s amazing that you were able to portray such a reality back then.
Kenji Kamiyama: We’re only pretending it’s as complicated as that, in reality, it’s no different than the world of Doraemon, haha
NESMITH: I see!
Kenji Kamiyama: I guess you could say that, to a certain extent, we’re just imitating how Fujiko Fujio made their works. Doraemon was drawn from the viewpoint of “I wish this tool existed”. In this anime, I’m projecting my thoughts of “I wish the world worked this way”, and having Public Security Section 9 fulfill them.
Shinji Aramaki: However, we’ve been working on this script now for almost three years, so a lot of things we thought were the best choice back then we’ve scrapped or changed.
Kenji Kamiyama: Yeah, exactly. Even in these past ten years, there’s been a large number of incidents. Things like natural disasters, or tragedies that feel like they should occur only once in a lifetime. These types of things have been happening every year. If such an oversized reality is placed in front of someone, the story ends up not even materializing.
Shinji Aramaki: It’s a really strange time we live in, where the days pass by and differentiating what is impractical and what’s non-fiction becomes increasingly difficult and everything starts to blur together, like a scene in a movie. I think that not just this phenomena that’s occurring, but also people’s consciousness are rapidly changing. For example, up until recently people rejected the notion of a society that controls them. And yet, now I’m used to the function of products automatically being recommended to me while i go online shopping, and whatnot, quickly telling me what I like. I”m sitting there expecting it (laughs) We’re entering an era where one can easily accept the interjections of others.
NESMITH: That’s true, it’s almost natural now.
Shinji Aramaki: While I hold the protection of privacy to be something really important, before I realized it I had begun to depend on AI.
NESMITH: If i’m not mistaken, AI also predicts the “recommended for you” category of things on social media based on your search history and browsing history. Digging into that, it ties back to this “controlled society” we were just talking about. At first security cameras were disliked, but now I feel a sense of safety when I know one is near. And on some apps you can share your location with your friends, even grab a bite to eat if you’re nearby…. I can understand how a couple might want to share their location, but there’s a lot of people who use it normally with their friends…..
Shinji Aramaki: It does feel like the boundaries between people are falling apart. What I thought was normal seems to constantly be changing. The change in how we interact with AI has already begun. Determining how to accept that, and how to portray that in my work is something I reflect on often with Mr. Kamiyama.
Kenji Kamiyama: Although this way of thinking has been around since long ago. When I was in my youth, the adults at the time would often ask why I liked the things that I liked. It might just be that as the years have caught up with me, I’ve Become unable to keep up with the youth.
NESMITH: Nowadays, tools like smartphones have become commonplace, and young people in their teens and twenties really do absorb information like a soft sponge.
Shinji Aramaki: Arent you still a little too young to be talking?! (laughs)
NESMITH: no no, I mean the speed at which these kids pick things up at is on another level. There’s kids that are 10-something year-olds that have completely absorbed the soul and sound of 80s and 90s dance and are out performing. It’s very important to have a fast input [of information]. As how we consume information gets faster, I think so too will the speed at which younger kids will absorb information.
Shinji Aramaki: I agree. I think it’s especially easy to pick things up nowadays.
NESMITH: Now, onto something completely different: the fact that this anime will be in full 3D. I believe this will drastically alter how things will look but…..
Kenji Kamiyama: Yes, it will. It was always my belief that if i was going to be working on something like Ghost in the Shell, that the right answer was to make the flashy parts like the acting and action look even more realistic by drawing them. Because all anime isn’t real, if you make something that’s even a little bit realistic, it’s easy to get lauded for it. I mean, to begin with the whole world of Ghost in the Shell is a sci-fi creation. By putting just a dash of realism, the whole thing becomes real. But now, people and backgrounds can be made extremely realistic with CG, and “life-like” places occupy a large portion of the screen. But that conversation comes up, people butt in with voices of “why not do it live action then?”. Nowadays it is natural to mix CG in with other things, even live-action works. However, opposite to anime, if you make something that’s even a little bit unrealistic, it’s easy to get laughed at for it.
Shinji Aramaki: Especially in Hollywood where Japanese science fiction movies, which have a limited budget, are looked at that way.
Kenji Kamiyama: If you decide to make an anime with CG it tends to get interpreted the same way live-action does, so if someone notices something off about it, they immediately write it off as not real.
Shinji Aramaki: For me, it was a huge challenge doing Ghost in the Shell : SAC_2045 fully in CG, especially considering how the world will view it. The background can almost be reproduced as if it was real life, so making sure to check even the littlest things like if the size of a car was slightly larger, or a traffic light is reversed, or if the position of the steering wheel was backwards was very important. That’s why we have two directors in the first place. Even with the two of us we look at enough stuff daily that it almost feels like just two people isn’t enough.
Kenji Kamiyama: That doesn’t mean that we’re just using real pictures. This is still an anime, and as such it’s not real, so we’ve had to find ways to remind the audience of that. Not doing a good job of tricking the audience into suspending their disbelief will just have people telling us it would’ve been better to do it in live-action. Such is the way of 3DCG.
NESMITH: It must be hard finding that balance.
Kenji Kamiyama: Yes, it is. 3DCG as a genre is still developing, so I think the future I’ll have to find more places to strike that balance. For example, in the 1980s, Japanese music created the singular genre of “J-POP”. Up until that point, they imitated western music or just expanded upon traditional folk songs and enka. But within all of that, they decided that “this is the Japanese style”, and J-Pop was born. I feel like CG right now is like being on the forefront of J-Pop in the 70’s.
NESMITH: That early?!
Shinji Aramaki: (laughs) If you hear this analogy now it’s reminiscent of a time when people would say that Japanese wouldnt work with rock and roll. I credit Haruomi Hosono from Happy End, and Motoharu Sano as the people who were able to break that conviction down by showing people that even Japanese rock and roll is still cool. Working hard at something like that in earnest is, I think, a very Japanese trait. Precisely because anime has such a high volume of fans at so many levels is why we should make CG another new stream of content. Even though fully CG children’s movies are being made around the world, it’s only in Japan that they’re making [CG] TV anime series for adults.
Kenji Kamiyama: There isn’t even the concept of an adult-oriented anime overseas.
Shinji Aramaki: Yes, exactly. Of course there’s some places trying to do that overseas, but i’ve heard that shows aimed at teens are finally starting to take off. Looking forward, the extent to which the target audience that anime is able to capture will affect the style of 3DCG animation.
NESMITH: Right now I think you’re in the process of exploring new ways of representation and expression while also working at it. I bet that’s really exciting.
Shinji Aramaki: I think the most fascinating things are what you can bring into the digital realm. Coming from hand-drawn and going into 3DCG, it stops being about having to do things a certain way. I find It’s interesting to be able to mix and match both analog and digital music nowadays as well and find your own favorite sounds. Now that CG can look both hand-drawn and realistic, the question becomes how do you want to balance the two? It would be great if you could get how we feel by watching Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045.
NESMITH: I’m really looking forward to it! I’m really looking forward to seeing the evolution of animation technology, and how these hybrids will grow with it!
Kenji Kamiyama: It’ll be available to watch on Netflix, so please have a look.
NESMITH: Of course!