top of page
Search
  • Writer's pictureAydin Quach

Kami in the Shell: Sex, Divinity, and Sexuality in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell


Abstract:

Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film Ghost in the Shell one of the most popular and well-known works of Japanese animation. The story can be read as the tale of two cyborgs: the Puppet Master, which is older and deformed but with meta-awareness of its own existence and singularity, and Major Kusanagi, which is physical, sexual perfection, but is cold and lifeless. What the viewer is set to assume is that the deformed cyborg is without worth and has no chance to develop into a full-bodied individual physically and metaphorically. Yet the Major also has her own set of anxieties on her gender and existence, which is predicated on the values others bestow on her. Validity of experience and of existence itself is based on gender expression and the process of one’s creation. This separates the “monsters” from the humans (Orbaugh 2002, 432). Using Book One of the Kojiki (Ō 2014) as a template for intertextual analysis and comparing the births of Hiruko and Amaterasu with the births of the two cyborgs in Ghost in the Shell, it is possible to elucidate an esoteric understanding of sexual cosmology, as well as contextualize the cyborg body as a space for sexual awareness, gender prescription, sexual dimorphism, and the body as a place for synthesis and transcendence. The cybernetic bodies of the Major and the Puppet Master expand upon the Kojiki’s narrative around self-identity, sexuality within the body, as well as self-realization of existence.


Heavenly Bodies and the Monstrous Birth:

吾が舞へば、麗し女、酔ひにけり

吾が舞へば、照る月、響むなり

Because I had danced, the beautiful lady was enchanted

Because I had danced, the shining moon echoed


夜這いに、神、天下りて

夜は明け、鵺鳥、鳴く

Proposing marriage, the god shall descend

The night clears away and the chimera bird will sing

“Making of a Cyborg” by Kenji Kawai (Imanie 2011)


The above lyrics form the opening theme of Ghost in the Shell. The opening theme is played as the viewer watches the creation of the protagonist character Major Kusanagi. Sung in stylization of a Shinto wedding ritual, the lyrics describe the original creation spirits Izanagi and Izanami and their union to create children. The subject and speaker of the poem is Izanagi as he descends to procreate with Izanami (Thomas 2012, 242). In this instance, Izanagi is the first to act and the first to propose union of the couple in this instance of creation. The heavens themselves sanction this union as represented by the moon “echoing” and amplifying the request of Izanagi, and the singing of the chimera bird denoting life has been created after the union (Orbaugh 2002, 431).

Harkening back to the Kojiki, this is part of the sacred ritual of union between these two creation spirits. The ritual has a profound effect on the offspring’s creation. Izanagi must be the one to initiate the ritual otherwise the child of the union will be deformed, as is the case with Hiruko, the deformed child that does not have the “empty” or “full” parts that their parents have (Ō 2014, 7). Textually, Hiruko is genderless given the deformities and is referred to as “it” in the text. Not having the same form as their parents, Hiruko is casted away (9). The story later goes that Hiruko was able to become a fully realized individual despite their physical deformity and became a spirit of luck and prosperity. Later in the Kojiki, the filth that Izanagi collects because of his interaction with the deceased Izanami results in a cleansing ritual and the birth Amaterasu, also known as “Heaven Shining.” Lauded as the first “good” child by Izanagi, she is gifted beads and power by her father (18). Yet in her physical perfection, she is lost in this world and does not understand her own existence or of her own body and sexuality until it is reflected onto her through a mirror (24). She is in direct contrast to her older sibling Hiruko. Ghost in the Shell, argues the complexity of ritual and how failed ritual is what divides the monster from the perfect, as well as what is considered “true perfection.”


Heaven Shining:

“I guess cyborgs like myself have a tendency to be paranoid about our origins.”

— Major Kusanagi in the 1995 film Ghost in the Shell (Sergei, n.d.)


The creative process in the birth of Major Kusanagi is much akin to the birth of Amaterasu. Their body is being constructed in the “correct” manner. Her slim figure is perfect in creation, her skin is flawless, and her body phenotype is indistinguishably female. Upon awakening, she is marveled for her perfection and a “shining” example of technological ingenuity. The scientists immediately prescribe to the Major the pronouns “she” and “her.” Her radiance and beauty of form is admired by her creator and creators, yet she herself is unable to appreciate her own self and her existence (Curti 2008, 95). She pushes back against the sexuality of her own body that society has given her. As a cyborg, the subjectivity to male gaze from her creators and experiences of sexuality are both problematic to the Major as she never has experienced sexuality. It makes her uncomfortable in her shell (72). Her ambivalence to the sexual gaze, coupled with her own lack of gender self-awareness outside of what she has been pushed to portray suggests her understanding of self to be sex-negative (Orbaugh 2002, 442). She dresses to cover her body and to present as androgenous as possible, she does consider her appearance or beauty to be of nothing of importance and routinely subjects it to damage. Her self-realization is that she is flawed in creation as she cannot feel sexual contrary to her body’s gendered form. Herein lies a critical point in the creation of the Major: she is physically perfect, but internally deformed and empty. The Major questions her own perfection that she has been told by others in what can be called “gender anxiety” (Schaub, 2001, 85). “Just as there's no such thing as a bug-free program -- there's no program that can't be debugged. Am l wrong?” (Sergei, n.d.) While remarked for her perfection, she wonders if there is an internalized issue as to why she is unable to accept her sexuality as presented outwardly by her body. She is a shell with no ghost. It is only at the end of film that she finally sees a reflection of herself, and that reflection is in the Puppet Master, her opposite.


Perfection within Deformity:

“What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror. Then we shall see face to face.”

— The Puppet Master in the 1995 film Ghost in the Shell (Sergei, n.d.)


We don’t see in the film the creation of the antagonist force, the cyborg known as the

Puppet Master, but their physical condition opens its connection to Hiruko. Born of a ritual in which hackers infiltrated their creation, they are a limbless, androgynous cyborg. They speak in robotic voiceover and is constantly described as a “monster” by government forces. Despite this however, they have a strong understanding of self and gender. Identifying as non-binary, they probe at the meaning of their own existence (Sergei, n.d.). The Puppet Master is comfortable with their sexual and gender identity and is sex positive in its thought processes – having a desire to have children and to procreate. Unlike the Major, which can be easily read based on her physical phenotype as to her nature and thus not a threat, the Puppet Master is labeled a threat. The nature of the Puppet Master’s androgyny makes subjectivity into its experiences (presumed experiences or otherwise) near impossible to the heteronormative, male gaze, thus making the Puppet Master a monster and a threat to society (Thomas 2012, 246). It is a ghost within a shell.



Conclusions:

“And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite.”

— The synthesized existence of the Puppet Master and Major Kusanagi in the 1995 film Ghost in the Shell (Sergei, n.d.)

The ending of Ghost in the Shell is the synthesis of both the ghost and the empty shell. It is a new marriage ritual that bring forth a new being that is the sum of its two parts. This is what is implied to create “true” perfection (Orbaugh 2002, 451). In this ceremony, the non-binary Puppet Master invites Major Kusanagi to the ceremony. What is created is a new cyborg in the form of a young child. This new existence as a child, as a being with perfected form and spirit is a conundrum. The chosen form of the child is not agender, nor is it asexual. It seeks only to learn and explore the world with the innocence of a child and seeks to not please the creators of the Puppet Master or Major Kusanagi. It exists as a new third space, a third categorization of gender and sexuality that has yet to fully blossom or take flight.


Bibliography:

Curti, Giorgio Hadi. 2008. "The Ghost in the City and a Landscape of Life: A Reading of Difference in Shirow and Oshii's Ghost in the Shell." Environment and Planning. D, Society & Space 26 (1): 87-106.


Imanie. “M01 Chant I - Making of Cyborg.” Ghost in the Shell Wiki, 2010. https://ghostintheshell.fandom.com/wiki/M01_Chant_I_-_Making_of_Cyborg.


K, Sergei. “Ghost in the Shell Script - Dialogue Transcript.” Ghost In The Shell Script - transcript from the screenplay and/or Kkaku kidtai movie. Script-o-Rama. Accessed August 6, 2021. http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/g/ghost-in-the-shell-script.html.


Ō, Yasumaro and Gustav Heldt. 2014. The Kojiki: An Account of Ancient Matters. New York: Columbia University Press.


Orbaugh, Sharalyn. 2002. "Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity." Science-Fiction Studies 29 (3): 436-452.


Schaub, Joseph Christopher. 2001. "Kusanagi's Body: Gender and Technology in Mecha- Anime." Asian Journal of Communication 11 (2): 79-100.


Thomas, Jolyon Baraka. 2012. Drawing on Tradition: Manga, Anime, and Religion in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.


35 views0 comments

Comentarios


bottom of page