TRANSCENDENCE: MOTOKO KUSANAGI

In school I was exposed to a lot of theories (after all our school was more theory and designed based than technical). On top of that we used cutting edge technology to build our architectural models and create images of them with software. Suffice it to say I became obsessed with the relationship between design theory and technology and our Philosophy of Technology class really stuck with me in the coming years. It’s helped open a new door of learning about Technology and it’s use in both a material world and on a deeper level. I know that might sound a bit odd, but I assure you it exisits out there. With that being said….

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This week I want to look at Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi. Another classic, strong female lead. This is also an interesting pick due to the current buzz that’s being generated from the live-action film for casting Scarlett Johannson as ‘The Major’ which is a hot topic of whitewashing in Hollywood. However, I’m not going to be focusing on race or Motokos’ femininity. The discussion of Ghost in the Shell and feminism, gender and race are all entirely different animals in their own right.

I’m choosing to talk about Motoko because her character transcends race and gender. For this discussion I want to talk about the metaphysical aspect. Stripped down to the bare necessities we’re talking about a cyborg. A cyborg that has human features, but she is not human, she was “born from the ‘net'”. The story goes beyond the issue of human versus cyborg and looks philosophically at Motokos’ struggle for her quest in gaining a spiritual identity. 

Kusanagi is a full prosthetic augmented cybernetic body. There are different interpretations as to how she came to be cybernetic; in the TV series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) she was a human chosen to have superhuman ability or in the newest version Ghost in the Shell: Arise she states that she’s never had a human body. Within the original film (which is what I’m basing this post on), I think it’s safe to assume she’s purely cyborg as we witness her “birth” in the opening credits.

She’s aware that she is a cyborg, but is sentient and considers carefully what it means to have an identity of her own which is referred to as a “ghost”.  There’s a scene where she’s at the harbor with Batou in which she has a monologue:

Just as there are many parts needed to make a human a human there’s a remarkable number of things needed to make an individual what they are. A face to distinguish yourself from othes. A voice you aren’t aware of yourself. The hand you see when you awaken. The memories of childhood, the feelings for the future. That’s not all. There’s the expanse of the data net my cyber-brain can access. All of that goes into making me what I am. Giving rise to a consciousness that I call ‘me’. And simultaneously confining ‘me’ within set limits.”

She struggles with identfying what is her and what is considered the net; are they one in the same?  She also wants to make the connection between her body and spirit; although her body is cybnernetic she wonders what it is exactly that is animating her.

The puppet master is your quintessential bad guy of the film; however the puppet master also plays Devil’s Advocate to Kusanagi. The puppet master is also a sentient cyborg straight from the net. The puppet master offers Kusanagi to be free of her body and be apart of the net. The net as noted in the opening of the movie: “…future-corporate networks reach out to the stars, electrons and light flow throughout the universe,” it’s as infinite as space itself. In the search for her identity, does she want to be bound to a body, or does she transcend the body and become a part of a nonmaterial world and just exist?

Kusanagi ends up choosing the latter, opting for her ghost to be organic and something that’s free and not tied down to something physical like a body. However, the ending shows her subordinate Batou rescuing her by finding another body for her to occupy. But this time the cybnernetic body is that of a young girls. However, it’s clear that Kusanagi’s a bit different this time around, as she has already started to move towards being a non-physical entity, she’s become partially fused with the puppet master whose previous body was also destroyed in the final fight. As she regains her own conciousness over the puppet masters’ and the new body she inhabits she starts out again searching for her philosophical answer.

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Overall, this search for an identity is constantly changing and evolving as each person does. In this case, Motoko’s new identity is her transcending that of a physical nature and plainly exisiting and  wanting to be sorted into type of category. Midway through the movie, she quotes a bible verse from The Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” On a deeper level she’s still looking for herself, and an interpretation of this quote is that she’s looking at herself through a mirror, but the image isn’t quite clear yet. At the end of the film, she recalls this quote to Batou but continues with, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child. I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man I put away childish things. Here before you is neither the program called the Puppet Master nor the woman that was called the Major.” This scene is reminiscent of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; she’s awoken as a different entity (stepping into the light) and no longer thinks of herself as the Major (the cave) and somewhat a little more enlightened.

To wrap things up, at the beginning of the film, Motoko is looking down from the top of the building and eventually takes a leap off the ledge and to carry out her mission. In contrast, the end of the film we’re back in a similar scene, atop a building, but the circumstances are much different. Here she openly asks herself, “so where do we go from here?” Instead of looking down, she’s looking up into the sky an equivalent to the net that cannot be seen. In her final line of the film, “the net is vast and infinite” she looks up at the sky, an equivalent to the unseen net, a hopeful expression on her face that convey’s her transcendent outlook as she continues to seek answers.

Ah, that’s as far as I can go with my analysis. Unfortuntately I know there’s probably another layer or two that can be done, but maybe that can be re-examined at another time.
Hope you guys enjoyed this week’s Women Crush Wednesday! What are your thoughts on the Major? I’d love to hear your interpretations of her!

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20 thoughts on “TRANSCENDENCE: MOTOKO KUSANAGI

  1. raistlin0903 says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post about my alltime favorite Anime female character. I just simple think she is awesome. I like it that she is strong, but also knows her own vulnerabilities. And it is that what I think makes her such an incredible and memorable character. This was a great post,and I highly enjoyed reading it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elisabeth O'Neill says:

    There absolutely are so many layers you could explore with the character of Motoko, let alone the movie itself. The fact that she exists on multiple planes between the physical and digital at different points throughout the film is kind of where we are at the moment with our net, boundless as it is. She is trying to reconcile her relationship to both just as we are.

    Even what you mentioned about the loop between the beginning and ending, where at first she dives off the building but the second time she looks up at the sky, opens up a whole different way to see her character arc. The way she has to first descend in order to ascend describes the human condition. The most enlightened beings are often those who have suffered most.

    Once again you’ve written an intriguing piece, but this time you’ve made me reconsider a character I know well. Great stuff 👏👍

    Liked by 1 person

    • heyitszel says:

      Aw thanks so much! 😀 I’m glad you enjoyed it as well. This one was a bit tough for me to write about. Had to do an ample amount of research on the metaphysical aspect of her 🙂

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! I never made the loop back to talk about the relation to the human condition and our current state of technology. 🙂 Thanks for pointing those out as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. blautoothdmand says:

    This was a really nice read! There’s certainly a lot of overlapping ideas between your post and mine, which is somewhat bound to happen I guess, but there were also a couple of good points here that I never really wrote about in any depth.

    Firstly, the main topic of exploring the metaphysical aspect of Motoko’s identity crisis is really interesting. Her relationship to the net has a lot of connotations to not least the Cartesian dualism; she has this vast information network at her fingertips which she identifies with, but due to her connection to her physical body she’s prevented from entering its full potentials. That’s also why I loved your comparison to Plato’s Cave, since that perfectly illustrates how Motoko’s transcendence from the physical to the metaphysical is in direct parallel to her increasing understanding of her personal identity.

    Oh, and that detail of how the bird’s eye view over the city is mirrored between the opening and closing scene was an observation that I greatly appreciated. After all my countless viewings of this film over the years, there always seems to be something more that I haven’t picked up on yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Arria Cross says:

    I must rewatch this anime. Well, not like I’ve watched the entire original anime. I only watched some, and I don’t remember much of them anymore. I’m actually very excited for the film. I don’t have high expectations of it because I don’t want to be disappointed. So many live-action film adaptations of anime have disappointed us. But I still look forward to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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