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The Posthuman Queer Body in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Soo Yeon Kim 1

1한국외국어대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

An unusual success engendering loyalty among cult fans in the United States, Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 cyberpunk anime, Ghost in the Shell (GITS) revolves around a female cyborg assassin named Motoko Kusanagi, a.k.a. “the Major.” When the news came out last year that Scarlett Johansen was offered 10 million dollars for the role of the Major in the live action remake of GITS, the frustrated fans accused DreamWorks of “whitewashing” the classic Japanimation and turning it into a PG-13 film. While it would be premature to judge a film yet to be released, it appears timely to revisit the core achievement of Oshii’s film untranslatable into the Hollywood formula. That is, unlike ultimately heteronormative and humanist sci-fi films produced in Hollywood, such as the Matrix trilogy or Cloud Atlas, GITS defies a Hollywoodization by evoking much bafflement in relation to its queer, posthuman characters and settings. This essay homes in on Major Kusanagi’s body in order to update prior criticism from the perspectives of posthumanism and queer theory. If the Major’s voluptuous cyborg body has been read as a liberating or as a commodified feminine body, latest critical work of posthumanism and queer theory causes us to move beyond the moralistic binaries of human/non-human and male/female. This deconstruction of binaries leads to a radical rethinking of “reality” and “identity” in an image-saturated, hypermediated age. Viewed from this perspective, Major Kusanagi’s body can be better understood less as a reflection of “real” women than as an embodiment of our anxieties on the loss of self and interiority in the SNS- dominated society. As is warned by many posthumanist and queer critics, queer and posthuman components are too often used to reinforce the human. I argue that the Major’s hybrid body is neither a mere amalgam of human and machine nor a superficial postmodern blurring of boundaries. Rather, the compelling combination of individuality, animality, and technology embodied in the Major redefines the human as always, already posthuman. This ethical act of revision—its shifting focus from oppressive humanism to a queer coexistence—evinces the lasting power of GITS.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.