So, Netflix dropped a trailer for its upcoming Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 film and most of the conversation has been about whether or not its CGI animation looks good or not, but we’d rather spend some time indulging in our hype for the new story. After all, with co-directors Shinji Aramaki of Captain Harlock (2013) fame and series veteran Kenji Kamiyama at the helm, the upcoming picture is poised to be another excellent stone in the monument that is the Ghost in the Shell franchise. So, let’s put our expertise on this extremely complicated series to good use and see what details we can pull from the new teaser.
What’s in a Name?
The complexity of the Ghost in the Shell franchise comes largely from the many series that comprise it, each with an isolated continuity. From the manga that got the ball rolling to the 2 films that made it a household name to the most recent Arise OVAs, every story written under the Ghost in the Shell name follows its own canon. But that SAC in the title is a continuity dead giveaway in spite of the franchise's usual obliqueness, as it stands for Stand Alone Complex, a great 2-season TV anime which emphasized Ghost in the Shell's crime procedural features.
It's one of GitS's most iconic entries but was assumed to be complete ever since its last title—the 2006 TV movie Solid State Society—released in 2006. But we can tell even more about the new film's place in continuity, as the title also reads 2045, almost certainly telegraphing the year in which it takes place. In fact, let's do a quick recap of Stand Alone Complex's timeline to show you the significance of the date and bring those who haven't seen it up to speed to boot.
The lore of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is grounded rather firmly in our own, real history. That is until a series of nuclear conflicts around Europe and Asia escalated into a Third World War at an undisclosed time between 2000 and 2002. Japan refrained from participating in the war, focusing instead on developing the Japanese Miracle, a network of micromachines capable of dissipating nuclear fallout. Nevertheless, Tokyo and Okinawa both get nuked while America suffers a different kind of blow in the form of a split into two countries: The American Empire and the Ameri-Soviet Union, though the U.S.A. still exists in a reduced capacity, all the while our heroine Motoko Kusanagi is born back in the land of the rising sun. But that's just the setup for our major players that we need to get out of the way to understand the real recap of the SAC timeline:
2015: World War IV ignites from the embers of the last, but ends at a so-far undisclosed time. Japan elects to completely isolate itself and develops cybernetic technology to the point that machine-enhanced bodies with computer brains and robotic limbs become more public than normal ones.
2024: A hacker known as The Laughing Man assaults the head of the Cerano Genomics Corporation in public, but first alters all the cameras and human cybernetic eyes in the area to overlay a cartoon logo of his own design over his face, and thus can’t be identified.
2029: Japan’s Ministry of Home Affairs establishes Public Security Section 9, a counter-terrorist and anti-crime intelligence department.
2030: The Laughing Man re-emerges, exposes a conspiracy to suppress a cure for a debilitating cybernetic disease in favor of further profit from the public and private sectors, then inspires an unorganized movement of imitators.
2032: Section 9 is called to intervene in an escalating conflict between refugees from the third and fourth World Wars and a group of domestic right-wing terrorists known as the Individual Eleven.
2034: Section 9 and Makoto Kusanagi, who resigned at an undisclosed time, discover a massive cover-up of 20 000 child kidnappings involving the fictional Siak Republic, Japanese nationalist MP Ito Munei and an elusive hacker known only as The Puppeteer.
Okay, Let’s Look at the Actual Trailer Now
…And that’s the last we’ve seen of Kusanagi and company. A bit abrupt, yes, but that’s just what we got in the final moments of Solid State Society, the 2006 film that gave us our last taste of the Stand Alone Complex subseries. So now that we’ve laid out the backstory, time to put it to work by seeing how Netflix’s new teaser fits into the puzzle.
Put your concerns about the 45-second teaser being too short to give us any real information aside, because we can tell a ton about the new movie's direction from the first shot alone.
Sure, it may reveal nothing more than a decrepit street with sand and palm trees, but that alone will make even the most casual GitS fans aware that this shot promises a radical setting change from the rest of the cyberpunk oeuvre. No wires, no screens, no computers and clearly not even Japan. That may seem like a small detail—and it very well may be—but this little nugget holds the potential to be earth-shattering. Ghost in the Shell has a Tolkienesque lore detailing how the 3rd and 4th world wars and the cyber-society that rose from what was left affected different major countries all over the world, but at no point in its 24-year history has the narrative taken advantage of that, never uprooting itself from its Japanese setting. If 2045 can develop the international angle showcased in this teaser it could make for the most expansive worldbuilding in the franchise yet and make way for exciting new sci-fi concepts that wouldn’t fit as well in Neo-Tokyo.
After some more establishing shots, we finally see a truck driving towards the camera amongst the previously established decrepit buildings. Once we cut to the back of the truck though, we find ourselves in a different setting, with nothing but desert and some broken power lines around. More importantly, though, a tachikoma—the series' lovable A.I. police tanks—can be seen mounted on the back of the truck. Does the long drive implied by this time-lapse mean that the film will employ a road trip movie format? Probably not, since that doesn't mesh with Ghost in the Shell's modus operandi, but it’s at least a possibility based on the trailer. Besides, anyone who’s seen the tachikoma in all their glory throughout Stand Alone Complex proper will know that going on a road trip with one sounds like an awesome idea.
The truck makes a travesty of a parking job right in the highway’s median and its driver disembarks for a slow pan up to reveal her as none other than Makoto Kusanagi herself. The former Major looks much younger than when we last saw her too, but the date in the title dispels any chance that this might be a prequel, meaning that she has a new cybernetic body. Kusanagi remarks that it’s “wonderful not to have any noise,” and then the trailer cuts to its title cards.
What Does it Mean?
That line tells us the most about the story though but also raises the most questions. Kusanagi's disillusionment with her computer-dependent society has been a motif that runs through most works with the Ghost in the Shell name, but her response has typically been to work outside the system to target its imperfections. Could she have just had enough and decided to run away, seeking only a pastoral life in the middle of nowhere away from technology? Away from even organized civilization itself? That sure seems to be what she puts down here, but either way the phrasing of her remark seems to indicate that whatever's been going on in her life is a pretty recent change. That still leaves 21 in-universe years shrouded in mystery and doesn’t explain why she has a tachikoma with her.
No sign of Section 9 appears in the trailer too, though we can understand why they’d be elsewhere if Kusanagi really is trying to live off-grid. But since she has one of their tanks with them and has only now found silence after all these years, we find it more likely that they will be pursuing her in the film. Would it be to have her re-enlist? To arrest her? Something else? Just about any motivation could be valid with such a time gap, but we’re excited to see which one.
Ghost in the Shell has earned its reputation as a franchise layered with meaning, especially by being able to tell us so much with such a short trailer. We don’t have any definitive answers, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t already got plenty of substance to get us invested in Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045. No official release date has been confirmed yet, but you can bet we’ll be sitting on the edges of our couches once it is.