The Ghost in the Shell franchise has taken many forms in its history. Beginning as a manga series by Masamune Shirow [Shirow.1989-1990], with two sequel books [Shirow.1991-1997] [Shirow.1991-1996]. The property was then adapted into a cult film from director Mamoru Oshii [Oshii.1995]. Since this, the series has expanded to include multiple television series [Kise.2013 – 2015], sequel films [Oshii.2004], and a live action American adaptation [Sanders.2017].
In 2002, the first season in the show Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex [2002-2005: Kamiyama] began airing. A show that has gained critical acclaim and become a cult favourite among the Ghost in the Shell fanbase. Both seasons of the show developed its cast of characters wonderfully, as well as exploring different themes ranging from identity, artificial intelligence, war, profiteering and terrorism. However, the first season draws heavily from literary references. Especially the works of J.D. Salinger. Primarily his novel, The Catcher in the Rye [1951: Salinger].
The novel follows the character of Holden Caulfield as he recounts the few days after leaving his boarding school in Pennsylvania and spends several days walking around New York. We see the world from Holden’s perspective. The people around him, the ‘phonies’ of the world and his overly protective nature of his younger sister. The story is a classic if controversial coming of age story about a young man finding his place.
The first season of Stand Alone Complex however, follows the counter terrorist unit, Section 9. Lead by Major Motoko Kusinagi. As they go up against a terrorist plot thought gone for many years. But as it suddenly rears its head again, Section 9 are deployed in order to stop it before anyone else is hurt. The return of the ‘Laughing Man’ leads to uncovering the many coverups and deceptions of the Japanese Government and health care system.
The logo of the eponymous Laughing Man character of the series, displays a blue smiling face with a portion of text moving around the edge. This text is a quote from the books twenty fifth chapter. “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes” [Salinger.1951:178]. The phrase shows up repeatedly in the show, in the episode Portraitz [Kamiyama.2003], one of the main characters, Togusa, while undercover discovers the phrase written on the inside of a telephone box. He repeats the phrase several times through the show, pondering it’s meaning. In the book, the phrase is part of a larger portion discussing Holden’s desire to just get away from everyone and never have to say anything or listen again. The name itself, Laughing Man, comes from the short story of the same name [1953: Salinger]. A story within a story of a boy taken from rich family by the mafia, who becomes horribly disfigured when his parents can’t pay the extortionate ransom. The boy grows to live among the mafia, having to permanently wear a mask to hide what they did. Secretly destroying the mafia’s plans from the inside.
At the end of the season, when the true Laughing Man is confronted about everything that’s come from this. He leaves a red hat at the building’s entrance, that Major Kusanagi eventually brings back to him. While in a different style. The notion of a red hat and the character of Holden does have a connection. In the books third chapter, Holden describes a hat he had bought earlier that day. “I took off my coat and my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar, and then I put on this hat that I’d bought in New York that morning. It was this red hunting hat, with one of those very, very long peaks. I saw it in the window of this sports store when we got out of the subway, just after I noticed I’d lost all the goddam foils. It only cost me a buck” [Salinger.1951:015]. While the hat that the Laughing Man owns is not a hunting hat. The hunting aspect remains in the character through his actions in the series. Hunting down those he felt had wronged the critically ill by the government’s suppression of information that could have saved lives.
The first time we see the Laughing Man in his civilian identity, he is masquerading as a deaf-mute boy in a hospital. This is also in the episode Portraitz. Through out the episode, as he is quietly wheeled around, he is seen holding a left-handed catchers mitt, something that also appears prominently in the book. “So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie’s baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He’s dead now. He got leukaemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18,1946” [Salinger.1951:033]. This connection between an ill loved one, and a left-handed catchers mitt is made stronger by the location of the hospital and sick children taking up the majority of the cast for the episode. As the episode ends, he leaves behind the catcher’s mitt for the children, but now with a quote written on the side. Having something written on it being a node to Allie’s habit of writing on the glove. What is actually written on the glove as the Laughing Man leaves, is a corrupted and shortened quote from the books twenty second chapter. “’You know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?’ ‘What? Stop swearing.’ ‘You know that song “If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye”? I’d like – ‘ ‘it’s “If a body meet a body coming through the rye”!’ old Phoebe said. ‘It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.’ ‘I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.’ She was right, though. It is ‘if a body meet a body coming through the rye.’ I didn’t know it then, though. ‘I thought it was “if a body catch a body,”’ I said. ‘Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy’” [Salinger.1951:155-156]. This is condensed down to just three lines, “You Know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice, I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all” [Kamiyama.2003].
When the Laughing Man and Major Kusanagi finally meet in the episode Scandal [Kamiyama.2003]. The pair talk about ideology, the events so far, and each of their respective goals. Kusanagi gives the Laughing Man a piece of advice, a quote. This also ties back into the novel, as the same advice is given to Holden by a former teacher of his. “He went over to this desk on the other side of the room, and without sitting down wrote something on a piece of paper. Then he came back and sat down with the paper in his hand. ‘Oddly enough, this wasn’t written by a practicing poet. It was written by a psychoanalyst named Wilhelm Stekel. Here’s what he – Are you still with me?’ ‘Yes, sure I am.’ ‘Here’s what he said: The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.’ He leaned over and handed it to me, and then I thanked him and all and put it in my pocket” [Salinger.1951:169]. While the relationship between the Major and the Laughing Man is different from that of Holden and his teacher. The point of the quote remains.
The ’Laughing Man incident’ is often brought up in the early episodes of the show, and later shown towards the end. The incident involves the Laughing Man taking a public figure hostage and pointing a gun at him, screaming about how it’s not fair. Even bringing him in front of a news camera and telling him to tell the world the truth. In this case, to admit that the government has been suppressing life saving information. The intertextual references to the works of Salinger is perhaps most strongly connected here. Rather than tying it to a book or character, this incident parallels the real-life death of John Lennon. This incident is paralleled again at the end of the show when Togusa takes up this same obsession and briefly considers shooting the same public figure out in the open. Complete with a copy of the book in his jacket pocket.
One episode in particular includes two very unusual references to Salinger’s work. In the Episode Escape From [2002: Kamiyama], an A.I. driven tank known as a Tachikoma escapes from Section 9 and spends the day exploring the city. The curious machine stumbles upon a young girl and ends up helping her as she explores the city trying to find her lost dog. As they travel, the young girl asks the Tachikoma if he know the story of the Secret Goldfish. The story she is referring to comes from the first chapter of The Catcher in the Rye as a story written by Holden’s older brother, D.B. “He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was ‘The Secret Goldfish.’ It was about this little kid that wouldn’t let anybody look at his goldfish because he’d bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute.” [Salinger.1951:001]. The story she tells the Tachikoma is identical, and is ultimately her way of telling the machine that she knows her dog is dead, but doesn’t want to admit it as they finally arrive at a pet cemetery. Towards the end of the episode, the Tachikoma brings back a device he found during his adventures. When the Major investigates the programming inside, she finds a virtual movie theatre. While she’s exploring a poster can be seen in the background. ‘A Great Day for Banana fish’, a reference to Salinger’s short story A Perfect Day for Banana Fish [1949: Salinger] from his Nine Stories collection. The same collection that contains The Laughing Man story.
A final but subtle reference can be seen in the final episode. As the Major goes to confront the true Laughing Man in the library, her hand moves over the handrail of the stares to reveal that someone has scratched in the words ‘fuck you’. While only a second on screen, this could be a double reference. When going to pick up his younger sister at her school, Holden finds the words ‘Fuck You’ scratched into the banister. He frantically tries to clean it up, hoping his younger sister didn’t see it. But at an earlier part of the book, in a far more pessimistic tone. Holden states, “That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact. “[Salinger.1951:183]. The words her in the show appear both right under the Major’s hand, possibly so out of place that she never even noticed it. But also, in a place that should be peaceful. Anger and hatred infecting a place of peace and knowledge.
Salinger’s estate is noticeably protective of his work. With The Catcher in the Rye in particular having no licences for adaptation. [Salerno.2013] However, these intertextual references, not just confined to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but it in other media, may be the closest we get to a full-fledged adaptation.
- Ghost in the Shell. (1995) Film. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN.
- Ghost in the Shell. (2017) Film. Directed by Rupert Sanders. [Blu-ray] Paramount Pictures: USA.
- Ghost in the Shell 2: (2004) Film. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN
- Ghost in the Shell: (2013 – 2015) OVA. Directed by Kazuchika Kise. [Blu-ray] Production I.G.: JPN.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. (2002 – 2005) Directed by Kenji Kamiyama. [DVD] Production I.G.: JPN.
- Salinger, J.D. (1951) The Catcher in the Rye. Penguin Books. London: UK.
- Salinger, J.D. (1949 – 1953) For Esme’ with Love and Squalor and Other Stories. Penguin Books. London: UK.
- (2013) Film. Directed by Shane Salerno. [DVD] The Weinstein Company: USA.
- Shirow, M. (1989 – 1990) Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai). Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.
- Shirow, M. (1991 – 1997) Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface. Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.
- Shirow, M. (1991 – 1996) Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor. Kodansha Comics, Tokyo: JPN.