Recreating “Ghost in the Shell” in Hong Kong

Side-by-side comparison:

I first watched Manga’s cult classic “Ghost in the Shell” when I was a teen but only recently realised that the film’s city background is actually based on Hong Kong – my current place of residence.

When it was made in 1995, it depicted a grimy, futuristic city. Now, 16 years later, it’s interesting to see how Hong Kong has physically changed. So I set out to try and recreate particular scenes from the film. The biggest differences between the film and now is that Hong Kong no longer has those awesome low-flying airplanes (airport moved in 1998) nor do we have canals and river boats – though we do have tramcar systems which is the obvious influence for Masamune. Not every shot could be faithfully recreated. Simply because it was an animation! But when you do a comparison there are the obvious locations (youtube.com/watch?v=wYVbQ-GQTxQ)

I left the scenes with Motoko Kusanagi for narrative reasons (and I couldn’t be arsed looking for an actress!). Another note is the first two shots of the planes, they were ripped and up-rezzed from a YouTube video by airboyd. There is no way I could have recreated those scenes yet I wanted to show people just how crazily low they flew.

This was shot with Sony NEX5-N in 1080p/50fps with 30mm squarefront and 50mm roundfront Lomo anamorphic lenses.

Special thanks to Pete Furkidsinhk and his “fur kid” Cream.

Original Ghost in the Shell montage: youtube.com/watch?v=wYVbQ-GQTxQ

“Planes Over Hong Kong (1998)”: youtube.com/watch?v=UyU9OLqQ8XA

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Here’s an interesting extract from Wong Kin Yuen, “Science Fiction Studies #80, dated March 2000:

1. It is now widely acknowledged that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982/ 1992) initiated a whole tradition of cult movies later grouped under the label “cyberpunk.” Blade Runner’s style draws its images from urban spaces all over the world, including such Asian cities as Tokyo and Hong Kong. Science fiction film critics are less aware, however, that when anime film director Mamoru Oshii was looking for a model of the city of the future in a computerized world, he turned for his primary inspiration to the cityscape of Hong Kong. Through his art designers, actual spots in the city of Hong Kong were transformed into the mise-en-scène of Ghost in the Shell, first released in the United States in March 1996.
Science fiction has not fared well in Hong Kong (either in terms of production or consumption), nor is there a cyberpunk culture among Hong Kong’s young computer users. So the question arises: what elements in Hong Kong provided inspiration for this cinematic representation of a near-future city characterized by decadence, anarchy, and fantasy on the one hand, and a mistrusted, high-tech hyper-reality on the other? Taking up this question, I will first suggest a reading of a shopping complex in Hong Kong that emphasizes its fragmentation, disjunctiveness, and ephemerality. Like Blade Runner’s “Ridleyville,” this Hong Kong shopping complex intertwines past and future, memory and desire. Finally, I will analyze the setting of Ghost in the Shell, especially the parts that are clearly modeled on Hong Kong street scenes and architecture. I hope to validate Anthony King’s argument that colonial cities have the best chance of establishing a cityscape of the future that embraces racial and cultural differences.

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