Dueling Metropoles: Comparing Niihama from Oshii’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ with Hong Kong

A new video painstakingly recreates shots from the anime in the real world.

Is it too late to talk about the utter shitshow that is the live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell? What’s that? Oh, it is? Dead horse, you say. All right, well, how about I talk about the original, beloved anime version? Specifically how well it captured the reality of Hong Kong as a place and a character.

A pause: before you start angry tweeting me, I know Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese film set in Japan, but when making the film, director Mamoru Oshii used Hong Kong as his visual inspiration for the fictional city of Niihama, even going so far as to recreate actual landmarks. So we cool? Okay.

In future-set dystopic films like GitS, environment is everything. Blade Runner, Children of Men, even Brazil – all these films like GitS don’t have a fraction of their base emotional atmosphere without their overpopulated, sun-blocking, smog-choked and neon-drenched metropoles that serve the dual purpose of illustrating man’s continued dominance over nature, as well as the ironically dehumanizing effects of said dominance.

Hong Kong is especially adept at illustrating this dichotomy, being one of the most densely populated places in the entire world, some 7+ million souls crammed into a little more than 400 square miles, or less than half the size of Rhode Island, which makes it the perfect representation – or so filmmakers seem to think – of what our overcrowded future is going to look like. Ghost in the Shell in particular made use of Hong Kong/Niihama as a kind of god-like character, one who is always there, always looming, always looking down on the action and events transpiring within her borders, effecting them and those who enact them with her ceaseless sensory assault, all light and sound and kineticism. As a result, not only does GitS nail the feel of Hong Kong, as mentioned above it was also boldly straightforward in capturing the look of the place, as proven by the following, fascinating video which pairs visual sequences from Oshii’s film with real world clips from Hong Kong that are near mirrors to the animated frames.

The video comes from Edwin Lee, and content aside, I think the best part is how Lee made the effort to get the camera angle of his real-world shots to match that of the film. There are times I honestly couldn’t tell which was which, even knowing that all the real shots are in the top half of the video and the anime shots are in the bottom half. This is, quite simply, a breathtaking feat of editing and a revelatory look at the connection between not only art and life, but our present and our likely future.