Ghost in the Shell is the long-awaited remake/reimagining of the popular anime film from Oshii Mamoro. Oshii’s animated films were based on the Japanese manga by Shirow Masamune a few years prior to that. Rupert Sanders (Snow White and The Huntsman) and Scarlett Johansson (Avengers franchise) have stepped in front and behind the camera to bring us this new vision of a brand new “neo” landscape that we may not have seen since the Blade Runner days.
In the “near future” cybernetics are an part of living. Humans and machines live side by side and meld together as cyborgs. Major Mira Killian (Johansson) is the latest weapon against crime. She is the perfect cybernetic organism, but there’s something that keeps gnawing at her. The Major tends to muse and question things as if she’s lived them before, or if the world that she lives in now is not just some construct built to keep everyone stuck in a perpetual haze. Her partner is the suave and uber-cool looking Batou (Pilou Asbaek). Batou has an affinity for guns and dogs. They both work for the Section-9 branch of the government police. It is never clear. They’re the police and soldiers combined.
Someone or something named Kuze (Michael Pitt) is infiltrating several corporations and their representatives and hacking into their brains and essentially killing them. Since everyone is “wired” they can be hacked and killed by creepy geisha robots. After a meeting is interrupted by a wave of cyborg gangsters The Major and puts a stop to it and the primary investigation begins. the shadowy Kuze is a master hacker and seems to know a lot about The Major. He can almost anticipate her every move, which is why she has to utilize her own resourcefulness in order to stop Kuze before it’s too late.
As some may or may not have heard, Ghost in the Shell with a bit controversy, because the original character of Major Motoko Kusanagi was Japanese and the lead actress cast as The Major is not. This led many to protest and some questioned why a big budget film like this would not cast an Asian actress to play the lead and so forth. Explanations were often met with scowls and some have even said that they refuse to watch the film out of principle. Personally, and after having watched the film, I understand why Scarlett Johansson was cast. Money. Pure and simple. She is one of the most famous and popular actresses around. She’s currently in a multi-billion dollar Disney franchise and is economically viable in terms of star-power. This is Hollywood and they are in the business of making money. There was even an explanation in the film as to why her ethnicity was different and I was okay with that.
Now, as far as depth and substance — Ghost in the Shell has neither. It pains me to say that, because I love the original anime films and hoped that this new live action interpretation would elevate the previously established world. I was wrong and disappointed. It is an exercise in style over substance and works on that basic level. It is eye-candy deluxe. Every frame is immaculately constructed and breathtakingly beautiful and ethereal. As far as comparing it to the anime films I was only able to spot a handful of scenes taken directly from the first one. Major Killian’s construction and merging of ghost and shell, her cloaking device and infiltration into the meeting, running after the “garbage man” through the water and massive housing projects, and the spider tank. All of those scenes translated well into live action along with Batou’s fat hound dog and cybernetic eyes. It’s a shame that the story elements fell through. Dialogue is fine, with a few bits of flat nuances, and such. Even the Major’s speech pattern and posture comes off in a weird fashion as if Scarlett knows that she’s a robot and has to emphasize it.
The rest of her team do not fare that much better, with exception to the great “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Major Killian’s supervisor. His part is small, but he carries an old school .44 Magnum revolver to dispense justice. That got a great reaction from the crowd at my screening. I assume if the film does well enough then the studio may green light the sequel. After watching the second anime film in the franchise called Innocence I can see them adapting it into a feature, but somehow keeping The Major as the main character as opposed to Batou.
As far as this iteration of the film goes, I cannot recommend it in terms of story quality, but can recommend it in terms of aesthetics. I think watching it on the big screen will let the viewer take in the landscapes and detail and not watching it on a smaller screen. If you do watch it on the big screen then a bargain matinee is more than worth it. Taper your expectations, though.
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