Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Shirow Masamune (based on the comic “The Ghost in the Shell” by), Jamie Moss (screenplay)
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano
I think it would be fair to say that Hollywood is developing quite the obsession for releasing live action incarnations of old animated films. We’ve already had Beauty and the Beast this year and Ghost in the Shell is the next film in line getting the remake treatment. I admittedly, have zero knowledge of the universe, the manga comics or the previous animated effort that precedes this, so please forgive any of my potentially ill informed dribble in relation to these points below.
I’ll get the obvious controversy surrounding this release out of the way by tackling the whole ‘whitewashing’ issue before I go any further. The film is based off a Japanese manga comic series and is set in a fictional, futuristic, Asian city, so the casting of Scarlett Johansson (clearly not Asian) in the leading role, as a character with a clear Asian background, was aesthetically anyway, perhaps slightly controversial. I honestly couldn’t care less about this however and fully understand that the studio would have wanted a big name actress to attract non-fans of the series to their film. Could they have done this with a prominent Asian actress? Definitely. If anything, I actually think Sanders did a great job of making the cast quite multicultural.
Anyway, with that nonsense out the way, I’ll crack on with my thoughts on a fairly mixed bag of a film. Set in the near future, where humanity has become addicted to prepping their appearance with strange, synthetic prosthetics and all manner of different cybernetic implants. The film begins with the rather visually arresting construction of our leading character. Major you see, is prototype cyborg, sporting a synthetic shell body and the conscious (ghost) of a real human implanted within. Hence the title of the film. She awakens and briefly meets her creator/saviour of sorts, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) of Hanka Robotics, before a small time jump occurs and it quickly dives headlong into the action.
Major is now over her dramatic re-birthing and is a sort of super soldier, working for Section 9, a counterterrorism team, headed up by Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). We don’t have to wait long to see her array of talents as she acrobatically clears a room early on. Sanders then introduces the main villain, a strange chap called Kuze (Michael Pitt), fond of shadows and hoods, who appears to harbour a grudge against Hanka and is callously hacking into people’s implants to control them and terrorise the organisation. Running almost synchronously with her tireless efforts to track this apparent cyber-terrorist is a more personal, inwardly focused element of the story.
This manifests itself to begin with in ‘glitches’ the Major experiences, glitches that become more frequent and prolonged as the film progresses. Dr. Ouelet tries to convince her of their harmless, unimportant nature, but unconvinced she has her worst fears confirmed after finally encountering Kuze face to face. The pair it seems share more in common than originally thought as he drops a bombshell in relation to his origins and explains the true nature of the glitches to Major, causing her to have an existential crisis and also begin to question the morals of Hanka, and more specifically it’s cold, calculating, CEO, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando).
Scarlett Johansson, despite the groans at her casting, was a nice fit as Major in this film. She’s already proven that she can do the whole action side of things in her role as Black Widow with the Avengers franchise, whilst the strange emotional/physical disconnect she displays very nicely harkens up visions of the predatory alien from Under the Skin, which incidentally, was filmed in my very own Glasgow. Takeshi Kitano is also excellent in his fleeting appearances as Aramaki, speaking solely in Japanese throughout and giving off a Benicio Del Toro-esque, no nonsense vibe at all times. Maybe it was the hair, who knows? The big Dane, Pilou Asbæk was a nice side character as the prosthetic eye sporting, Batou. From what I’ve read, his character provides regular comedy relief in the comics, but I honestly don’t recall much of this in the film.
The third act of this film lagged ever so slightly and was something of a letdown in many ways, with the final action sequence involving Major, Kuze and the spider tank being rather predictable, a little on the short side and anticlimactic. I think a large part of this was down to the poor job the film does of fleshing out the characters, making them real people the viewer actually cares about and eventually can root for at the business end of the film. There wasn’t enough development over the films 106 minute running time and as a result I wasn’t invested in the final scene enough. Where it absolutely did excel however, was on the visual front. From the stunning opening scene, Major’s many action sequences, to the mental Fifth Element/Back to the Future 2-esque futuristic setting. It was a visual masterpiece.
Ultimately, as a complete novice to this series, I found the story and the world a bit strange and slightly perplexing if I’m being honest. It can’t be easy transferring certain parts of a manga comic to live action though, so I’ll give them a pass on that. I enjoyed some aspects of the story, I thought Sanders direction was decent enough and the cast did well with what they had. I’d recommend giving it a blast if you’ve got some spare time to kill. It was a decent enough film.