Amid the sea of anger and controversy that has followed Ghost in the Shell on its way to the big screen, there is a glimmer of hope that the film will not just be another Hollywood white-washing story. Remakes, reboots and alternative interpretations are always going to be hit hard with the existing fan base. We can’t stop them from happening, so taking a moment to watch a film for what it is – in this case a science fiction futuristic action film about woman with a mysterious past – and see if it is worth all the fuss it has caused.
The film is set in an unspecified city, in a future where technology is evolving. Life-like robots serve humans and people can have ‘cybernetic upgrades’, from new limbs to a bionic implants. But the lines of science are blurred when a young woman – a supposed victim of a terrorist attack is saved by the ruling corporation Hanka – is given a robotic body a new shell but keeps her human mind – or as they call it, her ghost. She becomes part of Public Security Section 9, a group of special operatives who fight terrorism, cybercrime and crime in general. Known as Major to her unit and the scientists who built her, she starts to experience glitches in her memory, flashes of her past causing her to question her purpose, her past and her humanity. When the Major and her team become involved in a case where important members of Hanka are hacked and murdered in violent attacks, she is given a chance to answer her own questions as well as uncover the truth of a larger conspiracy.
Based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow set in futuristic Japan, there are obvious changes made. The casting of Scarlet Johansson sparked outrage, but she remains serene and robotic throughout with bursts of her character’s human memories breaking through the seams. She carries the film through its cyber-terrorist conspiracy and also has time to suffer through her identity crisis which ties in with the main story is a messy, sentimental way. But her character’s downfall is when her origin, as well as Michael Pitt’s android-voiced villain, is revealed. It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to justify their choices. Where the first part of the film sets the scene and plot in motion, the second half stops and starts, dragging its feet along towards the end, which is a shame as the first half showed promise.
The film is ultimately haunted by the original source material to the point it has to explain its own casting choices. The studios are desperate for interesting new material so they are looking outside of their comfort zone and to other cultures for something different. The previous film adaptation remakes of other anime stories such as Dragonball: Evolution and Speed Racer were not successful, not only because of casting and ‘non-bankable’ actors, but because the stories were not given life they needed. The studios relied on existing fans to go see the films, which didn’t happen. For Ghost in the Shell, curiosity will be get the better of the skeptical fans out there as beyond the outrage, the film is science fiction. It not only has beautifully choreographed fight sequences that don’t feel like they are drenched in CGI, but the unknown city with imposing and sinister gigantic holographic adverts looming over everyone feels like a sci-fi from the time of Blade Runner and there’s a comfort in that. With technology a mixture of steampunk and ‘this is what the future looks like from the 80s or even 70s’ and the sleek modern artwork that is the Major, the film creates a disjointed urban paradise that manages to stand out on its own. But this can only be appreciated if you overlook the casting choice and the revelation of the characters true persons. It can also be appreciated if the lack of Asian actors in the adaptation of an Asian story is ignored. But it all depends if you’re new to the Ghost in the Shell universe of whether you’ve been a long time fan. There are aspects of the film worth commending and parts that will annoy even a novice but ultimately, if you enjoy science fiction stories, you won’t be disappointed.
Dir: Rupert Sanders
Prd: Avi Arad, Ari Arad, Steven Paul, Michael Costigan
Scr: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
Based on: Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche
DoP: Jess Hall
Music: Clint Mansell, Lorne Balfe
Country: United States
Running time: 106 minutes
Ghost in the Shell is released in cinemas on the 30th March.