This new adaptation of the (apparently) popular manga series takes place in a future where cybernetic enhancements are commonplace and the lines between human and robot are becoming increasingly blurred. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a robotic operative with a human brain, apparently saved following a severe accident, and while tracking apparent terrorist Kuze (Michael Pitt), who has been targeting certain employees of the Hanka Robotics corporation, she comes to learn that certain secrets are being hidden from her and she strives to unlock the secrets of her past life.
I suppose I should begin by saying that I haven’t read the original manga or seen the 1995 film. What’s more, before news of this film started popping up on Twitter, I was completely unaware that it even existed. Coupled with the general less-than-positive buzz surrounding the film and the news that it has been doing rather badly at the box office, I kind of surprised myself by actually going to see it but at the end of the day, I thought the film was actually really good.
Starting with its design, which I know that many have highly praised, Ghost in the Shell is a remarkably good looking film and the cinematography and production design is very appealing, getting the cyberpunk atmosphere done very effectively; It does call to mind the likes of Blade Runner and A.I. while at the same time finding its own voice and style. The character design, especially that of Major, is great though we definitely could have seen more from Batou’s optical enhancements; there was a great opportunity for some super cool visuals there. In addition, the epic, grandiose score from Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is an excellent accompaniment and sets an absolutely perfect tone for the film; the opening credit scene is particularly incredible due to its gorgeous visuals and sweeping score. Clearly, Mansell can do no wrong – guy’s a marvel!
The film has a great cast with ScarJo herself taking centre stage. And she’s excellent. Despite the “whitewashing” controversy, she fits in very well to the film and conveys so much genuine emotion and does the whole human/robot bit remarkably. And on that note, the choice to have a Caucasian actress as Major actually adds an interesting dynamic between her and her mother and on the whole, it fits in surprisingly well to the film. I mean, she was Asian before the “accident” but it’s not completely ridiculous that her android body would have a Caucasian design . . .
Anyway, the rest of the cast are also great; Pilou Asbæk is charismatic, commanding and occasionally wisecracking as fellow operative Batou, Takeshi Tikano is a great, authoritative Chief Aramaki and Michael Pitt does very well in his role of Hideo Kuze; he successfully illicits a certain amount of sympathy from the audience as he finds a kindred spirit in Major and we gradually see him as a good guy, a tragic figure.
With regards to the story, you can kinda sorta predict where it’s all going to go (especially since it was all spelled out in the trailers), with its central conspiracy, the shady company goings-on and the main protagonist striving to uncover the truth about her past, but the cast perform it all so well and ultimately, whilst not revolutionary in its storytelling, the narrative is interesting and engaging throughout. The film strives to explore some meaningful themes about memory, humanity and our actions defining us (stealing from Batman Begins, there!) but ultimately, it’s all irrelevant and doesn’t really hit home as it probably should do. To its credit, that doesn’t hinder the film, the attempt to put across some meaningful themes simply flew on by over my head.
The story is indeed interesting enough but the leisurely pace can be testing at times, especially with the generous use of slo-mo, and a couple of scenes to tend to get a little boring, although interest is quickly regained.