Review of 'Ghost in the Shell'

gits.jpg In the near future the brain of a young woman seriously hurt in an accident is placed in a robotic body by the Hanka corporation. A year later we meet the young woman, now “the Major” (Scarlett Johansson), in her new body and now working for anti-terrorist organization “Section 9”. After the Major stops a violent attack on an ambassador she receives a warning from a disabled rogue geisha-bot: “Commit to the will of Hanka and be destroyed.” The Major performs a “deep dive” into the mind of the damaged robot to discover the attack was orchestrated by “Kuze” (Michael Pitt), a super-hacker terrorist. The dive leaves the Major troubled by mysterious hallucinations that appear to be from a past unknown to her yet seem very real. Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) is chief of “Section 9” who reminds the Major that even though her body is that of a robot she still has a soul (“ghost”) in her body. When Kuze atacks a Hanka roboticst the Major is assisted by other members of “Section 9” including the Major's close friend Batou (Pilou Absaek), anti-cybernetic enhancement Togusa (Chin Han), pro-cybernetic enhancement Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere) and marksman Saito (Yutaka Izumihara) to find and bring Kuze to justice.

“Ghost in the Shell” is an incredible story filled with incredible effects and incredible looking cityscapes. The sensory overload of the city with it's massive 3-D holograms (though not a lot of obvious logos…) including fish swimming above the street traffic is a big part of this film returning again and again to fill the screen. The film is a visual treat for the eyes that often overwhelms but seems to be generally ignored by the characters (much like, one would assume, the reality some time in the future). The tech of the Major is a much more subtle affair with only the occasional suggestion that she is a robot under her flesh exterior. Johansson puts on quite an awkward looking performance trying to be a cyborg that does not quite convince with her stilted forward-leaning walking style lacking the fluidity you would expect in such a graceful looking creation. Her action sequences are quite good though seem large to consist primarily of shooting a lot of guns at things rather than any large amount of martial arts.

I have to say that an oddity of this film is the way they treat Section 9 chief “Aramaki”. He is the only character in the film to speak in Japanese (with floating English subtitles) which is particularly jarring when you have him talking to another character who is speaking back to him in English. I can only assume this was done as a somewhat obscure nod to the fans of the original anime (more of my thoughts on the anime below).

I found the film's effects gratuitous which often distract from the story. Many times it seems this is done to simply show us what the special effects artists can do rather provide us with something that contributes to the plot. These artistic flourishes regularly become a distraction. An example that comes to mind is when the Major is floating in the harbour surrounded by large numbers of huge jellyfish - Why so many and why so big? It seems like the film makers have never heard of “less is more” particularly in what should be a quiet and contemplative moment for the character. Another is the funky “disintegrating body” effects used for holograms - Pretty, yes, but frankly overdone and often simply detracting from the story. Are the film makers so unsure of the plot that they feel they have to distract the audience with this stuff or do they think that audiences are more interested in the effects? Having said all this, truth be told, the effects do look amazing. Seriously. I saw this in IMAX 3-D and it really did fill the screen with unbelievable detail…(yeah, it left me slightly dizzy at times).

For the geeks out there who will ask how it compares to the original “Ghost in the Shell” anime by the amazing “Mamoru Oshii”: Yeah, not bad. The Major is a lot more human here which takes some getting used to rather than the quite cool and clinical killer. The other Section 9 members play minor roles with the exception of Batou (yes, complete with the cybernetic eyes) and Aramaki. Unusually Aramaki gets quite a few action scenes particularly near the end of the film instead of being the contemplative and quiet, though determined, master of Section 9. Many of the best scenes here, to my mind, mirror the original anime with the biggest of all, the drop from the roof, not as good as the original anime though others like the fight scene in shallow water is pretty much completely faithful to the original. In this remake the members of Section 9 seem to be a lot more emotional instead of the more military-like version we have grown familiar with but as to whether or not this is a good thing…I have to think it is. There are still several large action sequences which impress but there is much more of an interest in the personal history and well-being of the Major. Yes, this is not the same as the anime and, other than aping a few scenes, it does not try to be striking out in it's own interesting and intriguing direction. Does it damage the original story? No, I don't think so. It is not the same story but it does have at it's heart the same core questions of what it is to be human and, after all, this message is what is most important.

The story is very interesting though as it plays out it turns out, after you get your head around what is going on, it is not as complicated as you might expect with the bad guys never really much in doubt and an obvious resolution. There are likely expectations that this will be the first of many films but it remains to be seen if the film will be accepted by the general public beyond the fans of the original anime.

“Ghost in the Shell” is a good movie with an innovative, imaginative, though often violent, story. The characters are slightly unconvincing characters with amazing, if slightly gratuitous, special effects. I am excited to see an anime I originally very much enjoyed brought to life and released to the general public even if they have played fast and loose with some of the original story elements. The underlying theme of individuality and humanity are still very much in evidence. I have to hope we will see more…

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2017-04-06

Directed by: Rupert Sanders

Studio: Arad Productions

Year: 2017

Length: 107 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction