Director: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt
In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. (Source: IMDb)
With Disney’s current obsession of remaking their animated classics into live-action versions, it seemed only inevitable that Japanese animation, or anime properties would also start to appear in reimagined form. Ghost in the Shell isn’t the first anime to receive the live-action treatment, but quite frankly we’re all trying to forget that a live-action Dragon Ball Z movie exists. Despite all the “white-washing” controversy, Ghost in the Shell is here to boldly show that anime can work in real-life, and for the most part, it proves it can.
As a huge fan of the 1995 anime movie, I was in slight trepidation about this remake, mostly about the visuals and the tone living up to expectations. The anime was ground-breaking for its pioneering animation and effects, and its philosophical and melancholic tone, and my biggest fear is that this new version wouldn’t translate those things well, but in actuality, those are two of the strongest points about this film.
Visually, it is absolutely stunning; the pops of neon and the striking effects drawing obvious Blade Runner comparisons, but when has this ever been a bad thing?! It is one of the rare few films that would actually lend itself to 3D, so worth paying the uplift charge to really appreciate those visuals. The thermo-optic technology and particularly how this is utilised in the fight scenes is particularly stunning. It is great to see the fight scene in a flooded street translated almost frame for frame from the anime.
Tonally this film is really strong as well, and nails that introspective self-discovery theme from the original. It is perhaps slightly less philosophical but no less impactful, and the additional backstory we’re given on the Major proves to be surprisingly emotive.
It is difficult not to address the casting controversy that surrounded this film, and whilst I still think it could have been a success using a Japanese actress, Scarlett Johansson does do a really good job as Major, believable as both a ruthless badass and an emotionally complex human-android hybrid. It is hard to explain without getting into spoiler territory, but the character arc of Major enables the casting choice to make some sense, and it ended up not being something I had an issue with.
As is so often the case where a film places so much emphasis on the visuals, there is inevitably something else that suffers, and in the case of Ghost in the Shell, it is the script. It’s not awful per se, but perhaps rather basic. For a film which is so thematically rich, it feels like it could’ve pushed a bit further in places, resulting in something as contemplative as it is aesthetically pleasing.
The 1995 animated movie was a punchy 85 minutes, and whilst this new film does deviate from the story-line of that film, it is perhaps a little too long at around 107 minutes. The end drags on a little bit and it could do with being about 10 to 15 minutes shorter.
I saw this movie and you should too. It is perhaps difficult to predict how this film will translate to those unfamiliar with the anime, or if this is your first introduction to the Ghost in the Shell world, but for me, as a fan of the franchise, I really enjoyed this film. It struck just the right balance between the themes and the action, making it accessible enough for newbies, but equally satisfying and exciting for fans. A sequel seems almost inevitable, and personally I would love to see more of this world!