Directed by Rupert Sanders
Based on the manga by Shirow Masamune
In the near future, the cyberneticly enhanced super-soldier known as The Major (Scarlett Johansson), along with her team, Public Security Section 9, wages war against the world’s most dangerous criminals and terrorists. Hanka Robotics, the company that built The Major’s cybernetic body, also holds the secret to her true identity, a secret that could destroy the company, and they are willing to go to any and all lengths to protect it, even if it means killing anyone who gets in their way.
This is a visually spectacular film, Production Designer Jan Roelfs and his team nailed Shirow’s cyberpunk esthetic perfectly from the brightly coloured garishness of Newport City’s holographic advertisements that seem to adorn every skyscraper, to the look of the vehicles, and right down to the details on the cyborgs themselves whether it be an eye, a leg or a finger, the details are astounding. As a longtime fan of the original work, this live-action re-imagining is everything one could hope for. This film however, more resembles the 1995 anime film by Mamoru Oshii more so than the original manga. Gone is The Major’s “girlishness” and quirky sense of humour, and the tachikomas (Ai mini-tank mecha) are nowhere to be seen, but that’s okay because the 1995 film is an anime masterpiece and required viewing for anyone who calls themselves a fan of Japanese entertainment. If you’re going to borrow, it’s okay to borrow from the best. That's not to say the film is without humour, its just not the same kind of humour found in the manga.
Scarlett Johansson is mesmerizing as The Major, playing the part with a commanding physicality, when she enters a room, she owns it. I don’t know what kind of work out regimen she was on for the film, but she looks leaner, and more muscular than she has in previous flicks, more a force to be reckoned with, and in this film she very much is. Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki, the Chief of Section 9, with a calculated brooding that simmers just below the surface for most of the film before finally exploding to the surface in the third act as he shows just how bad-ass the 70 year old actor can still be. Pilou Asbaek who plays Batou, and the rest of the cast give solid performances, even if most of them are given very little to do on screen, but what would you expect, this flick is meant to be The Major’s story. I’m sure if there were to be a sequel or two the other members of Section 9 would have the time to be fleshed out a little more, but since that isn’t going to happen…
Ghost in the Shell is a good movie, competently directed, well paced, enjoyable actioner, with a fantastic soundtrack, and a story that’s just different enough from the original source material to offer a few surprises for longtime fans. Unfortunately I cannot help to reflect that by now the modern movie-going audience has seen most of this before. Since the release of Shirow’s manga in 1993 there have been many TV shows and movies that have at the very least been influenced by the work, if not in some cases downright ripped off Ghost in the Shell’s core ideas. Maybe if the film had come out in the late 1990s or early 2000s before flicks like The Matrix could preemptively steal its thunder it could have found a wider audience? And herein is the problem: the audience. Generation X anime/manga otaku like me have been flocking to this film, but we are few and far between these days. Millennial fans, who make up the vast majority of anime/manga otaku today, are notoriously cheap individuals who find no value in paying for entertainment, and would much rather steal it through illegal downloads. So if a slick, well produced film like Ghost in the Shell will not get them out of their parent’s basements to spend $15 to see it then they really have no right to complain when Hollywood passes on something they might actually be interested in watching; a crappy live-action Naruto film for instance.
Ghost in the Shell gets FOUR hacked Geisha-bots out of FIVE.