I admit that before seeing the new Hollywood-ized version of the Japanese classic anime feature Ghost in the Shell, I didn’t know manga from a mango. But this uniquely geeky form of literature (read from right to left) has influenced Hollywood films like The Matrix, to name just one, and is about to spawn its own cottage industry with a number of manga adaptations. Ghost in the Shell, of course, is a pre-sold property, and with its cool visuals (more than a little reminiscent of Blade Runner), it is a world worth diving into whatever your knowledge of the source material.
Going into it I had convinced myself it all would be completely lost in translation, but it is surprisingly accessible. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), all of this magnificently comes together in the form of Scarlett Johansson, the industry’s top female action star, who in her sleek, form-fitting outfit is a force of robotic nature to be reckoned with. She plays a woman who is irreparably injured in a horrendous accident and is put back together with groundbreaking cyber enhancement as a kick-ass new age soldier (the shell) with the soul of the former human being (the ghost).
In a word, Johansson is electrifying in the role, and not just because she has all the right moves down pat. She brings a real emotional core to this character, known only as Major (shortened from the original Japanese name). Scenes with Dr. Ouelet (a very fine Juliette Binoche), her guardian as it were, in the lab as she gets repaired and prepared are fascinating, if deceptive. Ouelet has kept the mystery of Major’s past just that — a mystery. Essentially she has been lied too, unaware that her body was in essence stolen from her.
After a number of stunning action sequences in which Major and cohorts go to work against the bad guys, she begins to discover that the “ghost” inside tells a different story than those who put her back together in a new technology that takes a bit of the human and blends it with a lot robot, thus blurring the lines of our own humanity and identity. This is a movie that deals with themes of identity in big ways, and it offers something to think about in a world that moves increasingly way too fast.
As things start to go wrong with Major, the movie finds its own soul and becomes something more touching than many entries in the sci-fi genre. But don’t think this is a cerebral exercise like Arrival. No, Ghost in the Shell is loaded with the requisite heart-pounding excitement and rocks the screen with nonstop action and a startling view of the future intersection of humans and technology. For my money, it is a movie that has it all and fires on all cylinders.
There was controversy when Johansson was announced for the role in 2015. Purists felt a white woman should not be playing an iconic Japanese character, but that is wholly unfair. Major transcends all of this, and so does Johansson, who is perfect in the role. Also excellent is Michael Pitt as the cyber hacker Kuze, who has a key scene in the evolution of Major. There are a number of terrific Japanese actors aboard as well, including actor-director Takeshi Kitano, who plays the chief of the anti-terrorism unit Major and her cyborg partner (Danish actor Pilou Asbaek) work with.
Director Rupert Sanders never loses touch with the rich world he has been given here, and the movie itself is a technical marvel, just like the character it revolves around. Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Moss are the writers tasked with bringing a beloved property into new life. They do an admirable job. Producers are Ari Arad, Avi Arad, Michael Costigan and Steven Paul. Paramount opened the film today.
Do you plan to see Ghost in the Shell? Let us know what you think.