Ghost in the Shell is a new Sci Fi action film based on the highly influential 90s anime of the same name. Set in the near future, where most of humankind has merged with technology through cybernetic enhancements, human consciousness is referred to as their ‘Ghost,’ which reside inside their own ‘Shell,’ meaning body. The film follows Major, whose Shell is the first ever completely cybernetic body, with a human brain, after her original body was killed in an accident. Major works for Section 9, an anti-terrorist defence unit, and after a number of murders happen to executives of the cybernetics company, Hanka, her and partner Batou start an investigation that will dig up things from Major’s forgotten past. Much like the original anime, this film looks at what it means to be human, and whether something technological can be considered alive, and while this film doesn’t explore that concept in as deep or conceptual way as the original film did, I found this film to be a more accessible, simpler version of that concept. This film is more action heavy and easier to follow than the anime, but isn’t as subtle or artistic. I found this film to be a very entertaining sci-fi action film with a deeper concept than a lot of modern big budget films tend to have. This film is directed by Rupert Sanders, and stars Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, and Michael Pitt.
Before going into this film I was expecting it to be a much more western version of the anime, with the complicated plot dumbed down and explained with lots of generic exposition, CGI, and action, and while I wasn’t wrong, as this is like that in a lot of ways, I liked the way they executed all these things. The film was enjoyable and the plot was still interesting even though it was simplified and spoon fed to me. The anime is very subtle, with lots of underlying messages explained through artist imagery and long conceptual sequences which are slow and meaningful, and I like that, but it’s the sort of film you really need to be in the mood for and probably need to watch multiple times to get everything. This film had all the same messages, but, as I said in my intro, presented it in a simpler and more accessible way, at the cost of some of the more creative storytelling techniques. I think this is an example of a good remake because it doesn’t try to erase the original, just presents it in a different way. If I’m in the mood to really think and analyse something artistic then I’ll watch the anime, but if I’m in the mood for more of an action film that still has some of that clever subtext, but in a less brain consuming and tiring fashion, I have this film. While I do think the original film is technically better than this one, I think I will end up watching this one more often as it’s just a lot easier to swallow. I found the anime quiet tiring and slow, and while that isn’t always a bad thing, this films faster pace and more frequent and exciting action, while still maintaining an intriguing concept on a simpler level, means it’s the sort of film I’ll just stick on when I want to be entertained. The action was surprisingly well executed as well, it’s not all quick cuts and shaky cam and I could tell what was going on. It was very stylised action as well, there were slow-mo moments and lots of unique visual effects during the action which made it more enjoyable and interesting to watch than a lot of other films like this. The cinematography was also very interesting and a cut above your standard big budget action sci-fi film. A lot of the visuals are pulled directly from the anime, which was nice to see as they were done really well and made it feel like that film has come to life. However, this could have resulted in it feeling like you’re watching two films if they didn’t use a visual style for the new scenes that matched the recreations of the old ones. Thankfully, I think they pulled it off, as the new visuals and scenes blend really well with the recreations of the older stuff, so much so that I think if you hadn’t seen the original film you wouldn’t be able to tell which scenes were recreations. Obviously, there is a lot of CGI used to create the futuristic world, and I thought it was very well done. The future depicted looks like it came straight out of the anime. It’s large and colourful while also feeling dirty and lived in. My only issue effects wise is that I found some of the CGI used to make cars and other vehicles looked a bit out of date. The film isn’t an exact remake of the original as the plot is different, with a different villain from the first, which I like, as again it adds to the fact that this film isn’t trying to replace the old film. There is more of a focus on Major’s past in this film, which made her character more relatable and engaging than she was in the anime. They concentrate more on her backstory than on her trying to work out what it feels like to be human, which was the focus of the original, and while they do still have a few scenes of her trying to understand what life feels like, they aren’t the complete focus of the story. I might have preferred it if they put more focus on the Major questioning her existence because that’s what is really unique about the story if executed well, but I still enjoyed her trying to find out her past. The villain of this film, Kuse, feels like more of a generic modern day antagonist, especially when compared to the complex puppet master from before. I thought he was well acted by Michael Pitt though, and so I did like him as a villain. I think my biggest complaint with the films plot is that it is, for the most part, very predictable. Hardly anything surprised me and all the story beats and twists played out how I expected them to from the start. I still enjoyed watching it happen, and there were a couple of things that happened differently from the clichés which were pleasant surprises, but for the most part it was very by the book story wise, especially when compared to the highly original and complex plot of the anime.
I really liked the cast of this film. I know that there has been a lot of complaining about Scarlett Johansson being cast instead of a Japanese actress, and while I understand that, I think the film handles it in an interesting way that I liked and thought was tasteful. I also think that it’s not the films fault that Johansson was cast, as it was probably a studio decision from the get go. This film probably wouldn’t attract much of an audience as it was simply a remake of an old anime, so the studio cast her to bring in more of an audience because she’s popular. That being said though, I thought she was very good in the role, and so I don’t mind that she was cast. She has an awkwardness that fits the character well. She feels like she doesn’t really fit in with the rest of humanity as she is completely cybernetic, and while everyone sees her as human because she has a human Ghost, she isn’t sure if she really is alive or not. Johansson portrays this well I thought, she doesn’t act like a robot, but she isn’t acting like a normal person either, so you get the sense that she is somewhere in between. My favourite characters where Batou, played by Pilou Asbæk, and Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano. Batou, Major’s partner, is a loveable badass. He’s laid back when he can be, and is a dedicated friend and support to major. He was played perfectly by Asbæk. Aramaki is the captain of Section 9, and has that pretty standard captain role that you might see in a crime film or something else along those lines. However, Kitano brought something to the role that elevated it above that for me. He’s badass in his own way and doesn’t take crap from anyone, even his superiors, but he isn’t shouty or angry like this type of character typically is, instead being very calm an collect while he’s telling people where they stand. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty alongside his soldiers. I also liked that he spoke Japanese throughout the whole film, I think it was a nice connection to this films Japanese roots and fitted the character nicely.
I found myself enjoying this film more than I thought I would. It wasn’t ground breaking or highly original, but if you’re looking for a sci-fi action film that is a bit smarter and more mentally challenging than the Avengers, then I think you would enjoy this film. As a fan of the original, I thought this was a great, more universally approachable recreation of that film that doesn’t try to replace the original. I’m looking forward to seeing both the original and the remake sitting side by side on my Blu-ray shelf.
P.S. On the subject of whether Scarlett Johansson should have been cast, there’s a video of someone interviewing people in Japan about her casting and they all say that she looks great and that they don’t see a problem. All the complaining seems to come from America. This review ended up a lot longer than I thought it would!