GHOST IN THE SHELL ½
PG-13, 100 mins.
2017, PG-13, 100 mins.
Scarlett Johansson as "Major" / Pilou Asbęk as Batou / Michael Pitt as The Laughing Man / Takeshi Kitano as Daisuke Aramaki / Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet / Chin Han as Togusa / Lasarus Ratuere as Ishikawa / Tawanda Manyimo as Roma / Yutaka Izumihara as Saito
Directed by Rupert Sanders / Written by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler, based on the manga series of the same name by Masamune Shirow
Confession time: I've never seen the 1995 anime sci-fi film GHOST IN THE SHELL, which in turn was adapted from the manga series of the same name by Masamune Shirow.
On a positive, I
ventured into the live action adaptation of the anime film with an open
mind and infinitely less baggage than those that worshipped the original.
There's no denying, though, that GHOST IN THE SHELL's influence on
the genre can be felt in innumerable ways as a parable about identity,
what it means to be human, and how people and machines co-exist in both
harmonious and problematic ways.
Weighty themes such as these have been at the core the very fabric
of the sci-fi genre since its birth.
Now, as for how
faithful GHOST IN THE SHELL is to its cherished and iconic animated
antecedent...I cannot say.
What I can confidently say is that the film, on a level of
production design, art direction, and visual effects majesty is one of the
most opulent looking examples of futuristic sci-fi that I've laid eyes on.
GHOST IN THE SHELL, as far as pure eye candy goes, is a masterful
triumph of technological artistry that creates an impossibly detailed world of tomorrow.
Unfortunately, the film can't compliment its visual splendor with
characters and an overall narrative that made me care.
There's an emotional and dramatic emptiness to GHOST IN THE SHELL
that held me back at a frustrating distance.
Such painstaking efforts were employed here to make its world feel
fully alive, textured, and authentic, but lifeless characters and sluggish
pacing makes GHOST IN THE SHELL more of a slog to sit through than it
should have been.
This is one of the best looking dull films to come around in a long
world of this film's future is so resoundingly fleshed out and realized,
so much so that it's a shame when it never populates such a mesmerizing
cinematic landscape with characters equally well delineated.
Set in Hong Kong of the future, GHOST IN THE SHELL imagines a time
and place where humanity has reached a level of symbiosis with machines.
The once black and white segregation between people and robots has
become infinitely more grey, seeing as just about every citizen has some
sort of mechanical enhancement to their respective bodies.
One robotically enhanced person is Major (Scarlett Johansson, more
on her casting in a bit), a young woman that has become a whole new
conjoined being altogether.
After her human body is destroyed under tragic circumstances, her
brain is implanted into an ultra-advanced robot body.
Her soul, or ghost, is now in a synthetic shell, which easily
explains the meaning of the film's title.
appears completely human and is the pride and joy of her creator, Dr.
Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), who considers her the very first of her
kind...and an unqualified miracle.
The purely business interest behind Major's inception, Cutter
(Peter Ferdinado), perceives her as the ultimate weapon that can and
should be used to rid the world of cyber terrorists.
As for Major, she's forced to acclimatize to her new
"shell" and is initially troubled with the fact that she seems
to have no conscious memories of her past.
Flashforward a year and Major is now working for a special police
squad overseen by Amaraki (Takeshi Kitano) and is called upon to stop
the nefarious plans of an illusive terrorist (Michael Pitt).
With her loyal and trusted partner Batou (Pilou Asabek), Major
manages to track the criminal rogue down, but soon learns from him the
awful truth about what actually happened to her in her pre-robotic life.
GHOST IN THE
SHELL has, as mentioned, a strong thematic undercurrent.
Major - like many other non-human entities that have occupied
sci-fi storylines before - has a crisis on conscience and identity as the
Her once rigorously wiped memory gives way to recurrent flashes of
what might be previous memories, and the more "glitches" she
experiences the more she begins to doubt her origins (at least that have
been explained to her) from her handlers and creators.
Was she really the cognitive survivor of a refugee boat disaster
(leaving her brain the only thing that remained)?
The more she doubts her troublingly contradictory back story the
more she struggles with notions of free will and her very humanity.
The manner in which GHOST AND SHELL delves into what makes a
person an organic entity and what erodes our very humanity makes it
What makes GHOST
IN THE SHELL even more engaging is, yes, its visual look.
With Oscar nomination worthy cinematography by Jess Hall and
production design by Jan Roelfs, the film fills the frame with a
staggering density of visual information that makes its tech-heavy Hong
Kong of the future such a spell-binding odyssey to gaze at.
The cityscape - which looks like the conglomeration of the dark noir
2019 L.A. of BLADE RUNNER, the shiny and
colorful metropolis of THE FIFTH
ELEMENT, and the immeasurably massive planet spanning city of the STAR
WARS prequels - is an awe inspiring marvel, replete with skyscrapers that reach out
to the heavens flanked by gigantic holographic billboard advertising.
The visual effects work - which frequently dabbles into Major's
inner workings - are equally astounding.
GHOST IN THE SHELL was directed by Rupert Sanders, who previously
made the magnificently rendered SNOW WHITE AND THE
HUNTSMAN; if anything,
he knows how to painstakingly craft an endlessly handsome film that
deserves worthy consideration alongside elite films of the genre.
a shame is how GHOST IN THE SHELL lacks...well...a soul.
For as strong as the film's introspective themes are, Sanders and
company don't get much mileage out of their characters, most of whom lack
distinguishing and relatable personalities.
Even though Major's plight is intriguing enough, her overall arc is
nothing that hasn't been already better handled in any number of previous
speculative science fiction films, which only subverted my overall
willingness to buy into her conflict.
The pacing of GHOST IN THE SHELL is an awkward pendulum of false
starts and detours that holds its momentum back to a snail's pace at
storyline meanders around aimlessly at times without much symmetry and
really only achieves a few novel twists and turns as it approaches its
Unfortunately, it's the languishing spirit of the overall script
leading into that finale that hurts GHOST IN THE SHELL, not to mention a
pair of antagonists that, on paper, are not really all that memorable.
has improbably emerged over the years as a bona fide action star.
There's no question of that.
She more than adequately harnesses Major's ass kicking physicality
in GHOST IN THE SHELL with a swift and determined confidence that makes
her a consistently credible presence in it.
Controversy has dogged the film since her casting was announced,
seeing as she's a Caucasian woman playing a role that was originally Asian in
the 1995 anime film.
Johansson's participation is definitely indicative of an ongoing
symptom of Hollywood whitewashing lead roles for the purposes of box
office gain. That much is certain.
Yet, the script for GHOST IN THE SHELL does contain a rather nifty
and ingenious twist that readily acknowledges Johansson's casting as Major
(she is, after all, a cyborg that could technically assume any human form)
that will either appease white washing critics or anger them ever more
I think I fall somewhere in the middle.
Ultimately, casting an Asian appropriate actress as Major would have not aided this GHOST IN THE SHELL at all. The film still flounders on a narrative level and left me feeling cold and distant with the underlining material. However, its breathtaking and continuously powerful imagery rightfully does deserve big screen consumption (and is one of the very few films that actually deserves its 3D presentation). But GHOST IN THE SHELL commits one of the more cardinal blunders of its genre: It doesn't thoroughly engage us with its human (or inhuman) element to allow for its relatable themes to have a tangible weight and consequence in ways that intelligently rendered science fiction does . The outer shell of this film is one to savor and behold, but there's very little substance lurking beneath it.
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