The sour taste of Dragonball Evolution still lingers in the mouth of Anime fans, a frankly, horrible live action adaptation of the much loved show. Ghost in the Shell is the latest Hollywood attempt to bring anime to the big screen.
Based off the 1995 cyberpunk masterpiece, GITS is the story of Major (Scarlett Johansson), one of the first successful attempts at fusing the human brain with an entirely artificial body. Major works for Section 9, a public security firm, who work for the government. Our team is drawn into an investigation is which a hacker is targeting & murdering several member of Hanka Robotics. It’s a case that unveils the Major’s past and follows her internal struggles in identifying who she is.
The film was never going to match the ’95 original in terms of complex themes and storyline, and it would have been foolish to try and even attempt that. In this version, things are tweaked here and there. We have a new villain, Kuze, our hacker, though he follows a similar arc to The Puppet Master from the original, his motivations are different. Hanka Robotics, the company Kuze is targeting, are responsible for the creation of Major, also do not feature in the first film.
The movie is gorgeous to look at; the movie does a stellar job in capturing the neo-Tokyo (even though it’s never stated to be Tokyo!) feels. Every scene where we follow our heroes through the city is filled with vivid colour of neon lights, and the hustle of activity all over the streets. It’s also shot in a very stylish way, especially the opening scene with the geisha robots, overall, visually; it’s a very polished film.
But the looks can only get a movie so far, where the film stumbles is in the sheer simplicity of the movie, whereas the original left it to the audience to fill in the details, with subtle hints, here, the movie is very much dumbed-down to a straightforward narrative. It’s made clear from the opening few scenes the movie will be easy to follow, “your mind, or ghost, in now in a new body, a shell” explains Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) to our hero. Just in case no one could figure out what the title meant, it’s all explained in the first scene! No need for the audience to put things together! The key scene regarding the Majors past is pretty obvious where it was all going, but the movie kept trying to remind us about the twist, as if the audience wouldn’t be able to figure it out.
The movie has two antagonists, Kuze as mentioned already, and another, who simply turns out to be the typical ‘evil boss of a corporation’ villain. The film was never going to go into the intricate monologue at the end of the original, but it’s a shame that they replaced it with a carbon copy villain instead.
What fans can be pleased about, are the big screen representation of all the cast. As controversial as it was, Scarlett Johansson does perfectly fine in both looking like the Major, and being able to perform the various action set pieces. Batou, the wisecracking, burly partner of the Major played by Pilou Asbæk, is also another credible interpretation. His story may have gone abit off track, but physically he looks the part. One of the main criticisms of failures like Dragonball was the fact the actors looked very little like the characters they were playing. You have to give GITS some credit for sticking honourably to their source material. ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano also brings his unique charisma as Section 9 leader, Aramaki. It’s a shame Togusa, one of the other prominent characters from the series doesn’t get as much screen time, as his presence is quite an important factor to the identity crisis Major has, hopefully we may see more of him in the future.
The movie drops enough fan service to keep the hard core fans onside. You have to original shelling sequence at the start (it was a pity that the original haunting score from Kenji Kawai wasn’t used here, but it does feature at the end!), the Major building jumps with camouflage, the chase scene through the city backstreets, and the infamous spider tank scene. Its things like these that long term fans will appreciate.
Regarding the controversy to cast Scarlett Johansson as the Major, amongst the entire whitewashing furore. The decision was made purely down to financial reasons; the studio most likely wanted a huge name attached to the project, especially as its being marketed to the West. The Major here is never addressed as Motoko, her name in the anime/manga, and the movie at least gives an explanation to why she is Caucasian. There are talented Japanese actresses over in Hollywood, such as Rinko Kikuchi, but lack the star power of Johansson. Even people back in Japan were none to fussed, the film is being promoted over here, and the actress does bare resemblance to the role she’s playing.
Overall, the movie is pretty forgettable, although the film does have some very complex themes; it never delves deep enough to make it engaging. The plot develops into a run of the mill evil corporate CEO cliché, a trap it could have avoided, if it chose to stay with the original villain throughout. If you’re a fan, you will enjoy the fan service, and the simple fact they didn’t butcher the movie, as previous films have suffered. If you follow GITS, you’ll be more likely to remember it than someone who isn’t a fan.
If you truly want to see GITS as it should, I would highly recommend you watch the 1995 classic, but the 2017 cut does at least make a respectable effort, and introduces these characters over to a new audience.