Review : Ghost In The Shell

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ghost In The Shell, Iconic

With the release of the live action remake of  Ghost in the Shell this year, I had the opportunity to watch the original 1995 anime at one of the few limited screenings at the cinema. Even though a fan of anime & manga, I’ve never got round to watching this film, so it was time to see what the hype was about!

Following on from 1988’s Akira, GITS follows on with the cyber-punk genre, with a captivating foresight into the future, with a movie that still holds up today. The film was such an inspiration, that the Wachowski’s showed the film to producers when pitching their idea for The Matrix!

GITS revolves around Major Motoko Kusunagi, an android who works for Sector 9, a branch of law enforcement; she is joined by Batou, her partner, and Togusa, the only human in the force, as they attempt to track down the manipulative ‘Puppet Master’ , but things are not as they seem, as they uncover a hidden government conspiracy!

Although I watched it last week, I decided to wait a couple of days before writing about it, as it’s a movie that requires some level of thought, and you may not grasp everything immediately afterwards! Similar to Your Name, it’s a movie that requires some time to go over the finer points!

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The film takes place in the not so future 2029! But considering this film was released over 20 years ago, it does manage to predict what society would be like, and frankly, what it’s like now! The central plot to the movie is that the entire world is interconnected by a computer network, which controls most things, and enabling the authorities to go as far as using wonders such as satellite tracking. Sound familiar? This was all before the internet was really a thing, where a concept of satellite tracking was pure fantasy! How people access this network is via their cybernetic bodies, their ‘shells’, via the ports in the back of their neck. A concept The Matrix franchise used as inspiration for its own lore! The film even inspired the ‘code rain’ that The Matrix films used to great effect, the falling screen of green numbers.

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The very concept of androids and life is the vocal point of our protagonist’s internal conflict, though the Major is an all-powerful robot, who very much looks and thinks like a human, she comes to realise, that at the end of the day, she isn’t. Her ‘ghost’, who is the term used to describe someone soul, is just something that has been programmed into her, and it’s this that eats away at her every night. The search for being human is so concerning for her, the she goes diving underwater in her free time, in order to feel human, knowing if there was any equipment failure, it would doom her in her metallic shell.

It’s important to understand that this is not an action film, though it may be emblazoned with guns on the cover! It’s very much a thriller, with its action set pieces. There are the standard police chase scenes, and stand offs, but don’t expect it to be all guns blazing for the entire run time.  It’s also a slow paced movie, and depending on your personal taste, this may be something you may not be a fan off. The film has a tendency to cut to scenes of the city, showing everyday life, this may not bother you, but others may find it abit too much.

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Let’s for a moment, discuss the sheer beauty of the movie. The animation is gorgeous, for a film made in ’95, it still looks lush now. The detail in the scenery is immaculate; the backstreets of the city are bought to life, simply due to all the signs and colours! The accompanying score is majestic; Kenji Kawai does a magnificent job in telling the story through music. The opening credits to the film are haunting and chilling, in which they depict the creation of the Major, without the music, the scene would be nowhere near as memorable. Showing the Major being created in a factory, gives the character a lot more depth, when it comes to her existential crisis.  It’s great to see that the Hollywood remake will use the same piece of music in its film, a tribute to how iconic the music is.

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The final act is very melancholic and  dialogue heavy. As our hero and villain engage in conversation, regarding their purpose of existing.  It does delve into some very engaging points such as requiring genetic variation, in order to survive. It does require intense focus; otherwise it may just end up as one big mess to the viewer. The ending of the film does film rather abrupt, as it sets up subsequent chapters to the saga. It feels like the movie could have run on for an extra half hour, just to make things a bit easier to grasp, just as you feel like the heroine is set up to make one final charge, it ends!

Ghost in The Shell is not the perfect movie, nor will it appeal to everyone. But the theme and motives of the film were far ahead of its time, and it’s gone on to influence several films since its release.  If you’re a fan of science fiction, even if you don’t have an interest in anime, this film will certainly give you a lot to think over!

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