Photo Credit: Paramount
Let’s just dive into this review. I feel if I take too much of an introduction, I’ll spend most of my time simply defending myself for liking this film because I do love this film. It’s very different and Hollywood needs different in my opinion. But, that’s neither here nor there.
Ghost in the Shell is almost the same as the anime in terms of storyline with a few added extras. This version follows Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), a woman who survived a horrible cyber-terrorist attack. Her body is cybernetic but her brain survived and was implanted into the machine by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) and Hanka Robotics, lead by a rather nasty man by the name of Cutter. Cutter has engineered Mira to be a soldier, tied to Section 9 who fights cyber terrorism. However, Mira begins to unravel with the appearance of the Puppet Master and the realization that her entire life has been a lie.
I’m going to briefly address the elephant in the room here. I know that whitewashing is a problem in Hollywood and, to be honest, I am just as tired of it as people of other nationalities are. Everyone should have the right and the ability to represent their nationality fairly on the silver screen. (To be honest, I’m still in the camp that wanted Rinko Kikuchi to play Major but what’s done is done, unfortunately.)
For all the flack it received for the whitewashing, Ghost in the Shell is good. I don’t mean Hollywood good, I mean, it’s excellent. It really is excellent. Aesthetically, it is very similar to the anime with the same color palate and the same beautiful, futuristic technology. A lot of the scenes are lifted straight from the anime but the one thing that I appreciated about this film is how much more coherent it is compared to the anime. This is a film that languishes in its storytelling and the plot and it is better for it.
Ghost in the Shell was panned for its story when it was released but I loved it. I thought it was a solid premise. I have seen something similar to it before, I can’t put my finger on it, but this is a world so rich in beauty and detail, I didn’t care that the plot may be a tiny bit recycled. I was enthralled. I was even more enthralled by the fact that the filmmakers made the Puppet Master a failed experiment from Hanka Robotics. Michael Pitt really excelled as the “villain” in this setting. He was creepy and convincing yet still having emotions like a human would. And, say what you want about the reason why Major is white (her conscious or “ghost” is that of Motoko Kusanagi, a young Japanese runaway but her body was made to look like Johansson), I personally feel it made Major’s story much more tragic. The uncertainty of self and the revelation that Kusanagi was murdered to make Killian is a larger metaphor for the lack of choice in not only women but also people of minorities. At least, that’s how I saw it.
Could the film have been better? Of course. There are mediocre films that are lauded as award winners and then great films that are panned. Film is a subjective thing but Ghost in the Shell has a lot going for it and a lot that could have been better. However, for what it is, I think it’s a fitting homage to the anime and what Mamoru Oshii accomplished some twelve years ago.