Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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Director: Rupert Sanders

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt

Review Author: Tony

Rating: 3/5 cans of Guinness

Earlier this week I finally sat down and watched the 1995 Ghost in the Shell. By the end, I knew why it was considered such a landmark film. While Akira was the first Anime to truly break out into Western cinema, Ghost in the Shell has always been up there as another of the pioneers to introduce Hollywood to Anime.

Adaptations have become an industry norm for modern cinema, yet when adapting any properties which originated in western culture there tends to be huge fan backlash. There have certainly been some very poor imaginings of famous Chinese, Japanese and Korean films however the pre-release anguish and anger towards this year’s Ghost in the Shell has been massive. Many have cried that Hollywood will “Westernize” these films for American audiences which will leave the final product an insult to the original as Hollywood will dig its talons in. It’s funny how hyperbolic this criticism has become as somehow Hollywood has become this evil entity which aims to rape and scar the East. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with poor scriptwriters or Directors (I’m sorry Spike Lee but not even a single frame of your film was on par with the original Oldboy).

The film focuses on The Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first full synthetic body with a human’s consciousness (Ghost) installed. The Major’s original body was destroyed in a terrorist attack which claimed the life of her mother. Hanka, a massive robotics, and cyber implant corporation builds her and send her to the anti-terrorist group, Section 9 as an agent. A year later she becomes entangled in a case where lead scientists of Hanka are being assassinated by a mysterious hacker. The deeper she gets into the case she finds herself questioning who she really is.

First off, there has been no shortage of praise for the film’s visuals, the cityscapes and the world that has been built is outstanding. The effects team have not only successfully recreated the cyberpunk visuals of the original 1995 film but also put their own unique spin on it as advertising is seen at every corner and virtually impossible to get away from (something I’m finding truer every day). It’s amazing to see this cyberpunk setting which has been so prevalent since The Blade Runner look so real.

The narrative is quite different from the original film. The original unfolded naturally in a linear fashion as the film stopped to ask ambiguous questions left for the viewer to ponder. This incarnation is more of a mystery film which unravels and winds off in new directions. I do think it was a smart choice to tell a different story so that the film can be judged as its own entity, the problem is that its change of focus knocked the pacing out of kilter. There is a few recreation of scenes from the original film which are for the most part an enjoyable bit of fan service yet they lack the impact of the original film.

The action scenes were a highlight, each weapon had its own unique look and sound. The action scenes were far more contained than I was expecting, usually with gunfights taking place in dense spaces such as corridors and alleyways. The original films action scenes were utilized in small doses which I’m happy this film has adopted that approach.

I cannot find a single article which has not mentioned the casting controversy of Scarlett Johansson playing the lead protagonist. In recent years casting choices have been the topic of much controversy and since Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese property with a Japanese setting there was always going to be an issue with a white woman playing a character which has been perceived by many as Japanese. These controversies tend to be more complicated than black and white as many would have you believe. I usually just try to avoid it and judge a film by its own merit as it would be insincere for me to claim offense on behalf of another race or culture. I did find the lack of overall Asian characters in the film pretty jarring though. I do think that raising awareness for the lack of Asian-American roles in modern films is an important topic and one that hopefully continues to attract attention.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) proves to be a visually interesting re-imagining as it tells its own story which sets it apart from the original. Fortunately, the film threads the fine line between respecting the source material (for the most part) and offering up fan service. The biggest gripe has to be the loss of philosophy presented in the original. The 1995 film felt ahead of its time but unfortunately, the new film can’t capture that aura. Without the big ambiguous questions and ideologies of the original, this version of the film feels like Ghost in the Shell Lite. Streamlining the narrative has unfortunately made the film less accessible for me.

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