Ghost in the Shell is the American live action remake of the classic 1995 Japanese Anime and the earlier manga of the same name. It is set in a futuristic Tokyo where most humans are getting enhanced with technological updates, moving them closer to robots and blurring the line between humans and AI. The film follows Major, a woman whose brain has been placed into an artificial body, and her hunt as part of an anti terrorist unit for a mysterious criminal known as Kuze.
A lot has been made of Scarlett Johansson playing the lead character of Major, who is originally a Japanese character, with many accusations of Whitewashing being thrown at the film. The director Rupert Sanders spoke about wanting the make the film very diverse, and it does feature actors from many different backgrounds. The problem is that the film is still using Japanese society, and the aesthetics that come with it, but only really feature Takeshi Kitano as the Chief of Major’s division, and Kaori Momoi in a much smaller role. The talk of diversity of the world would be far easier to accept if the film had cast a Japanese actress in the lead role, rather than western actors as most of the major characters. That isn’t to say to say that Johansson is bad, she does own the lead role, but a film so rooted in Japanese culture should have had a Japanese lead.
The film has some major differences from the original, in particular with an added plotline that delves into the background of Major before she was put into the artificial body. There is also the character of Kuze who doesn’t appear in the 1995 version. He is a mixture of Puppet Master, the antagonist in the original film, and Hideo Kuze, from the wider world of the Ghost in the Shell manga and anime. Finally there are big changes made to the ending of the film, and without spoiling the end to either film, this is probably done so as keep Johansson around in the hope that the film gets sequels and spawns a franchise.
The problem is that changes to the film offer some great opportunities, but its opportunities that are wasted. Whilst the original film focuses on the way that human’s and AI are growing closer, and themes of what it means to be human, in the same way that Blade Runner or Ex Machina do, that gets lost in this new version. Its clearly still a theme in this new version, but its far less prevalent as the film focus’s on Major’s search for her original identity and her memories. These two strands of the film could have been far better tied together. The new material also brought up the possibility of an anti corporation message, but this is never really tackled.
The film does look absolutely fantastic. It brings the world of Ghost in the Shell to life. Every frame of the film looks utterly gorgeous and beautifully realised. It feels like a complete world, and there are so many background details that are eye-catching. Similarly the action looks as styalised and cool as you would hope. The iconic sequences from the first film are all there; the building jump, the waterfront fight, and the tank are all included. There are some additional action scenes as well as the film is extended a little from the original.
Ghost in the Shell visually translates surprisingly well from anime to live action, and the styalised action from director Rupert Sanders works well. Whilst the film misses opportunities in favour of a slightly less interesting story there is still plenty here to enjoy.