The biggest pre-release buzz around Ghost In The Shell was a whitewashing controversy. It was unfortunate that such a good film got such bad press. Director Rupert Sanders gives us dark, cyberpunk action, a neo-noir mystery filled with incredible visuals and genuinely gorgeous special effects, GITS (with its unfortunate acronym) should have been far more successful than it has been.
It’s taken me a few weeks to get round to seeing Ghost, but I’m glad I have. Scarlett Johansson headlines this adaption of the beloved 90’s Japanese anime, basically an anime version of Robocop. ScarJo plays the Major, who we see in the opening as a brain being placed into a cyborg body. The first of her kind, the Major is a government supersoldier. Leading some kind of poorly explained paramilitary security team called Section 9, the Major has to stop a cyber terrorist from murdering prominent scientists involved with cybernetic enhancements and Hanka robotics, who created her. Got all that?
Scarlett Johansson’s character is the titular Ghost In The Shell, a brain rescued from an accident, placed into a robot body, to become a post-human weapon. In the near future, cyber enhancements have become part of everyday life and everyone is connected digitally. A shadowy corporation is of course involved with her creation. As I mentioned above, it does come across as a riff on Robocop, but, it’s not such a bad thing. The idea behind Major is the opposite of Alex Murphy, they want a human element to have the feelings and decision makings. Of course, memories are still erased and mysterious flashbacks push our story forward. These themes of memory, self and who we are, really do make Ghost In The Shell feel a step above the usual summer movie, it may not have heart but it sure has a brain.
Aside from Johansen, the rest of the cast is stacked with fantastic actors, Michael Pitt as the villain, Juliet Binoche as Dr Ouelet, the Hanka scientist who created Major, Peter Ferdinando as Cutter and Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæ as Batou, Major’s partner in Section 9. Oh and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano is Aramaki, the leader of Section 9! I hadn’t realised he was in Ghost, so seeing his name get second billing in the opening credits really shocked me. Speaking only in Japanese, Kitano is subtitled and gives a great performance, only getting to show elements of how bad ass he could be. An uncredited cameo from the amazing Michael Wincott brought to mind his role in the recent Westworld TV show as well as its similar themes.
The cast is multinational and racially diverse, so I guess they tried a pre-emptive strike in response to the casting backlash. Didn’t quite work for the critics but gives us an excellent set of actors throughout the movie.
The character development could have been a little better, I feel like we didn’t get to know anyone as well as I’d have liked, the 1hr40mins runtime felt quite lean, the film feeling quite cold, distant and somewhat mechanical. Ironic, eh?
The stunning effects deserve much more plaudits than they’re getting, the character design is fantastic and the city itself is almost another character. As the camera swooped around this rainy, dark metropolis, filled with pixellated holographic adverts, my mind was buzzing. Somewhere between Back to the Future 2, Blade Runner and Batman, Rupert Sanders’ world building is sublime, succeeding where his character development didn’t.
The score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe is perfect, setting the scenes against a backdrop of unsettling electronics and waves of bass. Mansell has long been proving he is one of cinema’s best composers and once again he’s made something special. I read that it’s apparently not getting an official release which is odd as it really is worth a purchase.
So, (memory) cards on the table. Ghost In The Shell is a good, solid action mystery. Some may take issue with its character depth, but it isn’t anything to stop you enjoying what it’s got to offer. Great acting, great visuals and an excellent score. I’m sure when it turns up on Netflix in a few years you’ll see what I mean.
For Fans Of:
The Fifth Element