Visually colourful live action version of manga classic lacks something.
Confession first- I’ve never seen the original Ghost In The Shell. However from what I’ve read this live action version is reasonably faithful visually but simplifies some of the knottier cerebral issues to create more of an action movie. The big issue of course- which unfortunately this film draws attention to- is that despite the Japanese setting and imagery most of the main characters are not Japanese. While the scenario might theoretically explain this away with the engineered characters- after all they could wear any face- it still sits awkwardly in a film otherwise suffused with Eastern imagery.
The other aspect that I noticed is how Eighties it all looks. It’s almost as if the world of Blade Runner has been recreated. Will we really ever have those huge holographic adverts straddling city buildings as every film set in the future suggests we will? It seems to be this generation’s version of those monorails people used to think we’d be covering the world with by now. Of course part of the reason why the film looks familiar is because the original itself has been a source of design inspiration in a number of other films.
Anyhow we are (once again) in the near future where Major (real name Mira) played by Scarlett Johansonn is the most advanced example yet of the practice of replacing body parts with robotic subsitutes. She is wholly created except for her mind yet she keeps having flashes of another life- the ghost in her shell of the title. She works for an anti- terrorist organisation called Bureau 9 amidst the skyscrapers and holograms of an unnamed city that is probably meant to be Hong Kong. A feared terrorist known as Kuze is systematically wiping out senior officials of the robotics company Hanka who pioneer the work. Yet once she meets him, it starts Mira on a journey to a realisation of the truth of what is going on- and also towards her own past.
As mentioned above, the fact that we ultimately meet her mother – who is Japanese- only makes Scarlett Johannson’s casting seem more anomalous even if it does provide the narrative with a rare emotional segment in what is otherwise a film that is often as cold as any robot might be. There’s certainly a wealth of imagination on show but promising threads of humanity are too often shoved aside for action. As it’s a comparatively short film by today’s standards maybe more running time would have allowed some of the issues its story raises to be properly explored.
The development of the narrative is also awkward at times. Mira discovers Kuze’s true story which then seems to excuse him from all the people he’s killed. There’s a sense that rough justice is overlooked or condoned – again something that could have been explored a bit more. Some of the characters who are given more intellectual weight as the theme of whether the robotic work being done is morally right are lost to the plot too soon and the issues die with them.
Also when she learns of her past Mira’s story seems to run into a brick wall leading to a traditional big movie ending with a large spider tank. I’m not sure either that I agree with repeated idea that it is not your past and your memories that shape you because they surely do.
Its possible that this film has been left too long before being made so it appears to copy other movies that were inspired by the original. It is colourful and brisk with director Rupert Sanders making the most of the script he's been given but it is that script which is lacking. For all the moral questions asked, it seems to offer few interesting answers and some good acting does not excuse the continued sidelining of characters for action. Perhaps I should go and watch the original…