Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

Certificate 12A, 107 minutes

Director: Rupert Sanders

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano

Ghost in the Shell is based on the manga series by Masamune Shirow and is part of a fairly extensive franchise based on the original books, although said franchise has up until now been largely Japanese in nature. It is set in the not too distant and pretty cyberpunk future and it opens with a couple of notes on how the lines between man and machine has become blurred, with many embracing cybernetic components. Hanka Robotics is seeking to further blur the line by placing a human brain in a totally synthetic body.

It starts with a mostly unseen woman strapped to a gurney in what appears to be a medical facility of some kind, accompanied by people in Hanka Robotics clothing. A synthetic body is seen and then a brain, in a chassis of some type, is added to the body. Finally the body is covered in an outer integument (in what appears to be a completely different process from the manner in which said integument is repaired later in the film). The woman, Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), wakes up with a doctor, Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) hovering over her. Dr. Ouelet tells Mira that she was injured in a terrorist attack on her refugee boat in the harbour, and that her body could not be saved, but that her brain was and was transplanted into a synthetic body. Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), the CEO of Hanka Robotics, tells Dr. Ouelet in the observation room that he wants Project 2571 to join Section 9 as soon as she is functional.

Ghost in the ShellOne year later and Major Mira Killian is now working for Section 9 of the Department of Defence which appears to deal with cyberterrorism. Major is at a hotel, and has detected that someone is electronically eavesdropping on a meeting between the President of the African Federation and Dr. Osmund (Michael Wincott) who is representing Hanka Robotics. Major’s boss, Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), is in communication with her. Major says that the rest of the Section can’t get into the meeting on time, so she goes by herself, against his orders, diving off the top of a hotel and turning generally invisible, although with a shimmering effect, on the way down – it seems that her outer integument has some integral abilities. The meeting itself is crashed by a number of cybernetically enhanced men with guns whilst a, massively creepy, geisha-bot attacks Osmund through the ports in the back of his neck, hacking his brain.

After the attack, the geisha-bot is being examined by Hanka to determine who hacked it. This isn’t going to be easy, as Major riddled it with bullets, so she directly connects herself to the bot for a deep dive, there gaining evidence that the attack was by a cyberterroist known as Kuzo (Michael Pitt). This was only one of four attacks on people high up in Hanka Robotics; it seems that Kuzo has got something against the company. Following her deep dive, Major keeps getting more ‘glitches’ where she is seeing things that aren’t there. Dr. Ouelet, who does seem to have genuine feelings for Major, helps delete these and asks if she is still taking her medication, which is supposed to stop her brain from rejecting her entire body.

In the fairly long-winded wind up to the conclusion, Major starts poking around a little more, and it seems that Kuzo is similar to herself (could it be that an experiment to transplant a human brain into a synthetic body wasn’t successful on the first attempt? Hardly surprising if that’s the case). So something has been done with the past that Major remembers little more than fragments of.

The film is available in 2D and 3D with the 2D version being the one watched. Ghost in the Shell looks pretty good, with a definite portrayal of a cyberpunk future where in the city everything has become even brighter; ads have been replaced with holographic ads, with enough flickers and imperfections to show that they are holograms, even though at other points in the film the holograms are absolutely flawless. Perhaps it’s to showcase this setting that much of the film takes place at night where the city can be appreciated in all its luminous glory.

The action scenes are pretty decent, although some are shown in the now-obligatory since The Matrix slowed-down shots. The characters don’t really stand out though; apart from Major, only Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and her boss Aramaki of Section 9 have a really significant role. Batou would seem to be Major’s sergeant, and the closest thing she has to a friend. Major is embarked on a journey of self-discovery and Batou is the loyal subordinate who will stand by her side no matter what. Some of the other characters are a bit stereotypical; Dr. Ouelet’s actions can easily be predicted and Cutter is, of course, not a nice person, a typical display of a corporate CEO that always seems weird in a film coming from a very corporate culture. Major sometimes looks a bit weird; her integument seems capable of looking entirely human for most of the time, yet sometimes looks artificial, which makes it look really odd when she is ‘naked.’

There are some oddities in the film, although the meaning of the title is explained very early on, fortunately – the synthetic body is the ‘shell’ whilst the soul, the spirit is the ‘ghost.’ Mira Killian is addressed somewhat weirdly – she is often called ‘Major’ even when saying ‘the major’ would seem to make more sense. Is Major a name or a rank? It’s never clear and in fact sometimes seems like both. Also, why is Cutter, the CEO of a large corporation, so willing to personally get his hands dirty? In that position, he will have people, expendable people, to do hands-on dirty work for him. Furthermore, why did he want Major to work for Section 9, a government department that is outside of his control? He doesn’t run it, has no control over it, so why does he specifically want her there?

Perhaps the biggest question is why is the setting pretty Japanese in nature? Well, the original manga was Japanese, so this makes sense. Which does then raise another question – why are almost all of the main cast Western? This, in particular the casting of the main character, who was originally Japanese, as a Westerner did cause some not exactly unexpected backlash – although not from at least some of the original, Japanese, fans of the series, who assumed that Hollywood would cast a white actress in the lead role. It can, and has been, argued that the film is about personal identity, and that Major Mira Killian is not in her original body anyway, so its appearance is irrelevant. There are Japanese, Chinese, British, American, Danish and French actors and actresses to name a few, so the film is at least pretty diversified – probably more than the original franchise. Rather weirdly, Aramaki speaks in Japanese for the entire film, necessitating subtitles. Everyone speaks to him in English, and he speaks to them in Japanese, with no-one on either side of the conversations having any problems understanding what is said. Which feels odd.

The film looks quite impressive but it feels a bit flawed; perhaps some elements, in particular story background, were lost when it was translated from its original medium and language into this film. Overall, Ghost in the Shell could be described as being fairly fun but not as good as it perhaps could have been due to flaws.


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