In the future mankind has embraced cybernetic augmentation to enhance various aspects of themselves. Mira Killian, a survivor of a terrorist attack, is chosen to test the first “Shell”, an entierly robot body that contains her biological brain, or her mind (also known as her “ghost”). However when a cyber terrorist called Kazu targets high up scientists at the company that made Killian’s shell, Killian and the team at Section 9, an anti-terrorist unit uncover a corporate conspiracy and the truth behind Major Mira Killian’s origins.
Before I can properly talk about the film, it is probably important to address the controversy surrounding Ghost in the Shell. In regards to the accusations of whitewashing an Asain story, I think that those who raise these things have missed the point of the original story.
Ghost in the Shell like the director of the Anime Classic, Mamoru Oshii, has dismissed these rumblings as politically motivated . Indeed most of the Japanese fans have been reported as being confused by the reaction to the casting choice, as they had assumed a Western Actress would take the lead in a Western adaptation of the Manga. Ghost in the Shell as a franchise explores how identity can be subsumed by technology. Now I will admit that the final reveal of the Major’s true identity is in poor taste, and is handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the cranium, but one has to consider the themes and philosophies that are explored in Ghost in the Shell. The Majors body in the anime and the film are constructed it is, literally, not hers, it is a robot made by a corporation, and thus that is not where her identity as a person lies. I am not excusing Hollywood’s whitewashing of ethnic minorities in all cases, but in this specific regard one has to look at what Ghost in the Shell explores as a piece of art and also how it fits into a global business.
Now with that out of the way, I can get on with reviewing the film, if you aren’t too offended by my opinion to stop reading. I am going to be controversial and say that I really enjoyed the film. This is thanks in no small part to the phenomenal production design by industry veteran Jan Roelfs, who also did the production design for 1997 dystopian sci-fi Gattaca. The city in Ghost in the Shell is like Blade Runner on steroids, and it is chock full of detail, texture and life.
The performances are also really good. Taking Scarlett Johansson out of the controversy
for a second, I think she does a great job trying to find a balance between a robotic body with a human body inside it and conveys a great deal of feeling with little facial expressions. The other actors ooze personality, especially Pilou Asbaek (Game of Thrones Eurial Greyjoy) and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano.
The film is not perfect; it rips the most iconic action set pieces from the original anime, like the invisible skydive and the fight in the water. There are also some issues with the story; while it fits the rest of the series, a corporate conspiracy and the destruction of something that they created exercising its own free will and identity, it does on occasion feel clunky and poorly conceived, like the previously mentioned final reveal.
Ghost in the Shell is not perfect; it has a few problems in the pacing and execution of a complicated text. Despite these flaws, it is still a sumptuous vision of the future with great performances to match. However more than that it brings to the table discussions on the nature of Hollywood, as well as the new space in which films are produced. While I don’t think these ideas apply specifically to this film, it is important to see the move from national cinema to more multi-national productions, and how that affects casting.