Throwback Thursday Review: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt

Director: Rupert Sanders

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Warning: This post contains some spoilers. If you have not seen the film, please leave now.

By: Myri Nieves

Based on the popular Japanese manga, first published in 1989, Ghost in the Shell follows protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi as she fights cyber terrorism in a 21st century Japan. The Major is a cyborg-human hybrid who had suffered a terrible accident in her youth and the only way to save her was housing her brain in a cybernetic body. In the 2017 version, ‘Major is the first of her kind: a human who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.’

It’s no secret that Rupert Sander’s vision of the famous manga has been one of the year’s most anticipated films for positive and negative reasons. Since its conception, the film has been plagued with controversy over the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi as opposed to an Asian actress. Many felt that not casting an Asian woman as the titular character in the film was just another slot in the never-ending shelves of Hollywood whitewashing. Both Sanders and Paramount defended the casting of Johansson, citing that the Major was a shell and did not have any specific identity. Early on, the actress herself confessed that perhaps she wasn’t the best choice for the character, but she felt strongly about the material and the world that Sanders was creating for this particular classic.

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For this specific adaptation, however, Johansson’s version was to be called Major Mira Killian which left the question: is Motoko Kusanagi in the film adaptation? This question is answered in the film, but I’d like to take you step by step. When first seeing the film, you’re immediately struck by the dazzling visuals that showed great promise for the film and overall experience. Having a futuristic setting, it’s the visuals you expect and deserve. The film pays homage to the original source material within the first few minutes when you see the ‘birth’ of The Major.

Much like Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin’ – in which Johansson plays another world being in a human body – Johansson excels in giving us the proper emoting when it comes to expressing how Major feels as she is trying to understand her new life and form. She does not understand who she is, does not remember her past, and wants to understand the things that caused her to become the Major. The problem with this, however, is that Johansson is given a poor script in which these philosophical questions cannot be thoroughly explored throughout the exploration of the film. Perhaps more is Sanders’s sloppy direction as he cannot decide whether he wants the film to be an action packed menace or a thoughtful coming of cyborg story, and ends up with a bit of a mess. Much like Sander’s previous directing venture (Snow White and the Huntsmen), his vision fails to properly translate to the screen due to the inconsistency.

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We then meet Kuze (played by Michael Pitt), one of the criminals who is trying to take down the section where the Major works, and, was essentially built for. He is fascinated with her and eventually traps her, beginning to reveal that the people who cyber-enhanced her did not save Major’s life and instead stole it. This is where we begin to see her trust start to fade as he gives her some evidence by the form of a tattoo, which goes to match some supposed glitches she was experiencing but turn out to be visions of her real past life. At this point, the film begins to slightly show us what I personally feared throughout the entire time: the Major was not in a boating accident and instead shows us that she is actually Motoko Kusanagi in a Caucasian body.

I wanted to give this film the benefit of the doubt and thought they wouldn’t go this route, but somewhere in Paramount they thought this would be alright. If they wanted to cast Johansson for the Major, this can be accepted if they took the storyline and made it more their own instead of sugar coating the material. It’s from a futuristic Japan, originally an Asian woman, but most of the main characters are of Caucasian decent? It doesn’t make much sense to me and I believe it didn’t make sense to anybody. The actors did what they could with the poor material and direction given, but sadly, spectacular visuals and good action sequences cannot save Ghost.

Official Rating: ✰✰

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