Ghost in the Shell – Film Review
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano
by Roger Crow
In the mid-1990s, I was caught in the blast of the anime explosion caused by Akira. That stunning sci-fi saga opened the floodgates for a wealth of dazzling, weird, eye-popping animated films from Japan, and I bought a fair few of them. None were as good as Akira, but as an aspiring comic book artist, they provided no end of inspiration.
However, many were missing a certain something. Then along came Ghost in the Shell, a film based on Masamune Shirow’s comic which was beautifully designed and featured a mix of international creative talent that helped bridge the gap between east and west. It was a hybrid anime that could appeal to a wider audience, was a feast for the eyes and that soundtrack was unforgettable.
Like all fans of the genre, I waited as a live action version of Akira repeatedly went into production and then stalled, while a Ghost in the Shell movie was also mooted. And when Scarlett Johansson signed up for the lead role in the latter, I got a little dizzy. One of the biggest actresses in the world headlining one of my favourite anime adaptations? It was too good to be true.
And the good news is, GITS (as nobody is calling it) is remarkably effective. It retains the weirdness of the original, the visually stunning designs, and Scarlett nails the Major’s robotic sex appeal. She dominates every frame she’s in, from the faithful opening shots of her creation, when her human brain (ghost) is lowered into her robot body (shell), to the excellent finale.
Though not a carbon copy of the anime, it takes the best elements and enhances them. The iconic opening free fall skyscraper attack is terrific, as is the mystery at the heart of the drama. One of my favourite moments from the original is the heroine’s battle with a spider tank – a great surprise. Here, there is none of that as a bad guy flags it up early.
Purists could spend hours comparing the two movies, but I’m not going to be that nerdy. Unlike many Hollywood sci-fi sagas which are all style and no substance, this is a fine melange of classic themes, most importantly what it means to be human in a world increasingly obsessed with technology. It also manages to retain the heroine’s sense of humanity as bits are removed from her.
In the RoboCop remake, the hero was stripped down to little more than a head and lungs at one point. It looked awful, so thankfully there’s enough of Scarlett here to ensure I buy that she’s not just copied and pasted onto the marvellous mechanical contraption.
The smart thing about the story is it’s a police procedural thriller that just happens to involve robots and cyber-enhanced characters. So it has an appeal for those who normally steer clear of such sci-fi stories.
In the original film the finale takes the story in such a direction that the Major would have to be played by a young girl for the sequel. Obviously as this is intended to launch a franchise, that finale is tweaked, and though it feels like the end of Spider-Man with its rousing voice over speech, I’m just delighted that GITS works as well as it does. And it’s great to hear the original theme over the closing minutes.
For this fan, GITS2 cannot come soon enough.