Given Americans’ tendency to fuck up every anime adaptation they make, the concern from fans of the 1995 animated classic mindfuck Ghost In The Shell is understandable. But since we live in a time when man-children are fit to serve in public office, of course a surprisingly decent live-action Ghost In The Shell could exist.
Based on the manga/anime of the same name, Ghost In The Shell follows Major (Scarlett Johansson) and the counter-terrorist force Section 9 as they pursue Kuze (Michael Pitt) – an elusive assassin who targets Hanka Robotics’ high-rankers. As Major gets closer to Kuze, she begins to learn more about her past while also questioning the very essence of humanity, or the lack thereof.
Following the horrendous track record of American-made anime adaptations, it seemed that Ghost In The Shell was destined for failure from the start. Leave it to the director of none other than the hilariously stupid Snow White And The Huntsman to finally break this curse and redeem a subgenre of movies that always get the short end of the stick.
Stand Alone Complex
For the most part, Ghost In The Shell brings its source material to life. This adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s magnum opus maximizes today’s computer wizardry that modern filmmaking is capable of. The futuristic cyberpunk cityscapes of Ghost In The Shell are impressive, and looking at them is enough to feel how appropriately seedy the urban concrete jungle the Major operates in is.
The same could be said for the action, which could have been better. While Ghost In The Shell thankfully lacks the epileptic bullshit of shaky cam and quick cuts, the action is merely “safe” at best. Due to the amount of special effects and slow motion, the fights felt more like video game playthroughs than visceral confrontations. As pretty as the visuals were, Ghost In The Shell is yet another movie that could have benefited from a gritty, hard R-Rating – especially when considering the fact that the original manga had a lesbian orgy in cyberspace.
The characters were all well-cast, and their looks onscreen were thankfully more than just glorified cosplays. But with someone like Scarlett Johansonn leading the story, one has to wonder why an evidently capable group of performers acted like they didn’t give a fuck about what was going on and just flatly recited their designated lines. The worst offender is the normally eccentric “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who portrays Section 9’s Chief Aramaki. It’s one thing to be aloof and basically anti-social, but it’s another thing to clearly not give a shit when the fate of a group of people under your command is threatened by the obviously evil corporate bitch. Kitano floats through his scenes, and makes Johansonn’s robotic (but somewhat justified) monotone sound like Shakespeare in the goddamned park.
Ghost In The Shell works as a stand-alone for those not familiar with the anime, but let’s face it, most of this film’s viewers are those who watched the previous anime incarnations. As an adaptation of a classic brainfuck, Ghost In The Shell suffers from some glitches that cost it the chance to truly break the mold.
Ghost In A Nutshell
Ghost In The Shell is equal parts black-ops operations and mindfucking, but its live-action adaptation merely glosses over both these defining aspects.
Saying the central case of Ghost In The Shell was unnecessary would be too nice. Kuze may have been introduced as a terrorist with goals beyond mere chaos, but he just disappears by the halfway point, only to reappear in the end without doing much. All in all, Kuze was a lazy bum who didn’t have long-term goals when you stop to think about it. Because Ghost In The Shell was an origin story like any modern superhero movie, Major’s transformation from civilian to cybernetic superhero takes priority, leaving development for Kuze and Section 9 (which is mostly non-existent in the movie) behind. Then the movie goes on and waters down what made the originals memorable in the first place.
Since the original Ghost In The Shell tends to straddle between convoluted and pretentious, dumbing the story down for people who only took up basic philosophy in college (like yours truly) was not only a welcome sight, but a necessity. But in the case of the remake, this went too far to the point where it had more in common with any late-90’s cyberpunk movie than a truly thought-provoking, psychological story.
Major’s identity crisis was befitting of the movie’s predecessors, but it’s basically the original plot written in bullet points. This is evident in how everyone spoon-feeds their existential issues to audiences in the most basic philosophical jargon imaginable. Ghost In The Shell leaves no cerebral matter to the imagination, opting to explain everything the characters think about. The original is considered to be a classic because of how much could be derived from its subtext, not because Major stopped working to moan out loud about how lame being a half-robot is.
Arising From Mediocrity
Having seen most of the anime incarnations of Ghost In The Shell with the exception of the painful bore that is Arise, it’s safe to say that I was unsurprisingly concerned about the live-action adaptation, what with all the controversy about whitewashing (which is justified through a questionable plot-point) among others making the rounds online.
Compared to cynical reinterpretations of old titles that were made to siphon money from nostalgic nerds, Ghost In The Shell was made by filmmakers who admired and loved the iconic source materials. This adaptation doubles as a good introduction for newcomers, and a heartfelt, respectful homage for fans like myself.
It’s generic by Science-Fiction standards and it won’t redefine an entire genre like what its animated predecessors did, but Ghost in The Shell is still the one to beat in terms of future American anime-adaptations. And I say this not as a consolation for a subgenre with standards at an all time low, but because the movie is pretty fucking decent on its own.
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