FILM REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL

Ghost in the Shell, directed by Rupert Sanders (best known for Snow White and The Huntsman) stars Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson, Japanese acting legend ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Danish actor Pilou Asbaek and renowned French actress Juliette Binoche.
Ghost in the Shell is a film based on the hugely popular and successful Japanese manga and anime of the same name, which began in 1989 and was very big across the world throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
Set in mid-21st Century Japan, the world has changed, with most people living in huge mega-cities. The divide between rich and poor seems greater than ever, and most of humanity has become ‘cyber-enhanced’, with many humans having artificial implants, organs or limbs of some description.
The main premise of Ghost in the Shell involves the activities and relationships of the counter-cyberterrorist organisation Public Security Section 9, and in particular their boots-on-the-ground leader Major Mira Killian. “Major” is the titular character of this story, the ‘Ghost in the Shell, as she is the first of her kind, after a horrible accident left Mira’s body on the verge of death, and the up-to-date medical technology of the future allowed scientists and doctors to save Mira’s brain, placing it inside a brand new completely synthetic body, kitted out with all the latest technological and cyber mod-cons. Hence, the ‘ghost’ (the brain) in the ‘shell’ (the synthetic body).
The plot is essentially an origin story, as we learn how Major came to be the leader of Section 9, all the while set against the sub-plot of Section 9 tracking down a terrorist organisation who are killing off the team responsible for creating Major in the first place. The visual effects are nothing short of spectacular – the CGI is seamless, and it’s not hard to guess where the bulk of the $110 million budget went in the making of this film. Rupert Sanders direction is quite good, and he builds the story to a very satisfying climax.
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The supporting cast is great: Pilou Asbaek is great as Section 9’s Number 2, Batou, Juliette Binoche brings warmth and compassion to her role as Major’s creator and main doctor, and “Beat” Takeshi (one of my favourites from way back in the 1980s) is fantastic as Section 9 Boss Aramaki.
In addition, this film is not without controversy. As many may have heard, the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist “Major” led some people to accuse the film’s producers of ‘whitewashing’ the lead character, given that the manga/anime, and now the movie, has always been set in Japan, and Major has always been of Japanese heritage. I didn’t have a problem with this – Johansson was cast obviously to be the big name in the film that people would recognise (so that they would then go and see the film – after all, the producers would be hoping to recoup some of their $110 million outlay!). And given that Major’s new body was completely artificial, it could easily be understood that Major’s new body could look like anyone (even Scarlett Johansson!). However, this could and should have been explained in the film, and would have taken only a few seconds to do so, thus more than likely avoiding any controversy.
I went into Ghost in the Shell, a film based on an iconic manga and anime series that I knew quite well, thinking that this movie could be great or this could be really bad if they got it wrong. The good news is – this film doesn’t suck. It sticks very well to the source material and what’s put on the screen is a decent, visually fantastic movie. The acting isn’t over the top given the genre and plot, however I just felt Scarlett didn’t quite capture the essence of Major Mira Killian as a character, which to me was particularly noticeable in the way Major walks, not even taking into account any possible issue of the whitewashing that character.
The other gripe I had about the film was that, despite a couple of sweet action sequences, the first hour or so of the film felt like a really long episode of the anime series, with a really long, slow build-up of the plot. Thankfully, from the point in the film that Major discovered the truth about her own past, the pace and action of the film ramped up considerably, and the last 40 minutes was quite brilliant storytelling.
Ghost in the Shell is worth your cinema dollar, and even though I’m a not a fan of seeing films in 3D, this film actually is worth the 3D experience if you so wish, to fully appreciate the amazing visual effects on offer.
3 stars
Reviewed by David Emms