Ghost in the Shell (2017)

ghostintheshellGhost in the Shell (2017)
12A | 1h 47min

This live-action take on the anime original is not as deep and philosophical as the original. It streamlines the themes of the cult original Manga created by Masamune Shirow in 1989 but does honor its spirit (quite literally) and the 1995 anime film. Although it does not capture the unsettling, melancholic feel of the original. Fans of the ’95 film should go in with an open mind. Yes, the plot has been streamlined and it doesn’t have nearly the same level of information or attention to detail but, let’s face it, if it was the same as the animation it would be attacked as an unnecessary remake!

The plot remains the same: the mind of a human is rehomed in a technologically advanced body.That body is provided by robotics corporation Hanka who want to create a squad commander for a government counter-terrorism force, Section 9. This human/robot hybrid becomes ‘Major'(Scarlett Johansson). Major and her team are hunting Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is assassinating Hanka scientists for motives which are, at the start, unclear.

The action is set in “New Port City” which some have compared to “Blade Runner’s” Los Angeles – although I agree with film critic Mark Kermode that it is more like the setting of The Fifth Element (1997). Visually, this film is a feast with great sets, costumes, and images that stick in your mind.

There is a very good cast with fine performances from Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and Takeshi Kitano as Section 9’s Chief, Daisuke Aramaki. The casting has caused some controversy. There were objections on the grounds that an Asian or Asian-American actress hadn’t been cast to play a character who was Japanese in the original (albeit of a cartoon of a brain implanted in a robot body!). Others took a different view. Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division of Kodansha, the manga’s publisher, told The Hollywood Reporter, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” He added, “This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” Mamoru Oshii, director of the original 1995 Japanese animated film, also endorsed the choice of Scarlett Johansson as lead. The film’s original director has defended the casting too: “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii told IGN last month. “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.” Paramount pictures have said that the publicity focus on casting has harmed the film at the box office. Kyle Davies, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution, has highlighted “the conversation regarding casting” which he believes “impacted the reviews.”

“You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie,” Davies told CBR. “So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly, the reviews didn’t help.”

It’s sadly ironic that debates about ethnic identity should have impacted a film which is very much concerned with individual identity.

Whilst Major is an efficient (spectacular!) killer she is troubled by memory flashes of a previous life. The film, like the original, raises the question of identity and how far it is linked to memory. The mantra repeated several times: “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” fails to convince me. Memory does define us. Anyone who has seen someone suffering from Alzheimer’s could tell you that it is witnessing the loss of identity that is one of the most painful things to come to terms with. The person you knew, quickly or slowly, disappears. Despite the fact that I don’t accept the assertion that actions alone, not memories define us as individuals this is a thought-provoking story. True some of the big questions of the original are missing. When does a mind become a computer, at what point does a program become a mind? Once something becomes aware of itself does that change things? Still, how many action high-adrenaline action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

action movies come with philosophy attached at all? Ignore the carping critics and go see it! If you haven’t already, make time to see the ’95 anime original too.

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