The original Ghost in the Shell film is a masterpiece. It’s an incredibly beautiful film that explores ideas of technology, identity and memory. The director Mamoru Oshii elevates the source manga by Masamune Shirow into one of the best anime films of all time. When news of a live-action version directed by Rupert Sanders hit, hardcore fans of the original were doubtful that it could be effectively translated to the big screen. The casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role justifiably raised accusations of white-washing. After watching the film last night I can assert that that the doubters were correct; the film does not live up to the high expectations established by the original two films or even the later Stand Alone Complex TV series.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this film is that it does a believable job of re-creating the Ghost in the Shell setting. There are plenty of cool shots in the film that are paired with stunning computer assisted visuals. The production team did a great job on certain aspects from the location scouting to the costume design, there’s plenty of eye candy throughout the film but where Ghost in the Shell comes up short is in the narrative department. The dialogue lacks depth and serves as little more than filler between the elaborate action sequences.
While the movie takes shamelessly from the original anime offerings and the best scenes are re-created wholesale from the original 1995 anime. While it rips plenty of visuals from the original, the feel and pacing of the film leaves plenty to be desired. It looks like Ghost in the Shell but doesn’t feel like it. The end result is a film that feels a bit like an extended video game cutscene.
It seems like Ghost in the Shell has a lot in common with the glut of superhero films and exploitative nostalgia projects lately. While films like Logan have bucked the trend by providing great storytelling that pays homage to the core fans of the source material, Ghost in the Shell simply falls short. It teases you with some really cool scenes but each peak is quickly followed by a letdown. Just when the film feels like it’s getting good it ventures back into cringeworthy territory with a mixture of lackluster dialogue, uninspired acting and just plain bad writing.
This should have been a grittier Rated R film that delved into some of the philosophical quandaries of the original. Instead the project delivers hollow fan service instead of updating the classic story for a new generation of viewers. I’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum so stop reading here if you don’t want to spoil a major plot point in the movie.
The final third of the film is particularly problematic as it reveals that Major’s character is originally a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi. The whitewashing of the original character is literally rubbed right in everyone’s face and it’s proceeded by an awkward scene where Scarlett Johansson meets her Japanese mother. I don’t know why the filmmakers felt the need to include the original persona if they weren’t going to cast someone who reflected their background.
While I did not have high hopes for the film , it is a bit sad that the resources given to this project were squandered on something that was a glib remake instead of the a live action film could have expanded the franchises canon. Projects like Ghost in the Shell often don’t survive the meddling of the Hollywood industrial complex and it seems like audiences have caught onto that. With a budget over $110 million, the film has already considered to have been a flop with a disappointing first weekend box-office. While the producers of this film are scratching their heads at how this film is doing so poorly, core fans of the franchise are far from surprised.