Director: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Carmen Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Askaek, Chun Han, Juliette Binoche
Plot: In the near future most humans are augmented with cybernetic improvements but Major Mira Killian (Johansson) is the first to combine a cybernetic body with a human brain. Now working as part of the anti-terrorist bureau Section 9 she must track down the hacker Kuze who might hold the screrthe Major’s past.
Review: When it was first announced that they would finally be making the long mooted live-action remake of “Ghost In The Shell” it was of course met with cries of dismay from the fans who could see no way that Hollywood could replicate the cyberpunk tale, especially with its complex plotting and philosophical musing on the existence of a soul. Even if they could they are hardly things which hardly add up to a summer blockbuster which this was being pitched as especially with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the Major adding to the already rampant assumptions of Hollywood whitewashing especially when many fans were pushing for the much more obvious choice Rinko Kikuchi to play the role.
Directed by Rupert Sanders whose only credit outside of a trio of short films was “Snow White and the Huntsman” which hardly sparked much confidence that this life action version would live up the legacy of the anime which is still regarded as one of the best of all time alongside the likes of “Akira” and “Perfect Blue”. It was of course a pleasant surprise to see Sander not attempting to do a straight remake but at the same time not trying to dumb it down either. If anything it can be seen that Sanders throughout is trying to not only pay homage to the original films director Mamoru Oshii with the inclusion of Oshii’s trademark Basset Hounds and even a nod to “Avalon”.
Shot as a “Blade Runner” style cyberpunk fantasy there are certainly the elements of the Oshii’s vision near future Japan replicated here especially the elements of Hong Kong which made his vision so diffrent and while Sanders vision certainly aims for a more futuristic vision heavily reminiscent of the aforementioned “Blade Runner” but it also seems to draw further inspiration from “Akira” especially with the extensive use of holographic advertisements which at times can prove detrimental as at time it feels like they clutter the landscape rather than adding to it and as such makes you appreciate the more intimate shots from the city streets or building interiors.
Despite the changes throughout there is still a sense of familiarity which runs throughout the film as characters such as the Major’s partner Batou (Asbaek) feel faithfully recreated though his eye implants only look the more questionable here than they did in the anime. ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano as Section Chief Aramaki though is an inspired piece of casting and unquestionably one of the key things which gave me hope that this wouldn’t be a dumbed down version of the anime. Frustratingly though when it comes to the rest of the Section 9 members they are so thinly sketched its hard to connect with them, making this much more of a buddy cop movie than it should have been.
While I may have had my own doubts of Scarlett Johansson’s ability in the role she really does manage to convincingly pull of the role and certainly a better casting choice than Margot Robbie who was also considered for the role and here she manages to convincingly pull off the detached and almost robotic outlook for the Major despite having a human brain. Infact so impressed with her performance Mamoru Oshii who’d been vocal on his own concerns surrounding the largely western cast gave her performance his own seal of approval and its certainly easy to see why when she is able to replicate so many of the key moments from the original film.
Scrapping the original “Puppet Master” plotline instead the plot here chooses to focus on the background of the Major in perticular the mystery surrounding her origins though the mystery hacker element is now filled by Kuze. We also get minor background details such as how Batou got his cybernetic eyes which I guess is great for anyone who really wanted to know these things. However while seemingly trying to craft his own story within this universe, there is still a large amount of material especially from the original film which has been pasted into the story in particular many of the key scenes such as the dumpster chase and most keyly the Major taking on a spider tank and certainly like so many elements of the film they all look fantastic. At the same time though the plotting can get heavy in places especially with Sanders trying to blend the new and original material which does result in the film certainly being more complex at times than it needed to be.
While there might be numerous nods to the source material it is still best to view this film as being its own entity than a remake, especially when here Sanders has chosen to craft a film with its own unique storyline, rather than adapt the Puppet Master plotline of the original film. This of course is not an issue, especially when the universe already established through the Manga, films and stand alone series (or complex) multiple independent timelines and when viewed this way the film certainly fits into this universe. On its own merits this is certainly an interesting approach to the material and certainly a smarter one than I was expecting to get and seeing what Sanders has established here, actually makes me keen to see him build on this world though whether that will happen or not still remains to be seen. For now though while not perfect certainly interesting enough to make it worth checking out.