Grim_Noir: The Haunting of …Shell House

 

Ghost in the Shell movie poster

Title: Ghost in the Shell

Creator (original manga): Masamune Shirow

Screenplay: Jamie Moss and William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger

Directed by Rupert Sanders

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Peter Ferninando, Yutaka Izumihara, et al

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

In preparation for the live-action movie’s release this week, I tried to dig up my original copy of the collected Mobile Armored Riot Police: The Ghost in the Shell. Over twenty years after its U.S. publication, I was dismayed to find that several moves had rendered the volume elusive. Perhaps that is for the best, because for purists insisting there is only one way to tell this story, this flick is gonna be Hell.

As the fourth movie/television iteration, and the first live-action version, Ghost in the Shell, with its cybernetic anti-terrorist squad, Section Nine, has been well-trod. Most Japanese anime fans are completely comfortable with multiple reboots, alternate retellings and compilation movies, so it should come as no surprise that this version does not hue closely to the original story.

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Scarlett Johansson plays Mira “The Major” Killian (Mokoto Kusanagi in the manga), a cyborg soldier who goes several evolutionary steps beyond Jamie Sommers. A survivor of a terrorist attack in the mid-21st Century, she is the most enhanced person in history; basically just a brain in a very advanced robot body. The Hong Kong military (that’s right, I said “Hong Kong,” not Tokyo) and Hanka Corporatin are quite please with the weapon they have created for themselves, but Mira has no feeling nor sensation in her new body (which has the simplified sexuality of a Barbie doll).

The Major and her loyal right-hand man, Batou, (and the rest of this multi-culti Section Nine) stumble onto a faceless cyber-terrorist operating from the shadows during very public assassination attempt. Turns out it was all a feint to hack the computerized part of a Hanka executive’s brain. The deeper the team investigates the “why’ and “who” of the attack, the closer Mira gets to secrets of her own, mostly forgotten, past.

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The problems with the script aren’t with anything new and original. The problems come when director Rupert Sanders and his scriptwriters want to play mix-and-match with set pieces from Mamoru Oshii’s first animated Ghost in the Shell movie and ideas from the Ghost in the Shell: Second Gig television anime to serve their new story. The live-action movie’s ideas about an evil corporation (as RoboCop as they are) COULD have worked in more skilled hands. The philosophical debates and future-adapted Buddhism lose any subtlety in the shootouts and explosions that now lack an emotional impact.

There has been much made of the “whitewashing” of Ghost in the Shell, but I will not hold that against the cast of the movie themselves. (What ever happened to the uproar over Tilda Swinton playing The Ancient One? And I seem recall the Boston-localization of Infernal Affairs winning an Oscar…) Pilou Asbaek portrays Batou as a hard case with a very familiar pining. ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano’s Section Nine head, Aramaki, is the diplomatic and tactical badass we need. Saito is Chinese-Korean (deal with it). And Scarlett acts her butt off with what little the script gives her. Her delivery is an emotional variation on the voice she used in She. Most impressive, based on the script as written, Johansson has developed a hunched, hesitant walk that is a cross between career military and the Frankenstein monster. You are aware at every moment that this is a brain taking a new body out for a test drive.

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While the human actors deserve more slack than they have been given so far, it is the Art and Production Designers for Ghost in the Shell that are the real stars. Visually, the film takes Ghost in the Shell leaps and bounds beyond the original manga, or even Blade Runner. Mangaka Shirow was a visionary, but smartphones, augmented reality and 3-D printers have the real world leapfrogging what ’90s science fiction predicted. The flick is worth a view just for the unbridled imagination of the limitless excesses of 2049 Hong Kong.

Ultimately, it makes no difference what I or any other blogger or critic says about this film. When fans of book, comic books or videogames take their loved ones to a live-action adaptation of the piece, we are exposing part of ourselves. We are saying, “Get this and you will be closer to ‘getting’ the real me.” If something is a bad representation, we feel like someone has let us down and caused us to set off on something less than our best foot (like Green Lantern). If something is spectacularly good (like the Lord of the Rings trilogy), we feel like we have been allow to get closer to our loved ones through this piece of entertainment. (“I understand why you like this and, in understanding it, I feel like I understand you better.”)

Ghost in the Shell defangs its original manga and anime progenitors, but it is not a bad film. It is a typical sci-fi action film, with tips of the hat to a dozen other, better films. Lack of knowledge of the source material may cause your date and your friends to say, “Yeah, I can see why you like it. It’s a good action flick.” But those of us with prior experience may be left wishing they had seen the more intellectual art-house original…

Section Nine logo

 

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* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or “Friend” on Facebook or Good Reads to end his self-delusions.

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