It’s happened. Hollywood have finally got their hands all over the manga holy grail; Mamoru Oshii’s classic, Ghost In The Shell. It’s actually not that bad…
Ghost In The Shell has always been a loyally protected and somewhat feared property. The original 1995 manga film still resonates with technological themes 22 years later, and it’s almost perfect in the sense that no one knows what else they can creatively add to it. Without this we wouldn’t have had films like The Matrix. However, there’s always a balsy producer in Hollywood whose blind determination cuts through the fandom and spins the wheel of chance.
Rupert Sanders’ direction is flawless on the visual elements of the movie. It really has superb cinematography with inspirations from the original movie, Blade Runner (of course) and interestingly (mentioned by Mark Kermode in his review), The Fifth Element. Ghost In The Shell has a great balance between CGI and practical special effects, and it’s so much more engrossing for the audience when approached in this manner. The pacing and score of the fantastic opening jump scene sets a technologically sinister tone and raises some existential questions of the “cosmetic” cybernetic enhancements freely available in this world. “What effect does it have on the soul?” Unfortunately, we never really examine these themes in any real depth, and this is where I think the 12A (PG13) rating has hindered the real success of the movie. Not the “whitewashing” controversy of casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role (there wasn’t any other choice in my humble opinion – great choice), as Paramount executives have said on the record. If the movie took a little more inspiration from the morality and satire of Paul Verhoven’s Robocop, then it would have added that much needed layer that the majority of viewers were expecting (i.e. people who know the original).
As mentioned, I think Scarlett Johansson (no stranger to action roles) was perfectly cast as Major. As was Pilou Asbaek as Batou. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano dominated every scene he was in, but I felt he was underused in some way. I’m a big fan of Michael Pitt too after first seeing him in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but I feel like the gravitas of his character could have been pushed further if it had the 15 (R) rating.
Overall, Ghost In The Shell was an enjoyable movie that scratched the right surfaces, but was too focused on the visual elements to develop the necessary themes further. I think it’s something that will grow on people when viewed in a few years time, but won’t dethrone the manga original for Western audiences.