Ghost in the Shell; 106 min; Rated PG-13
“Ghost in the Shell” is a live-action remake of the classic Japanese anime film created by Mamoru Oshii in 1995. When it was made, it was considered visionary, even revolutionary and explored the nexus between robotics/computers and sentient beings. Embedded in its narrative was the question that if we begin to merge with sophisticated machines, how will that merger ultimately affect our essential humanity?
“Ghost” is that familiar, big-budget, Hollywood epic starring Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira, a hybrid human whose brain (meaning her “Ghost”) was inserted into a cyborg body after a catastrophic accident. She has emerged as a relentless warrior working for the government (Section 9) tracking criminals and terrorists.
The immediate problem with “Ghost” is not its astonishing CGI visuals — in fact it is so amazing to look at it almost seems to be a computer graphics vanity film. What it lacks is any kind of narrative coherence. It’s as if the writers assume that they can drop act one, meaning any exposition that explains who, what and where, and simply begin the story as if all that came before simply doesn’t matter. Now that may be a safe assumption if the audience is familiar with the earlier "Ghost." But if the story is new to the filmgoer, then this predicate only causes confusion.
I assume that since this remake was not done in state-of-the-art anime, the filmmakers believed that an American audience would only embrace a film that is in many ways similar to the iconic Ridley Scott “Blade Runner,” where the post-human cyborgs are called replicants. Like “Blade,” the world in “Ghost” is dystopian, Asian in setting, though not in characters, and densely populated. The interactions in “Blade,” however, are far more interesting, and the question of gauging the authenticity of the characters (human or replicant) is embedded in the story until the last scene.
As an aside, anime (a shortening of animation) as a genre, as an art form, is hugely popular in Japan. Wikipedia describes anime as “possessing a certain style characterized by colorful graphics, vibrant characters, and fantastical themes. … It combines graphic art, cinematography, and other forms of imaginative techniques, to include large, emotive eye size.” Assuming that the remake of “Ghost” represents collaborations between Hollywood and Japanese studios, it was unfortunate that the original Mamoru Oshii story was allowed so little opportunity to develop. But then when it comes to films of this sci-fi/futuristic genre, Hollywood action will always trump that which is more philosophical.