Sleek but confused, in the same vein as the two Matrix sequels.
I am really conflicted about “Ghost In The Shell.” On the one hand, it brings a beloved character to life with a beautiful mix of acting, special effects and score. The plot is ultimately underwhelming, not sure whether to dive into the philosophical nature of its predecessors, or play to the lowest common denominator.
The first few minutes of “Ghost In The Shell” encapsulate the biggest flaw and also the biggest strength of the film. The first scene has Major (Scarlett Johansson) wake up unable to feel her body. Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) explains that she was in a car crash. Her parents died, but they were able to recover her body. She was so badly injured, they had to place her brain in a robotic body, making her a ghost in a shell. After a beautiful credits scene in which we see Major’s artificial body being created, we fly through New Port City. This is a futuristic urban center with holographic advertisements and sleek, imposing skyscrapers. This single shot ends of Major, perched on top of one of these towers, ready to undertake any risky mission her boss, Chief Daisuke Aramaki, has for her. It’s a gorgeous mix off the creative elements: cinematography, art direction, CGI, music and editing. These elements are consistent throughout the film. To go along with it, there are fine performances all around. Scarlett Johansson really fills the role of a fish out of water, unsure of her own humanity. Pilou Asbæk as Batou, Takeshi Kitano as Chief Daisuke Aramaki and Michael Pitt as Hideo Kuze all fill out their supporting roles well.
Unfortunately, the script leaves a lot to be desired. It tries to do two opposite things at once. On the one hand, there is an attempt to have a deep message, about one’s connection to society, one’s humanity and the relationship with identity and memory. These are remnants from the beloved 1995 anime version of “Ghost In The Shell” but are treated with kid gloves in this version. The filmmakers don’t trust the audience to pick things up on the run, so they slow the pacing and add a lot of expositional dialogue (like the films first scene). It also makes my favorite scene, where Major hires a human prostitute to sort of inspect her, looking for the humanity she feels she has lost, feel a little out of left field. Overall it can come off as boring, despite the well choreographed action scenes.
The film is also unable to strip its whitewashing accusation. One scene in particular will infuriate those who find whitewashing Asian characters an issue in Hollywood. They are right to feel this way.
Notes from the screening:
- Cinematography (some may say the best scenes are taken from the 1995 anime, and many are, but enough is added to merit visual brilliance)
- Acting (Scarlett Johnasson and Pilou Asbæk are impressive and Michael Pitt was really good!)
- Design (The establishing shots of the city were fun in the way they imagine the future, especially advertising)
- Score (Really keeps the film moving, with a gritty sound for a gritty film)
- CGI (I know some people thought it was overdone, but I think they’re just being grumpy)
- Choreography (The action scenes are beautiful set pieces, elevated by the training the actors underwent in preparation for the film)