Film Review: Ghost in the Shell

The original manga/comic/graphic novel Ghost In The Shell by Masamune Shirow spawned a franchise that’s proven hugely popular in Japan and beyond, and includes the 1995 animated film, sequels, TV series, web series and all that endless associated merchandise.

A Hollywood live action remake has been on the cards for years, and this one’s tortured development peaked last year when it was hit with charges of ‘whitewashing’ after the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a character who, of course, is meant to be Japanese, and yet it turns out that this so-called controversy exists mostly outside Japan. Fervent fans of the thing in that country always knew that any big American version was going to feature a big American star, and they also probably appreciate the fact that nothing here has any connection to anything even remotely approaching ‘reality’.

In a future where the line between humans and machines is blurring, and in an unnamed Japanese city (it was filmed in Shanghai, Hong Kong and New Zealand) that owes an awful lot to Blade Runner, we’re introduced to ‘The Major’ in an opening sequence that shows her creation and one of the first of Johansson’s ‘is-she-or-isn’t-she-naked?’ moments. Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) explains to her that only her brain survived some terrible event or other and that it’s now in an artificial body, and Major then joins a counter-cyber-terrorism group called ‘Section 9’, hangs out with colleague Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and receives sometimes-psychic commands from boss Aramaki (as played by “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, the only person here speaking subtitled Japanese).

If you’ve seen Blade Runner (in any form) then you’ll already have guessed that all isn’t what it seems and that Ouelet and those dodgy types at Hanka Robotics are lying to Major. When she catches up with Kuze (the guy who seems to be the chief baddie, overplayed by Michael Carmen Pitt under heavy make-up and FX), he gives her the bad news.

Are we meant to be moved by her plight? Johansson tries hard to make Major seem sad and tragic, but the whole thing is so incoherent, chilly and almost anti-emotional that it’s tough to feel anything much.

Directed by Rupert Sanders (of another cold FX extravaganza, Snow White And The Huntsman), with two credited script writers and twelve producers (although there must have been many others, as it reeks of rewriting and studio meddling), Ghost in the Shell might make you want to hit control alt delete.

Rated M. Ghost in the Shell is in cinemas now.

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