Ghost in the Shell Review
Director: Rupert Sanders
It has to be mentioned before I start with Ghost in the Shell and that is, this isn't the first live action version of a manga/anime source, most notably, the Gantz films, Christophe Gans' live action version of Crying Freeman released in the same year as the original Ghost in the Shell, Jackie Chan's City Hunter is incidentally sourced from manga too, and a massive list of romance/drama films made purely for the Japanese market. So, it's not entirely a new concept and the only real fundamental difference between this and those is when they were made, giving Ghost in the Shell the advantage of today's visual effects. The original '95 anime film had so much to offer in terms of story, character, screenplay and even score, making a live action version should only really need to worry about its casting, it's final visual and keeping the story's integrity.
You can read my review of the Ghost in the Shell anime here.
Whether you enjoy this reworked version or not, you have to agree, it's very brave for any director to take on the task of filming such an iconic cult classic. You have to understand that whoever took the job would have to shoulder above normal expectations, responsibility and pressure to make a film worthy of the fans whilst hopefully engaging new audiences who are not familiar with the franchise. And Ghost in the Shell isn't exactly your run-of-the-mill manga. It's complex, profound and offers more than usual stunning action and visuals. I wonder if Sanders is a fan of the manga/anime and if he found it a challenge, was it an aspiration of his to make this or a daring endeavour to just get it in his filmography. Either way, you have to admire the courage to take the helm with a danger of having their reputation destroyed by ruining Ghost in the Shell, especially being so early on in his career with Snow White and the Huntsman being his only main feature under his belt.
Something else that needs to be mentioned is this whole whitewashing debacle. Firstly, should it matter who plays who in any movie? As I have said time and time again, surely the role should go to whoever deserves it based on their talents and not on their ethnic background. I can understand wanting to be authentic and I use to laugh at films that would add a scene or detail to excuse an actor's accent. But Ghost in the Shell is set in 2029, in a world of designer genetics, and even the original film had more diverse characters. Who knows, with the current state of affairs across the world, it's not a far cry to say people of all nationalities will be moving to other countries. Not saying I agree with Johansson playing the Major, I'll get to that shortly, just pointing out that getting angry about actors playing characters of a different ethnicity is actually prejudice in itself. It reminded very much of a world Blade Runner could be set in, with both American and Asian influences being amalgamated into one new culture.
So what does this live action version actually do? It uses the pretty sequences and shots from the anime as templates, producing a glorious reimagining which enables fans to immediately connect and relate to. It embellishes on the action, fleshing out the story which was an added plus for me, something I was hoping they would do seeing that the original, though really good, felt more of a tease with the action content and displayed great potential for more. I wanted more and this version did that.
I found it utilised more of the characters in the Section 9 unit, especially giving characters like Chief Aramaki the presence and respect he deserves. I found giving the part to the legendary Japanese actor, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano to be absolutely brilliant and he added the perfect persona to the character, ruthlessly loyal to his agents and not just a pencil pusher. They explain Batou's eyes and keep his habit of always arriving just in time, I think Asbæk did a good job playing the hardened and trusted friend. Unfortunately, they appear to have tweaked the role of Tosuga, or watered him down, giving his classic revolver to Aramaki instead. And I don't understand the reason behind villain extraordinaire, Michael Wincott getting an uncredited cameo. I'm sure he would have done a fine job as Hanka CEO, Cutter. But, overall, the cast does a good and respectful show.
Now, Johansson didn't do a bad job as Major, but she didn't do an amazing one either. Did they forget that the anime Major did not blink at all to emphasise her robotic shell, making her more doll-like. Instead Johansson did an awkward strut that just gave me the impression they had fitted her with the wrong legs. She was just made to look like her but unfortunately she didn't really act like her, or she failed to bring her to life, there was something lacking.
Now the biggest tweaks was the plot, especially the ending which lost a massive amount of depth compared to its source. However, I actually enjoyed the tweak and prefer the relationship between the antagonist and Major. I want to say more but is a massive spoiler and would be wasted on people not familiar with Ghost in the Shell. I preferred Aramaki's role whilst it still retained some of its political intrigue. But has it dumbed down the plot too much, so to make it more digestible for new audiences? One friend who knows nothing of it's source material described this as being odd, to which my other friend, said he should watch the original anime, insinuating that the source is far more odder, which it is, well, more philosophical and psychological. This version only skips around the themes of the original, which is a shame but I suppose it's replaced it with the action I was so desiring.
I was expecting more from the score, especially it being a collaboration between Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell. Two very good composers who are well versed with the genre of science fiction themes. It's good, and does have a new Steve Aoki remix of Kenji Kawai's "Resurrection" anthem, aptly titled "Reawakening" but I was hoping for a lot more, I was expecting to be blown away by the music but was a little disappointed.
Is this a start of a new franchise? Could we see the tweaks comes circle? Could this convince studios to attempt Akira at long last? Ninja Scroll, Appleseed or even Karas? What about Studio Ghibli following in Disney's footsteps? Unfortunately for Ghost in the Shell and for Anime as a whole, the current box office figures don't really bolster any great success and think this could be a one off.
It's a stunning film to look at but misses the point of the source material even with the several nods to the anime. It's engaging and entertaining; and I think the new story arc works for a different audience whereas hardcore fans might take offence, though I think it deserves a little more recognition purely because of my second paragraph. It can't be an easy job to take a much loved Anime and turn it into a live action masterpiece. It's a good effort is what I can be certainly sure of.
Running Time: 10
The Cast: 7
Job Description: 7
The Extra Bonus Point: 0
Would I buy the Blu-ray?: Yeah, probably.
#RupertSanders #ScarlettJohansson #PilouAsbæk #TakeshiBeatKitano #JulietteBinoche #MichaelPitt #ChinHan #AnamariaMarinca #YutakaIzumihara #MichaelWincott #RilaFukushima #LorneBalfe #ClintMansell #MasamuneShirow #DanielHenshall