Main cast: Scarlett Johansson (Major Mira Killian), Takeshi Kitano (Chief Daisuke Aramaki), Michael Carmen Pitt (Hideo Kuze), Pilou Asbæk (Batou), Chin Han (Togusa), Lasarus Ratuere (Ishikawa), Danusia Samal (Ladriya), Yutaka Izumihara (Saito), Tawanda Manyimo (Borma), Peter Ferdinando (Cutter), and Juliette Binoche (Dr Ouelet)
Director: Rupert Sanders
Ghost in the Shell generated more column inches for the casting of Scarlett Johansson than anything else, although her character is designated as a white woman from the beginning. In fact, it makes sense for her character to be white, considering that she is a carefully reconstructed android created by folks who want her to be as different from her human persona as possible. I feel that the finger would be more appropriately pointed at the careless mixing of Chinese and Japanese actors and passing them all as Japanese, which plays straight to the trope that every Asian is one and the same in the eyes of white people, but then again, no one expects outrage fermented when the angry people hadn’t even watched the movie yet to be any way reasonable or accurate.
Anyway, the movie. All Major Mira Killian knows about herself is that she was nearly killed in a bomb explosion that took out her parents while they were trying to enter the country. What country? Well, this looks like a super futuristic version of Japan. Major would have been killed herself as her body was destroyed; the folks at Hanka Robotics, under the supervision of Dr Ouelet, saved her when they transferred her brain into a cybernetic shell. Hence, the title of the movie – Major’s soul is the “ghost” inside her cybernetic shell. Today, she is a super soldier working for Section 9, a government covert ops led by Daisuke Aramaki.
Trouble begins when the Section 9 agents go up against Kuze, a mysterious villain behind the systematic murdering of the top researchers of Hanka Robotics. Major decides to take some initiatives on her own to track down Kuze, only to learn that there may be more than meets the eye. The good guys may not be whom she thinks they are, and while there is an opportunity to learn more about the past, she may not like what she finds.
This Hollywood adaptation of the famous manga (which I admit I am not too familiar with) is surprisingly drab and dull despite the occasional boom-boom-bang scene here and there. Most of Section 9 are just sort of there, with Major, her boss Chief Daisuke, and Batou being the only ones with some semblance of personality. Batou seems to have some feeling for Major, although whether this is a BFF kind of feeling or something more is up to the audience’s interpretation, while there is some hint of Major also batting for her own side here as well. Let’s just say that this movie is far less blatant about sexy stuff compared to what I have seen in the manga, where Major is more forthright about having lesbian threesomes while also going out with men.
Anyway, back to the action, this movie is all about the dour angst, with Batou coming closest to being a comedic relief in the loosest sense of that phrase. This won’t be so bad if the movie also isn’t so predictable at the same time. Major asks the same old questions about her past and talks predictably about humanity being all lonely and trapped in a cybernetic world, and really, much of this movie has been done many times before already. There is nothing about Ghost in the Shell to make it stand out from those movies.
More significantly, the movie also seems uncertain of what it wants to say at the end of the day. Major talks a lot about finally realizing what she is made for, how she is all about “justice”, but what exactly does she mean? I have no idea. You see, by the time she discovers her real history and the bad guy is out of the way, she returns to working for Section 9, as if nothing has changed for her apart from having a home to go back to. So, what exactly did discovering her real identity achieve? Nothing of significance, it seems, as it doesn’t lead to any change in career, drive, philosophical outlook, and other aspects of her personality. So, what’s the point of the whole movie then?
At the end of the day, this one has a very derivative script that resembles too many movies of its kind, so it doesn’t stand out much, and the dull and drab execution of the whole thing only bogs things down further. Chalk this one up as another unwise Hollywood-izing of a source material that probably should have been left alone.