In anticipation of the new Ghost in the Shell film with Scarlett Johannsen, I am reviewing the original film that was my first introduction to the world.
In the future, the world has become interconnected by a vast network that permeates every aspect of life. That same network also becomes a battlefield for Tokyo’s Section Nine security force, which has been charged with apprehending the master hacker known only as the Puppet Master. Leading the investigation is Major Motoko Kusanagi, who is a cyborg officer, far more powerful than her human appearance would suggest. And yet as the Puppet Master, who is even capable of hacking human minds, leaves a trail of victims robbed of their memories, Kusanagi ponders the very nature of her existence: is she purely an artificial construct, or is there more? What, exactly, is the “ghost” or soul in her cybernetic “shell”? When Section Six gets involved in the case, she is forced to confront the fact that there is more here than meets the eye, and that the Puppet Master can shed some light. He has been seeking her as well.
Based on a manga by Masamune Shirow, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995) was a much copied source material. Along with Akira, it was the birth of more mature anime in the West. The property was looked at by James Cameron, who gave it high praise, and it is even featured in a deleted scene from Good Will Hunting. It has been on the radar for years, and has had video games, television shows and a severely under rated sequel called Ghost in the Shell: Innocence.
This film is deep and requires more than one viewing to soak all the details. (Just like Bladerunner.) For every natural quip the characters say, the next thing is guaranteed to be some abstract remark pondering the nature of humanity or something along those lines. That’s as much a part of its identity as it is a cultural difference; overlong exposition is practically engrained in anime’s DNA, so there’s always been that struggle with what to show and what to tell. Unfortunately, the English dub is a poor translation of what the original Japanese script was conveying. Certain phrases and words are given a more “Western” approach and meaning. To get the full spectrum of the film, one viewing requires the Japanese audio and subtitles in your native language to get all the finer points left out in the English Dub.
But leave it to the visuals to tie all these ideas together and turn it into something greater than the sum of its parts. Ghost in the Shell inhabits a world it can truly call its own, it’s just brought that vividly to life. From the rich production design, to the inventive CGI tricks, the fact that they throw in some well-staged action doesn’t hurt either. A score composed by Kenji Kawai seamlessly complements the atmosphere with his gorgeous melodies, particularly during the cybernetic maintenance scene of Motoko’s body in the opening credits. The whole thing’s an introspective slow burn. Once the Puppet Master is revealed, the plot develops into something truly amazing all the way up to the unusual ending.
Ghost in the Shell is a thought-provoking masterpiece that still is relevant today. I can only gather from the trailers released on the live action film, that the studio cherry picked some interesting bits from the film, including nearly shot for shot recreations of key moments from the animation. As a fan, I am pleased to know that at least this cyberpunk awakening in the film world might open up avenues for even more fantastic stories to be told.
It is understandable that a Western studio would put a bankable actor in what could be a risky project. If the film fails, it will be a huge loss. Rumors were out that Margot Robbie was originally in line to play the role, and based on her look, she would fit the animated counterpart from the 1995 film perfectly. But Scarlett Johanssen has the role and if all goes well, this film will get a new franchise going.
The original film is a mature one, with full on R rated violence and nudity, but it is not sexual. Rather, it is more like looking at a doll. This is explored more in the sequel. Most likely there will be a PG-13 version in theaters and a potential unrated version on home release. I doubt Scar Jo bared all for the film and that is not necessary, but the visual effects and the look of her do hint at her perfect physique.
Overall, give the original film a chance, and take your time to enjoy the subtle genius of the idea that our world that is getting more like the one in the film every day.