My first and, until Monday, last IMAX experience wasn’t a good one. Maybe it was the film ('The Matrix Reloaded') but I have since done my best to stay away from IMAX altogether, not just because of the price tag. We rocked up with only a minute to spare, which meant we didn’t get good seats, yet within minutes the film managed to wipe away any worries I might have had, as I was totally engrossed watching the creation of Major’s shell right up in my face. It was amazing. What the second Matrix film had ruined for me over a decade ago, 'Ghost in the Shell' (the anime that inspired the Wachowski’s to make 'The Matrix' in the first place) righted again.
'Ghost in the Shell' takes place somewhere in the near future in an, as far as I remember, unspecified metropolitan area. Protagonist Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind; a cyber-enhanced artificial body with a human brain. Her and her team from section 9 are hunting cyber criminals of the worst kind. In their latest encounter they come across a hacker who manages to access everything, including cyber-enhanced people. He is able to make them do whatever he wants, they are mere puppets. Major needs to stop him at all costs and the closer she gets the more she finds out about her own creation.
You can’t talk about this real life adaptation of 'Ghost in the Shell' without bringing up the anime by Mamoru Oshii that it is based on, which itself is based on the Manga by Shirow Masamune. The existential themes, cyberpunk feel and outstanding visuals from the source material are prevalent throughout this film. Several scenes seem to have been lifted straight from the anime. This film more than anything is a feast for the eyes. Absolutely stunning. Albeit a bit lifeless.
In the film someone has memories of a wife and kid implanted into his ghost and this is real and authentic to the affected person, even though everyone around him can prove that this data is false. Yet the memory is there, his feelings for people who do not exist are real to him and shape him. So who are we really? Memories? Experiences? Just data? Unfortunately the film doesn’t go any deeper into this. Given how our world is hooked on connectivity, exploring this side of the story could have made for a hard-hitting, poignant exploration of where we as a society seem to be heading. Instead we are given a sci-fi actioner with impressive visuals that feels a bit superficial while being thoroughly entertaining.
The acting is what you’d expect from an action film. We all know Johansson is capable of kicking some serious butt (where is our Black Widow film?!) and she proves this again in 'Ghost in the Shell'.
Why they chose to give her robotic movements is anyone’s guess given Major is supposed to be the first of her kind, a cyborg that can pass as a human. It looks weird at times and makes her come across as wooden. Pilou Asbaek delivers an engaging performance as Major’s sidekick Batou. Michael Pitt makes for an interesting antagonist (I loved his look). Juliette Binoche does all she can with what she’s given. But it is the only non-english speaker in the film, Takeshi Kitano, who gets the trophy for most memorable performance for his role of section 9 leader Aramaki. The characters were well captured from the source material, although only one of them is actually Asian. The whitewashing of the original material needs an essay on its own.
My main gripe with the film is the whitewashing. Just for the record, I am not Asian and therefore not the right person to be talking about this. But I feel the need to mention it as the film itself brings it up. I can’t go into more detail as that would be a spoiler, but the way it is handled in the film made it even worse. I am sure director Rupert Sanders was trying to explain away the casting of a white actress in what is famously a Japanese role, but overall I couldn’t help but consider this even more of an appropriation of Japanese culture and identity than I did before watching the film. 'Ghost in the Shell' depicts universal themes, so why do we need to change the ethnicity of the characters if it is so universal? As the shells are interchangeable I do hope we will get to see the protagonist in an Asian shell and a more diverse cast in general in the sequel.
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