Ghost in the Shell 2017 Review

I never really liked the original anime of The Ghost in the Shell from the 1990s, having found it a confusing mess of an anime; it is also a Japanese series. The newest film was mired in a ridiculous amount of controversy over the casting of Scarlett Johanssen as the lead, Major Motoko Kusanagi, who is a robot body enclosing a brain—a decision the original director, Mamoro Oshii, had no problem with. In manga characters are drawn ‘Western’ for a reason, and as an android the character has no actual race. The controversy derailed the film’s release somewhat, and may be part of the reason that the film was not screened for critics at the time of its theatrical release.

The original is probably best known for its massive influence on The Matrix. The live-action version has an original story rather than following the exact plot of the 1995 film. It’s uses the original characters and has elements inspired by the original, and is set in a dystopian world where humans have robot parts or are mostly robotic, there are cyberattacks, and people’s brains are wired into a network a la the Matrix. There are evil terrorists, corrupt politicians and Yakuza, and the story remains fairly convoluted though it has been simplified somewhat. Kusanagi is a perfect soldier who stops the world’s criminals who in this world tend to be cyber terrorists.

It’s not amazing –you’ve seen many of the visuals before in films like The Matrix and Blade Runner, and it owes a lot to William Gibson’s novels (which no doubt the original writers were into). Those films were such game-changers in how they put imagery, especially in the case of The Matrix anime inspired imagery, on-screen that this is no surprise. It’s also not as bad as some reviews would lead you to believe. Johanssen is fine in the part—playing a robot isn’t the hardest job on the planet, but she’s a good actress anyway. It follows on from some of the core ideas in Blade Runner. The CGI in impress and surreal like strange giant holograms of people who appear in the cityscapes as advertisements, the CGI is helped by having a serious budget. Takeshi Kitano also stars as her superior officer—Kitano was also in Johnny Mnemonic.

It’s a solidly put together sci-fi film that obviously wants to be viewed alongside its predecessors, but the original Matrix did the same thing so much better that this is hard to achieve.

★★★

Ian Schultz

The Film is now available on streaming services like iTunes etc.

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