Created by Masamune Shirow and published in 1989, Ghost in the Shell is one of the most influential works of sci-fi to come out of Japan. The first adaptation of the manga to film came in 1995’s animated film of the same name, which became a classic of the cyberpunk genre on its own and it was followed by a couple more movies and a TV series.
Directed by Rupert Sanders, the live action Ghost in the Shell is as much an adaptation of the source material as an homage to it. The film also touches upon the same philosophical and existential themes that have becomes staples of dystopian sci-fi, but it never quite gets to really explore them.
Set in a future where the lines between man and machine have been blurred and mechanical enhancements to the human body are a common thing, the film follows “Major” Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) and her journey of self discovery in a world she feels disconnected from. Major and her task force Section 9 take down hackers and terrorists and the plot of the film sees them going against a mysterious criminal going the name of Kuze who is determined to sabotage and kill employees of the Hanka Corporation.
The plot of the film is an amalgamation of the original animated film and the adaptations that followed, all wrapped up in a visually gorgeous shell of its own. Showing more reverence to the source material the film finds ways to replicate some iconic shots and scenes, thankfully without feeling forced, and even the score contains hints to the music from the anime.
Like he previously did with Snow White and the Huntsman, Sanders creates a world that is filled with wonderful visuals and creativity. His Ghost in the Shell often brings to mind Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner and that extends to the more reflective and subdued tone the film carries for most of its running time.
Within this framework the film explores issues that feel even more relevant today than they did in the 90s, like our ever increasing dependence in technology, global connections and hacking of information. The film explores the meaning of our own humanity in this cyberworld, and what truly defines our selves. It’s a shame that the filmmakers were afraid to go truly deep into these issues.
With the notable exception of Scarlett Johansson, who’s only serviceable here, the cast do a great work of selling their characters. Unfortunately it’s Johansson who has to carry the bulk of the film and while she looks the part and has the skills to handle action scenes, her performance suffers in the more quiet moments. Alicia Vikander gave us a far better “robotic” performance in Ex-Machina.
On the other hand, Michael Pitt gives us a far better and touching performance as Kuze. Pilou Asbæk who plays Major’s right hand Batou, and Takeshi Kitano as Section 9’s head Aramaki are also highlights of the film, along with Juliette Binoche who plays the creator of Major.
Ghost in the Shell is not a perfect film, and I don’t think it reaches its full potential, but it’s an aptly made adaptation of its source material and it’s an enjoyable ride filled with astonishing visuals that touches upon some very relevant and thought-provoking issues regarding technology and humanity.