I recall my first time watching ‘Ghost in the Shell’ rather fondly. Not the 2017 version, but the original 1995 animated film adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ manga series by Mamoru Oshii. While the 1995 film was a little heavy on the exposition side, the film overall turned out to be highly captivating; filled with moments of quiet existential melancholy, weighty action sequences and memorable imagery. After watching the film, I felt that my intellectual side was quenched alongside my need for adrenaline.
When I heard that Hollywood was intending to create their very own ‘Ghost in the Shell’ movie, I was needless to say rather skeptical considering Hollywood’s track record for doing horrendous remakes of films from foreign countries. (Examples: ‘Quarantine, Oldboy, Godzilla, City of Angels; Need I say more?)
Unlike many fans of the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ universe in the west, I did not particularly care about the white washing controversy that sparked when Scarlett Johansson was announced as being casted for the role of the Major as all I cared about was whether the film was good or not. Instead my energy was put into being excited for the film for two major players within the film industry; Juliette Binoche (Three Colours: Blue) and Kitano Takeshi (Sonatine) were playing roles within the film.
When I finally managed to have a sit and watch the film in the cinema, the experience turned out to be highly underwhelming. Whatever the trailers had suggested, the film would comply. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has stunning costumes, set and environment designs, reminiscent of a more polished and ‘Japanese’ Blade Runner aesthetic and it has also removed much of the melancholic pondering of existentialism in the 1995 adaptation for the sake of slow-motion action sequences and a more clear-cut and direct narrative. All that I took away from the early teasers of the film, I found within the film. It was no surprise really, anyone could have seen it coming.
If Miss Johansson provided a great performance as the Major, I would not complain about her within the film as I am doing now with this very sentence. Her performance can be described as monotone as best, it is quite clear that she has been watching the 1995 adaptation and taking notes of the stoic and robotic manner the Major was portrayed within the animated film. But the difference between the two films are as big as night and day and the artistic liberties the 1995 film took to enhance its themes are no longer applicable to the 2017 film for they convey a different narrative moral. While I could go on about the differences between both films, I shall try not to spoil the two films in this written piece. Basically, Scarlett Johansson’s performance has failed to captivate with her off key monotonous stoicism of seriousness.
Kitano Takeshi does well as the section chief Aramaki, with his typical ‘Yakuza’ look making him appear like a guy who not only knows what he is doing but someone who can deliver some punishment if need be. However, Kitano is not exactly acting as the character Aramaki, his performance is similar and in many ways inferior to the dead-pan, serious looking Yakuza characters that he commonly plays in his films. Juliette Binoche on the hand does succeed in acting as her character, ‘Dr Oulete’. While the on screen relationship between Oulete and the Major is interesting to watch, it sadly does not get enough screen time and focus for the relationship to be highlighted and go somewhere.
Another issue I have with the film is that it tries too hard to sell me how serious and intelligent it is. While the questions of human identity and existence that the film poses are very intriguing, it never does chose to confront them properly, instead the film chooses to settle for the optimistic Hollywood convention of humanity triumphs everything to answer these questions, thus not properly answering them throughout its about two hour long run-time. The film also has too much on its plate, attempting to pose serious philosophical questions while delivering a thrilling conspiracy story while trying to provide adrenaline pumping action sequences. As a result, the film’s pacing is a little on the fast side, with little time for moments of quiet peace to ponder. While this may be acceptable for any other blockbuster action, sci-fi thriller, the faster pacing makes the philosophical questions posed go over the viewer’s head.
According to wikipedia.com, the 1995 film adaptation of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is considered to be one of the greatest anime films of all time. Alongside that of ‘Akira’ and ‘Spirited Away’. As I stepped out of the cinema, my mind wondered to the question of whether we needed a ‘Ghost in the Shell’ live action adaptation. The answer came to me quickly. No we do not.
Save your money, watch the 1995 anime adaptation, watch the Stand Alone anime series or read the original manga instead. While this 2017 live action adaptation of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ shares the same title as the other animated and drawn Japanese titles, it lacks the same heart, soul and head that made the Japanese titles so memorable and loved.