Along with Akira, Cowboy Bebop, and various Hayao Miyazaki films, Ghost in the Shell helped launch anime into mainstream popularity, at least among western audiences. The movie was stylish, slick, and full of complex ideas. Like Blade Runner before it, Ghost in the Shell explored humanity, artificial intelligence, and everything in between. It would also inspire numerous action movies that followed, particularly The Matrix. Whether you’re a huge anime fan or not, the film’s influence can’t be denied.
When the live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell was officially announced, otaku everywhere were ready to hate it. Hollywood already botched Æon Flux, Dragonball: Evolution, and The Last Airbender. This just seemed like another adaptation of an animated classic that was doomed to fail. Yet, director Rupert Sanders actually delivers a solid interpretation. This is a remake that understands the themes and world of its source material, getting more right than wrong.
This is a remake that understands the themes and world of its source material, getting more right than wrong.
Like its predecessor, the story centers on The Major (Scarlett Johansson). She’s an android with a human brain and a cybernetic body. As the leader of the Section-9 spec-ops team, Major tracks down lethal criminals on a regular basis. Our heroine meets her match when she encounters a terrorist known as Kuze (Michael Pitt). On the hunt for this hacker, Major begins to unravel a conspiracy, as well as the enigma that is her own past.
So, let’s just address the elephant in the room: Scarlett Johansson as The Major. From the second this casting was announced, countless fans scorned the filmmakers for whitewashing a role that could’ve gone to an Asian actress. It would admittedly have been cool to see Maggie Q, Ziyi Zhang, or Jamie Chung take on this part. With that said, it’s hard to fault Johansson’s performance. As she did in Under the Skin, Johansson maintains a stone face a majority of the time, but still manages to get a lot of personality across. She encompasses Major’s spirit and was clearly an ideal choice to play this character.
Pilou Asbæk is equally strong as Batou, Major’s second in command and close friend that refreshingly never becomes a love interest. Michael Pitt is chillingly effective as Kuze, who shares a fair deal in common with the Puppet Master from the original film. Of course the real star here is the futuristic city these characters inhabit. The filmmakers remarkably bring the anime to life with state of the art production design and CGI. The imagery here jumps off the screen and is nothing short of inspired.
This is a faithful adaption, although a few new characters and subplots are added. Most significantly, we learn more about Major’s backstory, which admittedly would’ve been better left ambiguous. While there are some nice additions, they don’t necessarily improve anything. Honestly, they occasionally cause the story to drag where the original was tightly paced throughout. Despite everything here that works, it can’t really compete with the impact the 1995 version left.
Despite everything here that works, it can’t really compete with the impact the 1995 version left.
In that sense, Ghost in the Shell has a fair deal in common with Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Is it better than the original? No. Did it need to exist? No. Since it does exist, however, there’s ultimately a lot to admire in terms of visuals, performances, and philosophies. That’s more than enough for me to give the film my consent.