Ghost in the Shell review: Calls of ‘whitewashing’ and concerns from anime purists can’t stop this from being an excellent achievement.
Based on the hit manga and anime of the same name, Ghost in the Shell arrives with controversy surrounding it thanks to more claims of whitewashing. Let’s face it though, there isn’t an asian actress who draws in crowds like Scarlett Johansson and Ghost in the Shell needs every one of those extra pennies to look as good as it does. It’s about time anime started making its way to Hollywood (with Death Note soon to follow), and Ghost in the Shell is a surprisingly successful attempt at breathing new life into a seminal work of art.
Major (Johansson) is a member of Section 9, part of the police that deals with cyber terrorism, lead by Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). However, Major is a special weapon, a human mind inside a completely cybernetic body. Major, her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek), and the rest of the team suddenly find themselves hot on the heels of the notorious terrorist Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), a man with a grudge against the biggest name in cybernetic enhancement, Hanka.
Rupert Sanders follows up Snow White and the Huntsman with yet another visual feast. From his previous effort his anime influences were clear, with parts very reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. Now he gets to direct a whole adaptation, and he relishes every single frame. The film is breathtaking to behold, and this is rare but I highly recommend seeing this on the biggest screen and in 3D. Sweeping city landscapes, and twisting motorways that seem to sink into the depths of the city, make this film come alive. Like the characters themselves, the locations have been enhanced, rather than created from scratch. It makes the entire world feel huge and lived in. There’s a genuine sense of vertigo during huge building dives, and when we see things through the eyes of a machine it’s like we’ve inhabited the bodies themselves. Every single facet of the film has been lovingly crafted, and with so much going on in shots you’ll need multiple viewings to take it all in.
From apartment interiors, to individual weapons, costumes, and so forth, the whole film is completely immersive (apart from one shot at the very end that felt green screened). This all aids the film in its very serious tone. There was only one joke, making it stand out from the recent blockbuster formula, but the lead performance of Johansson carries the film very well. She’s sombre and cold, but gradually adds more layers as the film continues and her past becomes clearer. There’s great chemistry between Johansson and Asbaek, giving us a more respectful partnership, rather than anything romantic. Kitano is also fantastically nuanced (as ever), sticking to his grizzled looks and unquestionably speaking in Japanese, while Juliette Binoche adds a strong maternal role as Major’s creator.
Ghost in the Shell will definitely have its critics. It’s very dry, meditative at points, and everyone plays down their roles. Even the antagonists look starved from all the scenery they aren’t chewing. With a strikingly 1980s feel, Sanders’ interpretation feels both nostalgic and futuristic. Nothing is overblown, from the sets, to performances, or even the violence, and this is greatly appreciated where other blockbusters have confusing action sequences filled with pithy one liners from every character. Ghost in the Shell is a triumph on almost every level. Become enveloped by the entire world in IMAX 3D if possible.
Ghost in the Shell review by Luke Ryan Baldock, March 2017.
Ghost in the Shell is released on Thursday 30th March, 2017.