‘Ghost in the Shell’ is visually stunning but needs more soul

Apr 2, 2017

Ghost in the Shell comes from a series of graphic novels that began in the 1980s and were later turned into anime, and now into a very not-original but very well done live-action movie. It all depends on which side of the Ghost in the Shell fence one sits on. As she prepares to face a new enemy, she realizes her life wasn’t saved – it was stolen. Major’s brain was salvaged from her original body, which was too damaged to fix. After a terrorist attack left Major’s parents dead and broke her body beyond fix, she’s chosen for an experimental counter-terrorism program funded by the all-powerful Hanka Corp., in which her brain is lifted into a virtually un-killable cyborg body.

The Hollywood star told television personality Michael Strahan on Thursday that she has “always been interested in local politics” during an interview promoting her upcoming movie, Ghost in the Shell. She just has that extra thing you can’t learn at a school. But she did on unbelievable job of finding the nuance and subtlety of the humanity awakening within a robot. It’s a pretty cynical, if predictable, Hollywood move: Take the spirit of the Japanese creation, transplant it into a white body and hope the operation’s a success. Major has literally been whitewashed.

Just in case you’re curious about her wanting to emulate her fave candidate in 2016, Hillary Clinton, Johansson will be just eligible to run for president in 2020. In a better film that explores Major’s ownership of her own body from start to finish, a scene where she’s assaulted in a nightclub has meaning.

Fans of the earlier Ghost in the Shell animated film will find many references to check off here: the big garbage-truck chase, the splashy invisible-man smackdown, brief echoes of Balkan-style choral keening.

Directed by Rupert Sanders (of another cold FX extravaganza, Snow White And The Huntsman), with two credited script writers and twelve producers (although there must have been many others, as it reeks of rewriting and studio meddling), Ghost in the Shell might make you want to hit control alt delete. And it’s not just the whitewashing of Asian characters either. Such a defense might have worked, if Ghost in the Shell didn’t insist on revealing Major’s backstory as that of a Japanese woman. I am new to the franchise and I was bored. It was based on Masamune Shirow’s manga, and was followed by three more movies, plus a number of video games. (Yes, Japanese actor “Beat” Takeshi Kitano plays Major’s boss, but he’s on-screen for all of 10 minutes.) To add insult to injury, Major’s pre-cyborg name turns out to be Motoko. The not-so-coded implication seems to be that non-white bodies are less attractive and possibly even defective.

The too-busy production design distracts from the essence of the plot, which has Major grappling with conflicted feelings of whether she’s more human or more machinelike. Not only does the Major wrestle with issues of personhood and identity-struggling with what it means to be a human brain inside a cybernetic body-but also issues of consent and agency. She is also the personal joy of the scientist who helped create her, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche).

Scarlett Johansson challenges David Bowie in the gorgeous alien stakes Jasin Boland  Paramount


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