If you’ve read the original internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga or seen the 1995 anime adaptation (or come in contact with any of the subsequent TV and video game properties), you know Ghost in the Shell (GITS) defies its roots with some fairly hefty philosophical questions for what was essentially a comic book. Given the devotion its fans have towards the graphic novel series and the success of the anime, this latest version was overshadowed by lofty expectations, and then undermined by protests of whitewashing when Scarlett Johansson was cast as the cybernetic super-soldier Major.
And although both understandably upsetting and economically driven, the casting is the least of the problems with GITS 2017, especially since Johansson and fellow non-Asians Pilou Asbæk (as Batou) and Juliette Binoche (as Dr. Ouelet) give strong performances, along with Takeshi Kitano as Daisuke Aramaki.
The visuals are also in fine form as Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and his fellow filmmakers take their cues directly from the source material, and they stretch their $110 million dollar budget to the limit.
Set in the near future, cybernetic enhancement is common, and most of the human population is augmented in some way. But Johansson’s Major is something more. Rescued from an accident that took the lives of her family, her life was saved and her mind housed in an android, a super-soldier created to tackle the more dangerous law enforcement tasks of the day.
And all is well except she experiences “glitches” of memories from her past life, and she ponders whether she is really human at all anymore. Shades of everything from The Matrix to Robocop abound, but due to the delay between novel publication and film adaptation, GITS predates them.
No, the real problem with GITS 2017 (trailer here) is that it barely scratches its head over the themes more thoroughly explored in the manga or the anime. It gives a nod to the question of Major’s sexuality, and to the topics of identity and freewill; but it leaves out any of the political overtones of whether corporations are people, or share responsibility for their product. Instead, the subplot of her being lied to and controlled by the Hanka Corporation that made her body takes precedence. As such, stylistically GITS 2017 is Blade Runner on steroids; but it’s no more satisfying mentally than a standard action flick.