Ghost in the Shell,
Directed by Rupert Sanders,
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche
I have a confession to make right from the off. I could never get into the original Ghost in the Shell anime. Yes, I know it’s a classic. I tried. I watched the Stand Alone Complex about half a dozen times, determined to understand it this time. And each time I failed.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached this new, live action movie. First impressions were good. Visually it is simply astounding. There is a jaw-dropping shot early on where the camera swoops across the cityscape and ends up in a close-up of Scarlett Johansson on the edge of a skyscraper.
Ah yes, the city. It’s impossible to talk about it without name-checking Blade Runner. In truth that’s the case for many sci-fi cityscapes of the last few decades, so influential was that design. This city is a neon-drenched, dark and gritty place like the Los Angeles in Scott’s masterpiece. But it’s that city turned up to eleven. The neon and huge moving billboards are thirty storey high holograms, and holographic carp swimming through the streets. All of this and a dollop of Mega-City One madness makes for a hell of a setting.
the special effects are almost flawless, there are only a couple of scenes where things looked a bit ‘off’. But the design work, the robots, vehicles, buildings and locations are all as good as I have ever seen. The ‘Art of…’ book for this must be something to behold.
As for the cast, yeah, they are great, but all you really need to know is this: ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano is in it, and he is as brilliant as he always is. I believe there was some controversy about Johansson being cast in the role of the Major, being that she’s not Japanese. I can see both sides of this argument, but all I’ll say is that she’s pretty much perfect in this role. As with Under the Skin, she can play a slightly detached, otherworldly, cold but alluring character with ease. And there is an explanation in the narrative that explains why she doesn’t look Japanese.
But… even with all this, just like before with Stand Alone Complex, I quickly became lost in the dense plot. It all looked good, but I had no idea what was going on.
I didn’t want to leave the review there, though, so I decided to watch it again and give it a second try. That made all the difference. For whatever reason, the story all fell into place for me this time. It is very densely plotted. It makes no apologies for it and doesn’t spoon-feed the viewer with handy exposition. It seems all it took to make me ‘get’ the movie was to concentrate… Crazy, right? A movie that expects you to use your brain. It’ll never catch on.
It’s a shame that this movie underperformed at the box office. And I suppose I’m on the side to blame for that, as I didn’t go to see it in the cinema. I hope it finds a new life, though. I can see this becoming a cult classic like its spiritual ancestors the aforementioned Blade Runner and Besson’s The Fifth Element.
If you, like me, avoided this at the cinema, I’d recommend you remedy that now. Yeah, we’re late to the party, but it’s a hell of a party!
Ghost in the Shell is out now from Paramount on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download