"Ghost in the Shell" started as manga series written by Masamune Shirow in 1989 which told the story of a mid-21st century fictional counter-cyberterrorist organization in Japan called Public Security Section 9, led by protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi. A 1995 animated film version from the Production I.G studio directed by Mamoru Oshii is now considered to be one of the greatest anime films of all time. Now Hollywood gets to produce its own version of this future world.
Cyborg field commander code-named The Major is the first of her kind. Her body is all state-of-the-art robot, but her living brain had been transplanted from a real human -- a orphan refugee whose body had been severely injured. This was thanks to the advanced artificial intelligence technology of Hanka Robotics. When the Major investigates the murder of Hanka scientists by cyber-terrorist Kuze, only then would she finally get to know the ghost that existed inside her shell.
I watched the film without any prior knowledge of the manga nor the anime. The initial sequence showing the creation of The Major was so beautifully-rendered and visually-arresting and this would set the pace and standard for the spectacles to come for the rest of the film. There are explosive action scenes involving cars, trucks, helicopters, and big guns. Of course, there are also elegant parkour and gracefully violent hand-to-hand combat in "Blade-Runner"-like settings, from high-tech laboratories to sleazy nightclubs.
Scarlett Johansson's experience as Black Widow in the Avengers films and as "Lucy" made her a credible action heroine as The Major. She also gets to do very well in her introspective dramatic scenes, some of which evoke her role in yet another sci-fi film "Under the Skin." I confess that I did wonder why they cast a Caucasian actress in a role with a Japanese name set in a Japanese metropolis. Nevertheless, Johansson does pull off a good lead performance to give the film its emotional core.
It was good to see Juliette Binoche again on the big screen as the Major's creator, Dr. Ouélet. She was the only character of genuine human warmth in this steely cold film. 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano was truly an imposing and impressive Section 9 Chief Daisuke Aramaki, Major's immediate superior. Pilou Asbæk is a likable brute as Major's dog-loving loyal right-hand man with the goggle-like cybernetic eyes, Batou. Michael Carmen Pitt (whom I knew from his earlier film "The Dreamers" as simply Michael Pitt) was barely recognizable as master-hacker Kuze, but his pale blue eyes can still express deep thoughts.
I only watched the 1995 anime AFTER I had seen this live action film. I have to say this hardcore anime is really ahead of its time. The new film is not a direct live action translation of the classic anime, as the recent "Beauty and the Beast" was. The plot is not the same at all, though the basic elements were retained. Major's "nude" silicone suit of invisibility was rendered without her nipples for a PG rating, a triumph in costume design by Kurt and Bart.
It turns out that most of the memorable scenes were directly lifted from the anime, such as that awesome fight scene on the shallow pool of water, as well as that fight with the ugly giant spider-like robot, but these were not exactly in the same story contexts. On a minor side note, it was too bad they did not choose to stick with the San Miguel Pale Pilsen beer Major and Batou drank in the anime.
I recognize that loyal fans of the anime may complain how this present story was not told with more philosophical depth, or how the new musical score could not hold a candle to the previous haunting Kenji Kawai score.
However, for those like me who had not seen the anime before, this current reboot version by Rupert Sanders (whose only prior film was "Snow White and the Huntsman" five years ago) actually told a very good story with excellent special visual and action effects. The filmmakers respected the original material enough not to bring the whole story out of Japan, even if they could have story wise. Scarlett Johansson was able to capture the personality of The Major from the anime (who also did not look Japanese anyway), this time enhanced by the added focus on her own self-discovery. 8/10.