I have to admit that I hesitated before heading to the IMAX to watch Rupert Sanders’ take on the anime classic, Ghost In The Shell, this past weekend. I’d heard the accusations of whitewashing amongst the casting choices, gripes about plagiarism and moaning about the lack of Japanese authenticity involved, so I was fairly suspicious and skeptical about how the movie would play out.
“People always find controversy in a vacuum of information. I think when people see the film they’ll understand the casting choices. We’re not making a Japanese version of the film. We’re making a global version of the film, you need a figurehead movie star. Oshii said it the best when he said there’s no better person in the world to play the Major than Scarlett and, as the creator, I defer to him. She’s amazing in the film, at the top of her game. She delivers an incredibly powerful performance.” – Rupert Sanders
The Plot (Spoiler Free)
The Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the only survivor of a terrorist attack that killed her parents. Her body is damaged beyond repair but Hanka, a cybernetics corporation, manage to save her brain and insert it into an artificial, but physically superior, body. She is put to work fighting cyber criminals in Tokyo under Chief Daisuke Aramaki. The Major soon learns that there is more to her past than she was originally told and she must dig up the suppressed memories of her past, whilst battling with the psychological and philosophical issues and questions of identity and humanity.
The first thing that struck me was the sheer relevancy of many of the concepts involved. Just a few years ago, the world the characters live in would have seemed unreasonably nuanced and nihilistic as technology takes over our existence and begins to define who we are. Today, as we hear the uneasy rumblings of automation taking our jobs and our need merge with AI, the world the Major inhabits feels a little bit closer to home. Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have an easy role in the movie, having to find the balance and the definition between human and machine, whilst trying to patch together her past. In me, at least, the movie plot planted an uneasy question; are we human simply because of our brain? And if we could implant our brain into an artificial body, would we still be human?
The movie is technologically brilliant and insightful, taking note of the fact that the days of the cellphone are numbered; in the GITS world, you see people casually walking along the street with projections surrounding their heads and people actually save money to buy upgrades for their own body. In a way, this is just a technological advancement of what we already do with facelifts, implants and Botox.
Her costars were great. Pilou Asbæk, the Danish actor from Game Of Thrones delivers a solid and assured performance as her colleague, Batou, who upgrades his eyes after an accident and looks completely badass. The remainder of the ensemble are equally good and there are no weal links in the casting choices.
Sure, there were plenty of questions left unanswered at the end of the movie. Why did she need big breasts in a cybernetic body? Why did they make her face ‘Caucasian’ in a Japanese city? But if you can see beyond the slight flaws, you will find an enjoyable and thought provoking movie that is visually stunning and conceptually relevant.
What did you think? Will you be watching? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook.