Twenty-two years ago, Japanese director Mamoru Oshii introduced audiences worldwide to a dystopian future, where humankind has become reliant on cyber-enhancements and virtual terrorism thrives.
British director Rupert Sanders breathes new life into the cyberpunk anime, using today’s technology to bring the cartoon into reality.
Based on the 1989 science fiction/action Manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost In The Shell, follows Major Mira Killian (Project 2571) a cybernetic human “ghost” living inside a manufactured prosthetic “shell” designed by the government to be used as a military superweapon. As the de facto leader of Public Security Section 9, a special ops counter-terrorism unit specializing in cybercrime, Major leads her team on a mission to catch an elusive hacker named Hideo Kuze, who is believed to be behind a recent spree of attacks.
It isn’t until later in the film that we learn Killian’s real identity is Motoko Kusanagi, a name that was lost after she was taken from her home as part of a series of experiments orchestrated by the Hanaka Robotics company.
Sanders, who also directed the 2012 film Snow White and the Huntsman, made an excellent decision, casting Scarlett Johansson as Killian in the live-action reboot. The film is a visual splendor, using modern computer generated imagery (CGI) to recreate a futuristic existence where robots and humans interact.
**SPOILER ALERT: BEFORE YOU “DEEP DIVE” YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK OUT THE MOVIE FIRST**
Johansson, who is known for her “kickass, take names later” attitude as Natasha Romanova, a.k.a. “Black Widow,” in the Marvel Avengers saga, delivers an exceptional performance as the soul-searching protagonist, torn apart by the duality of her life as a machine.
With the assistance of CGI, Sanders was able to recreate several of the animated motion picture’s most epic fight sequences, including one in which our heroine uses her ability to camouflage herself with her surroundings to get the jump on her cyber-attacker.
But Johansson wasn’t the only one to give a breakout performance.
Juliette Binoche really stole the show with her portrayal of Dr. Ouelet, one of a group of scientists that worked with Hanaka Robotics to create Project 2571, and the key influence behind Major Killian’s prosthetic form.
Binoche’s acting had audience members torn, trying to determine whether she was truly good or evil. When we finally learn that Dr. Ouelet was instrumental in creating the Major, we see her innermost conflicts boil to surface as she is forced to make a decision to either end Project 2571 or help protect her.
Like any heroine, Killian can not resolve her conflicts until she has caught the villain, Hideo Kuze, brilliantly portrayed by actor Michael Pitt. It is only when Major encounters Kuze, that she finally learns that she was not the first “ghost” used for Hanaka’s experiments and that Kuze was only seeking vengeance for putting him in his “shell” in the first place.
When a kill order is put out against the members of Section 9, it becomes clear that the real villain in the film is actually the gutless Hanaka Robotics CEO, Cutter, played by Peter Ferdinando.
Other noteworthy cast members include Johan Philip Asbaek, who is best known for his role as Euron Greyjoy in the HBO series Game of Thrones, as the Major’s right hand and fellow Section 9 cohort, Batou; and Takeshi Kitano, star of such classic foreign action films as Outrage and Battle Royale, who plays Chief Daisuke Aramaki, the silver-haired ringleader of Section 9 and O.G. badass of the crew.
Perhaps the icing on the cake was the stellar soundtrack from English musician/composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Moon, High Rise). One of the most memorable aspects of the original Ghost in the Shell (’95) was its soundtrack, from Japanese composer Kenji Kawai (Ip Man, Ringu). So, getting the “Lux Aeterna” composer to write an original score for the high octane cyberpunk thriller was sheer brilliance.
Bottom line, if you enjoyed the original, you will love seeing this movie brought to life. However, a word of advice, although it has a PG-13 rating, the film and its subject matter will go over the head of some underdeveloped minds.
It’s not bloody and there is no sex or outlandish language, but the story itself is about cybernetics, the human “soul” and the evolution of our consumerist ways. It’s like telling a 9-year-old to read Nietzsche, it’s just not going to happen.