The live-action Ghost in the Shell is easily one of the purest anime adaptations of all-time. That statement may be met with quite a bit of controversy given the whitewashing issue surrounding the film but, by the end, even that issue seems resolved.
Ghost isn’t the first anime to get a live-action, American adaptation it is the one that works the best. Fans shouldn’t worry, this isn’t another Dragonball: Evolution or Street Fighter, it remains true to its source. That being said, it does tone down the philosophy quite a bit which is a strange move since the original Ghost in the Shell helped influence the rather intellectual Matrix trilogy. There’s a lot to take in here so let’s get down to business.
Our story revolves around Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first fully-functional android in a world full of cyborgs. Only her original brain remains, the rest has been manufactured by a robotics company. She now works as a field agent for Section 9, a group of cyborgs that specialize in cyber terrorism. This is a future where body enhancements are commonplace and everyone is at least in-part machine. The lines between man and machine have become blurred with the creation of Major and what she represents.
The 1995 anime delved specifically into that topic but since it was first released the universe has expanded quite a bit. In the early 2000s a TV series called the Stand Alone Complex was released followed-up by the Arise films from 2013-2015. The live action pulls from all of that source material to create a very lived-in world that has been well thought out. Comparing the anime to the live action is stunning as the casting is almost completely perfect.
The film pulls no punches either. This isn’t supposed to be future New York or San Francisco, though not specifically state all the action clearly takes place in Japan. Though some of characters are white that were Asian in the film if we consider a future where the world is a true community than having actors from America, France and Britain s in key roles really shouldn’t be a problem. In fact it makes quite a bit of sense.
The plot gets moving as a new terrorist named Kuze (Michael Pitt) comes on the scene with the ability to hack into Major’s brain. This leads to clues about Major’s past along with questions about the true nature of identity. The problem is there is so much information for the casual viewer to take in at once that some of the major philosophical questions of the original film get lost in translation.
That does not stop Ghost in the Shell from being ambitious. Using mostly real effects the film creates the first truly stunning cyberpunk landscape since the Fifth Element. The costume and production design are breathtaking and it truly does feel like anime. We finally live in an era where many of the animation tricks of yesterday can translate seamlessly to the big screen and it pays off in Ghost in the Shell.
The only problem that mainstream audiences may face is the pacing. Staying true to its source material the film seems to be structurally set up like a real anime. This is a movie that takes its time and embraces the quiet moments. That means going so far as to circle back to the cityscape probably more than it should. At first this feels like a strange choice until you realize it is essentially taking a commercial break. It is weird to see on film but works within the context of the story.
Do not simply write Ghost in the Shell off as a CGI-heavy action film, it’s not. There is quite a bit more going on and it is well worth watching on the big screen.