Ok, confession time. This may utterly destroy my reputation as a film nerd. Anime as a whole is my cultural blind spot in my entire lifetime. I’ve seen about three full-length Anime features – Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Akira. I don’t have anything against Anime, which boasts some of the best storytelling and visual experiences in film. I’ve just never had the time to fully immerse myself in the world of Anime for whatever reason. Why do I mention this? Purely to show you how much of a blank slate I was walking into Ghost in the Shell.
Remaking a classic
One thing Anime fans love is a remake of a classic. The fact I’m coming in with a blank slate is probably a plus. I don’t have an emotional connection to one of the all-time great Anime movies. Here’s a recap if your slate is clean too.
Ghost in the Shell revolves around the Major (Scarlett Johansson). The Major is a woman who died under mysterious circumstances. Following her death, she is taken to Hanka Robotics. Here she’s picked for a secret project to put a human brain in a robot body or ‘Shell’. These ‘Shells’ are the ultimate anti-terrorist, launched in one of the most beautiful and artsy openings you’ll likely to see all year. Fast forward to a year later and she is the crown jewel of Section 9 anti-terrorism core. In the midst of investigating a string of murders, she comes across an Enigmatic hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt). It’s now, her flashbacks of repressed memories begin.
The casting of Scarlett Johanson as the lead in an Anime movie was met with criticism. Many believed this casting to be an example of Hollywood ‘Whitewashing’. Considering that 90% of the cast and crew is of Asian descent, these claims are pretty unfair. It’s a simple case of getting a famous actress to help sell a movie. Johansson does have a challenging role as Major. Balancing the character’s humanity with her robotic form isn’t easy. She’s in an eerily calm state for most of the movie as she regards everyone with a cold glare, only caring about the job at hand. And while what she does with the character doesn’t always land it’s clear what her intent is
Ghost in the Shell is a classic dystopian movie
The look and feel of the movie reminds me so much of Blade Runner. A dark and alienating setting complete with nightmare like holograms standing over the city like monsters. There are some huge and nightmarish giant hologram adverts. The city is awash with strobe lights, dizzying colours everywhere you look. The people live in grim looking apartments, sprawled as far as the eye can see.
There are a lot of things the movie does right to create the dystopian setting. Still, there are areas it’s let down. It seemed at times, that the writers spelt out the movies message. It’s better to have some subtlety about these things.
If you are looking to get into Anime, I feel that Ghost in the Shell is a good starting point. The movie is unlikely to leave a lasting impression on you, but it’s a good watch. You’ll also likely get a better grasp of manga and Anime.