Ghost in the Shell - a spoiler-free review
A recent article in National Geographic addressed the topic of humans enhancing themselves with technology. One of the main characters in the article; The Next Human had added a fibre optic camera to their head, wired to their brain, to enable them to see colour. Now, as well as fixing the colour-blindness the person can see in all spectra including infra-red and ultra-violet.
Reading the article prepared me somewhat for Ghost in the Shell or "GITS" as we shall call it from now on. I was also aware of the "controversy" surrounding the film. So let's back up a bit.
GITS is based on the Japanese manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. The film stars Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han and Juliette Binoche. Set in the near future where the line between humans and robots is becoming blurred, the plot follows a woman who has her brain placed in a cyborg body to become the perfect soldier. Nearly everyone in the film has some sort of cybernetic implant which reminded me of the Nat Geo article.
The current controversy surrounds the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the titular character who was Japanese in the original manga. I think the voices expressing their concern have a point. Johansson sticks out like a sore thumb in the movie. I'm not saying her performance is poor. What jarred with me was the fact that everything in the film was set in Japan, nearly every character was Japanese or a Japanese actor - apart from her. Her hair and make-up even attempted to make her look Japanese. So those complaining about the apparent problems Hollywood has with Asian actors might have a point. A recent article in The Guardian seems to think so too.
Putting all that aside, how was the movie?
First let me talk about the sets, the city in which we find our characters. It is filmed beautifully by Jess Hall who does not have a fantastic record as a DOP. However he has been studying Bladerunner and the influences of Ridley Scott's world are clearly visible. This is not a bad thing except for every time I saw the city I though of Bladerunner.
Plot-wise we have been here before with Robocop and others. The story here is not as clear and plot points sometimes appear convoluted. Our central character ( I can't call her a heroine as it's not clear that she is) begins to realise all is not as it appears, slowly unravels her past, visits same and enacts her vengeance on all and sundry.
Johannson is a master of the action movie. The fight sequences are well executed and the special effects, while not ground-breaking, are good.
On paper (apart from the geo-political issues) it should have worked and yet it doesn't quite. Rupert Sanders handles everything with competently. Tab A goes into slot B and yet you are left with something that is unfulfilling.