Ghost in the shell is directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and based On Masamune Shirow’s anime by the same name. It stars Scarlett Johansson as the main character of The Major (Motoko Kusanagi), along with Takeshi Kitano (Chief Aramaki), Michael Pitt (Kuze), Pilou Asbaek (Batou), Chin Han (Togusa), and Juliette Binoche (Doctor Ouelet). Set in the future in Japan, The Major is part of an anti-terrorist bureau called Section 9 that is tasked with investigating a Cyber-terrorist called Kuze, while discovering her own origins at the same time. The Major is also a Cyborg Super-soldier, more machine than human, and grapples with her own human-machine identity.
Starting us off
The movie starts with a beautiful introduction, providing the credits as Major’s synthetic body, her shell, is being created. This is very similar to the introductory scene in the 1995 anime, but in my opinion, Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is a lot nicer. Although a lot of people love the music of the original anime introduction, to me, the chanting voices always were rather jarring. Mansell’s light semi-electronic notes wafting slowly throughout the sequence provides an almost mystical, alluring atmosphere.
The movie suffers again from needless exposition by explaining what Hanka Robotics is and what kind of world this is. Perhaps this was done to make the movie more palatable to a wider range of audiences, but they really would have made the movie better without it.
Visually Stunning–How a Cyberpunk City Should Be
The first real scene, after Major’s awakening, is the first sign of how gorgeous this film will be. This scene feels like a proper tribute to what a cyberpunk megapolis should be, made in a modern style without an excess of digital effects. To be honest, ever since I saw this movie in theaters, the image that comes to mind of a Cyberpunk city is always this city, this world.
Taking it all in
Upon re-watching this movie, there’s a certain beauty in simple scenes that aren’t immediately apparent. Like Batou feeding the stray dogs, including the basset hounds that are a trademark of the original Ghost in the Shell anime. Or the scene right before when he gets the bones for the dogs, where we see what street markets look like, with all the basic meat vendors casually sporting enhancements including entire android arms like it’s nothing.
The last time I saw so many casually augmented people in an urban city was in Alita: Battle Angel, and it’s incredible to see all the diversity. I literally have to pause the scenes to take in everything I’m seeing.
Part-Tactical Spec-Ops, Part Reflection on Humanity
Another excellent part of the movie is the tactical nature of the film, in addition to the self-reflecting nature of the film. We often see Section 9 moving as a unit, working and planning together. Aerial shots of them closing on locations make this that much more fun and palpable.
Motoko (Major) is trying to figure out what makes her human, or machine, or whatever she is in between. You can see this as she studies a human prostitute with wonder, and as she looks at geisha bots with scorn, wondering how she is any different. She seems to consider herself unworthy of human value in the same way that her fellow humans are–because she is just a machine, and perhaps also just a weapon, what she thinks and feels has no importance. At least, at first she seems to think this. She then begins to question it, the more she tries to find this Kuze character who seems somehow familiar, while trying to stop his terrorist actions of hacks and manipulation and killing.
There is a particularly potent scene that displays this as she comes face to face with Kuze. For the first time, we see what’s underneath her skin–her metal shell. It’s easy to see how she grapples with who she is, made even more so once she goes back to the person that had always been the closest to her mother–Doctor Ouelet. When she learns the truth of her past, the audience can feel and see how truly alone she feels. That her once-enemy, who granted is morally bankrupt, is the closest she has to what resembles a brother.
This then leads to another great scene–the harbor scene, where major looks for answers in the underwater depths, surrounded by darkness and perpetual blissful silence. We also get some more great shots of the city in the distance.
I’ve always loved Batou, but Pilou Asbaek’s performance here as the resigned, kind, understanding team partner really shines. I love his slow, almost drunkenly deliberate movements, as he’s trying to understand what his friend is going through. The audience once again is treated to a beautiful dark cityscape behind the two on the little fishing boat.
In general this is simply a beautiful film. There are scenes reminiscent of the Kowloon walled city in Hong Kong, like when she goes to visit a particular woman of interest. The giant superstructures are so iconic in Cyberpunk films, with beautiful circular shots looking up. Pausing in these scenes almost gave me the impression that I was watching Inception. The Tron-like Motorcycles, the neon-lit highways, all are very iconically Cyberpunk.
In my opinion, the ending was very satisfying, although a little different from the Anime version. This is one of those movies where you really need a second viewing, or a third. But even after multiple viewings, it’s still a beautiful, enjoyable movie with a great soundtrack and solid plot.
Final Verdict: 9/10
Due to its beautiful cinematography, interesting characters, exciting action and tactical sequences, and excellent score, I give this movie a final score of 9/10. I would have liked to go a little deeper with the characters, to have them explore the human/cyborg element a little more than they did (and I know this is possible because it is done better in the anime). But other than this minor element, this film is excellent, and I highly recommend it.