When Ghost in the Shell was first touted in the media as a live action movie in the works, I was intrigued — but not overly so. I’ve owned the DVD for years and never taken the time to sit down and watch what has been claimed to be one of the pillars of the anime movement. An exploration of what it means to be human using a far flung future where androids and cybernetic human enhancement run wild.
It’s not the first time this idea has been brought to the screen (big or little). Blade Runner covered this back in the 1980s with what I think of as one of the pillars of my geekdom. If artificial creations gain sentience, do they have a soul? (By the way, I’m both intrigued and terrified of the Blade Runner 2049 sequel/follow-up coming out in October. I’m not a Ryan Gosling fan, but am concerned at what they will do to trample on this treasure from my youth.)
Rather than exploring it from the AI side, Ghost in the Shell takes a human mind and stuffs it inside a robot body and asks if it’s still human. As such, I found it more than a little disturbing at how little emotion there actually was throughout the picture. It was as though the main character was so detached that she was unable to even be the conduit through which the audience is drawn into this world. We know ScarJo can emote — she does it with the Black Widow in the Marvel universe. This was a case where her character wasn’t really allowed that sort of emotional leeway.
And that doesn’t even bring up the whole idea of the whitewashing that occurred. This is a classic Anime piece with traditional Japanese values throughout. It was quite bizarre to see Scarlett Johansson play a character I assumed to be Japanese. She wasn’t alone either, with Takeshi Kitano playing the only true Japanese character in the whole film. It’s not that it didn’t have a good cast, just that it seemed weird that in such an Asian-based world (with Geisha girl robots, painful shoes, and iconic koi fish) we had so many gaijin. It’s possible that was done in the original anime as well, but I doubt it.
I was glad I rented the film instead of going to see it in the theater. Ghost in the Shell was visually stunning. The level of detail in the background and world building was astonishing. I just wish I cared about the main character more. It was an OK film, but mostly forgettable as a character piece for me. I wanted to care more about the characters and really just got distracted by the cool stuff behind her in every scene.