Ghost in The Shell
Movie review is coming up soon, in the meanwhile enjoy our three-part West Coast Midnight Run music editorial review presentation of Ghost in The Shell starring Scarlett Johansson and Pilou Absaek, Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano.
GHOST IN THE SHELL MOVIE REVIEW
Let's pretend none of you have seen the reboot of Robocop (2014) since Ghost in The Shell has a great deal in common with this movie in terms of premise and philosophical underpinnings.
Starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role as a Japanese internal security operative working for Section 9 (that would be like the British MI 5 as opposed to MI 6 and in the USA that would be the FBI and the CIA), she is a prototype cyborg, part human and almost completely machine. Ghost in The Shell also stars Pilou Asbaek as the giant lumbering partner on the squad, Danusia Samal and Ng Chin Han round up the team of crack commandos under the leadership of the boss, played by Takeshi Kitano. Michael Pitt is on hand as a wildcard Ghost in the darkness of the urban landscape, an undetermined timeline in the future that borrows heavily from Blade Runner. If you have seen the original Blade Runner, essentially a B-movie science fiction story that also had significant similarity in themes and exploration of the idea of soul and self in machines that mimic us - in the case of Blade Runner the machine is organic and super strong making it far more dangerous and the setting of Blade Runner was in Los Angeles, with a futuristic landscape that borrowed heavily from an extrapolation of modern day Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Ghost in the Shell lifts the ideas of the futuristic landscape from Blade Runner, a B-movie that became a cult classic and then a trend setting classic as it turns out the few little scenes in which SFX was used to give the rest of the movie bling was copied and imitated by many others filmmakers down the road, some with bigger budgets and lesser stunning results. With Ghost in the Shell the urban landscape of Blade Runner is even more exaggerated and more pervasive, the viewer is back in Tokyo the place that inspired the original.
Rupert Sanders (director) and Jess Hall (cinematographer) are clearly visual artists as the opening sequences of the film blend color and form to bring the viewer to a level of stupor and they also manage to duplicate the original 1995 anime manga sequence from Ghost in the Shell into a live action stunner. I say stupor because there was no other word to describe the visual overload for the moviegoer as you just sit there and process the decor and imagery without really thinking much about the story.
I cheated on most viewers, I screened the original Ghost in the Shell 1995 anime movie. Those unfamiliar with the Japanese culture, manga and anime refer to comic books and animated features. Turns out Ghost in the Shell is a big deal in a small country. Ghost in The Shell is a property that Hollywood filmmakers selected and groomed for a big budget production with Paramount Studios. The property was in development for years and went through DreamWorks Studios (Steven Spielberg's company) before becoming the Trojan Horse for Paramount Studios.
Just how big is Ghost in The Shell? Think Star Wars big, that's how big it is and perhaps even bigger for a country that has very little hardcore science fiction cinema and pop culture properties that have acquired an international scale thanks to the issues of cybernetics, robotics and cyberspace.
Cybernetics and automation is a big deal, something that is a matter of national pride for many due to Japan's contribution on the global scene to electronics and microelectronics - starting the 1970s. Add to this element the fact that Ghost in The Shell is a science fiction property that has become a comic book series and a TV anime series and you start to grasp the significance of this item, not only to the Japanese but possibly all of the Far East, including China, Malaysia, Taiwan and a few other countries.
Unfortunately for Paramount and Ghost in The Shell, despite claims and stories floating in the press to having adapted the storyline and whether this was a good effort, a bad move, the live action film with Scarlett Johansson suffers from too much of a Japanese/Asian flavor, specifically the intensity of the scenes that are not action setpieces (very low intensity) to the dialogue - which feels like a Japanese movie.
My opinion of the movie was unaffected by these factors, in fact Blade Runner also suffered from these elements in terms of dialogue and lack of electricity and chemistry between the actors - but Blade Runner was considered a forerunner, ahead of its time and vastly underappreciated.
If you were hoping to catch a glimpse of Natasha (Scarlett's portrayal of the femme fatale deadly Russian agent from Captain America and the Avengers) you will be disappointed. The character of The Major has none of the sparkle, wit or playfulness that she displayed against Chris Evans' Cap and the Avengers. Ultron is not on hand to lend a global menace to the threat projected by the Puppet Master.
The film is laced with references and subtext to issues of sentient machines, artificial intelligence encroaching terminally on our planet versus intact human qualities surviving in the ultimate subterfuge of flesh and electronics co-existing as a compromise in the battlefield. Ghost in The Shell tackles these elements with the same deftness as a Japanese film, with philosophical discussions too short to make a meaningful contribution beside atmosphere and with storylines making these interactions feel like they were bolted on the chassis of the main movie. The main storyline does not ease in and out effortlessly as would a better crafted film.
And the story of Pinocchio seeking to be human is one the audience has seen over and over in film and TV series. I would venture that Beauty and The Beast is also a story device that plays on this theme - what it is to be a human being trapped inside a form rejected by society, considered not part of society. This is not a Star Trek series where the writers can botch an episode or two in terms of script but it does not really matter because the show consists of 12 seasons and we get to see Data grow as a character and move from machine to human being in ways that delight the audience. Ghost in The Machine 2017 is a two hour movie and not a decade long TV series. These issues are much better handled in the anime Ghost in The Shell which has been running for several seasons.
The film also borrows visual cues from the low budget movie Branded and the popular TV series Westworld, which has recently been resurrected in more adult format than its 1970s predecessor.
Despite its shortcomings Ghost in The Shell is a powerful visual exploration of the sneak peek Blade Runner offered viewers decades ago, it has a cyberpunk tint mixed in with the science fiction premise and provides more than fair entertainment if you are not seeking a deep and well crafted philosophical discussion on the fate of our planet as technology starts displacing humanity to its final resting place.
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