*Note: This review contains spoilers for the movie as well as parts of the original source manga and anime adaptations
Ghost in the Shell Live-Action is Hollywood’s take on the renowned Japanese franchise with the same name. Announcement of a planned live-action dated as far back as 2008 but went through various staff shake ups before finally being released in US theaters of March 31, 2017. The movie doesn’t require any knowledge of the original source material or any of its related spin-offs or adaptations.
Ghost in the Shell is not the first Hollywood or American adaptation of an anime franchise or series. In fact, it’s one of many planned with Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Cowboy Bebop, and Akira all planned at some point in the future as well. Most notably and as some may recall (or may not want to), Hollywood had already previously adapted Dragon Ball into the infamous Dragon Ball Evolution. With that in mind, the bar is set pretty low for Ghost in the Shell at least from a Hollywood adaptation standpoint. So how does it fare?
“In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.” (Source: IMDB)
- Visually appealing for the most part that does a great job in portraying the futuristic setting
- Simple and straightforward story with fair amount of action that allows for casual fans and newcomers alike to follow the movie with ease
- Casting “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Daisuke Aramaki will likely please fans of the franchise
- “A shell without the ghost,” – too simplistic for its own good as it spoon feeds the entire story without any material substance to make any of the characters or scenes feel remotely memorable long term
- Key cast feels very raw and robotic as if reading from a script than acting
- Daisuke speaking in Japanese throughout the movie doesn’t seem to mesh well considering everyone reacts as if they can understand him almost immediately
A Closer Look:
The Ghost in the Shell franchise first started as a manga by Masamune Shirow back in 1989 followed by a few additional sequels in the early to mid-1990s. The story follows the various adventures of Motoko Kusanagi (a.k.a The Major) and members of Section 9, a special operations task force centered on combating (cyber) terrorist operations and political corruption. In essence, a cyberpunk mystery series on a chapter by chapter, arc by arc basis but also with a big recurring philosophical take around the notion of “identity” in a technologically advanced setting where more and more people are becoming cyborgs. The Major herself is on the more extreme end with a full-body prosthetic and only her brain being human.
The first anime adaptation came in the form of a movie in 1995, which followed with a sequel in 2004 and later rebooted in 2008. What made the series truly mainstream was the original two season TV anime series, known as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, that ran in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Stand Alone Complex was thought provoking while maintaining its philosophical nature with a largely mature cast, a combination that was gradually disappearing during the 2000s in the anime industry and allowed the series to carve out a unique niche not only in Japan but especially in the west.
The live action adaptation’s story doesn’t adapt any specific existing work and is instead more of a combination, with the largest components drawn from the original 1995 movie and the Kuze arc in Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG. In addition, the movie had a little fun in throwing a few other easter eggs not included in existing works, such as how Batou got his prosthetic eyes. The big question throughout the movie though is who is “The Major,” which is a stark contrast from all the prior works that focused on her transcending into a higher-end being given how much of her body is a cyborg.
The most obvious alteration to answer this question was the role of the primary antagonist. Instead of using Puppet Master from the 1995 movie, Kuze is the mastermind of the cyber attacks in the live-action…at least in name. His initial actions resemble much of Puppet Master’s, and ultimately this is how the story proceeds until his revelation. The point of bringing Kuze’s name in appears to have been more of an emotional support link to The Major given the recurring dialogue around The Major’s “identity” and who she previously was. Not a bad thing as not much value was really lost and does fit with the theme of the movie.
What was mediocre was the nature of the scriptwriting. As said before, the movie focused a lot on The Major’s identity crisis but never really dives far enough to make it interesting for anyone to care let alone answer this in a fulfilling manner. We barely learn anything about her aside from that she was kidnapped at a young age and never get any sort of conclusion as to whether she accepts her new identity or not. In other words, where does the story go from here? What was the purpose? The only real closure the audience gets is Hanka Robotics was the ultimate villain by being a corrupt organization attempting to create the next generation cyborg at the expense of experimenting on 100 people.
The movie relied heavily on decent visuals and action sequences, including a number of slow motion scenes, to drive progress and possibly cover up its shallowness by making it “look cool.” Unfortunately, for a title like Ghost in the Shell, character interactions is where the series has and continues to shine. I should also note that the rest of Section 9 outside of Batou and Daisuke were forgettable throughout this movie. No development and minimal screen time to the point where Section 9 may as well have been a 3 person unit.
Regarding casting, I won’t comment on the controversial whitewashing topic but will instead focus on how the actors/actresses did their job. Overall, the cast feels very lifeless. The Major was the worst here with monotone emotions throughout even in some of the more emotion and lively scenes. The Major has the largest cyborg composition but doesn’t mean she fully acts like a robot. Daisuke’s character, on the other hand, came across very compelling similar to original work (as expected though given the cast), while Batou was more in between and possibly better than I was expecting.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell live-action is not a bad movie to kill time. It’s not a deal breaker from a potential sequel but it’s also far from a masterpiece. It is a huge step up from the abomination that was Dragon Ball Evolution but still a far way to go before Hollywood can even compare with the source. For newcomers into the Ghost in the Shell universe, it’s not something I would recommend, however, given the animated versions that are floating around.
The one thing that really holds this movie back is for a movie that has been in production for almost 10 years, the amount of thought that went into the story feels cheap. It’s not thought provoking at all and feels like it was purposely dumbed down for the American audience.
On a side note, despite Mamoru Oshii’s praise of the movie, I think he may be doing it to really save face for the franchise and the staff. A similar event happened with Dragon Ball Evolution but there was no way in hiding the public backlash on that one. Here there is probably greater room for argument. Also, the lack of Tachikomas if they were going to do something original is disappointing 😛
Score (Overall): 5/10
Enjoyment/Rewatch : 5/10
*Editorial Note: All points made in this article reflect solely of that of the post’s author and do not necessarily reflect the public opinion