I picked up Ghost in the Shell as a manga in Tokyo nearly 20 years ago and was blown away. The story of Major Motoko Kusanagi with her friend and subordinate Batou of the cybernetic eyes and her boss Lt Col Daisuke “Monkey Face” Arakami in 21st C Japan following two more world wars and a massive influence of IT on daily life was a revelation. I then saw the first two anime films (but not all of the Stand Alone Complex ones) and again found them to be groundbreaking and incredibly interesting. So it was with baited breath that I waited for the live action version with the stunning Scarlett Johansson playing Motoko, well mostly just “Major” or “Mira” in the film. The manga served to introduce the characters and their universe. In the anime, the “Puppet Master” was the key villain hacker that her governmental anti-cyberterrorism unit, Section 9, was chasing. In this live action version, they kind of borrowed from another manga character, Hideo Kuze (played by Michael Pitt) and merged him with the “Puppet Master”. As for the graphics, there are some beautiful nearly frame-for-frame reproductions of the original anime in the film that are quite spectacular, especially Major’s dive off of the building in the thermo-optic camouflage suit at the beginning and the chasing of the civilian that was hacked by Kuze through the wet alley and the beautifully choreographed fight between him and Motoko in her thermo-optic gear.
On the negative side, the story is supposed to take place in New Port City in Japan, but it is rather obvious throughout that it was shot in China (Hong Kong to be exact as we learn in the closing credits) so that kind of disappointed me. That being said, all the special effects and the view of the city full of holograms was still impressive. The next downer is the controversial “whiting out” of the Motoko character by casting a caucasian in this role rather than a Japanese actress. OK, they knew they’d make major bank with Scarlett on the poster and Motoko sometimes does look similar in the anime to Mira in the film, but still, it was perhaps a bit of a commercial decision by director Rupert Sanders. I regret that the music from the original anime was not recycled in the film because that was one of the greatest aspects of the anime. The last thing that bugged me was the ending and the denouement which was a sort of Hollywood twist to the original, but much more sentimental than the original manga and anime.
Overall, I enjoyed this film a lot despite the reservations I voiced above. It was entertaining and, again, beautifully shot and graphically worked over. And Scarlett was pretty convincing as Major. I think I need to go back and see Lucy by Luc Besson now as I missed that one and perhaps it is another aspect of Scarlett playing science fiction that would be interesting.