Daniel Dearden, Staff Writer~
Few films have explored the idea of what it means to be human as strongly as Mamoru
Oshii’s 1995 anime “Ghost in the Shell.”
Based on the 1989 manga of the same name, this cyberpunk film raised the bar for
animation as a whole, even influencing renowned live-action films like “The Matrix.” Naturally, this American adaptation had the unenviable task of honoring its highly regarded source material while still managing to be different enough to justify its existence. The 2017 rendition primarily succeeds in this respect.
The largest point of pre-release criticism toward this adaptation was the casting of
Scarlett Johansson as the Major, the main character of the franchise. With accusations of
whitewashing abound, it was interesting to see how this situation would be handled in the film’s plot.
There is a scene, in the latter half, that does an admirable job of explaining why the
Major is Caucasian. It is the most emotionally resonating moment in the film and will probably satisfy most of the individuals with whitewashing concerns.
As illustrated by her work in “Under the Skin” and “Her,” Johansson is no stranger to
portraying characters who feel distanced from humanity. She is at home in this type of role, accurately conveying the Major’s growing feelings of loneliness.
The greatest strength is found in the technical wizardry displayed throughout the film.
The technical aspects of filmmaking are given time to shine, with the cinematography visually arresting, the editing precise, the sets and costumes artfully crafted, the score melodic and the visual effects seamlessly integrated with practical effects.
The film shares some similarities with the anime’s vision of the future, but director
Rupert Sanders has managed to give his version its own visually distinctive look.
In spite of its strengths, “Ghost in the Shell” does suffer from the lack of a strong
villain. The film’s antagonist is essentially CEO Corporate Schmuck Number 527. Peter
Ferdinando’s performance is not bad. he does the best he can with a sorely lacking script, in certain areas.
Some of the dialogue is noticeably stilted and a bit on the nose, but the dialogue was
engaging and fostered philosophical discussion.
The franchise’s trademark philosophical underpinnings are still present, but it does feel
like this content has been dumbed down some in order to cater to the masses.
This is a fine effort in many respects. The technical design is nearly faultless, and the
performances, while sometimes held back by a lackluster script, capture the spirit of the source material’s characters. Big-budget films based on manga and anime are a rare sight, and “Ghost in the Shell” represents a sure-footed, notable step forward in bringing this content into the public eye.