aNewDomain — Back in 1995, Mamoru Oshii’s original Ghost in the Shell cyberpunk anime was groundbreaking in terms of action, animation, and its musings about robotics, artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human. Such topics have always been a staple of science fiction movies; remember Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from 1927?
Oshii’s animated classic set a new standard and spawned descendants both good and bad. I thus approached this the new Ghost in the Shell version, written by Oshii and directed by Rupert Sanders, with some skepticism wondering, “Can it really be as bad as all the critics seem to say?”
I am happy to say that I enjoyed this version immensely. It immerses the viewer in a cacophonous urban future rife with giant holograms, gunfire and cavernous highrises.
And there is just enough of the ultra-modern urban Asia still visible to generate feelings of reality.
People still die in the future. Not everyone will be able to afford the post-death resurrection that Ghost’s technology enables. Crowded cemeteries will still be required, as the movie illustrates.
What is most impressive about this film is its balance. It employs all the modern special effects available but also depends heavily on mec
hanical and practical effects. Watch the creepy robot geishas do their thing.
While many story elements are by now familiar, it treats them with respect and avoids the wisecracking and personality showmanship of so
many modern films. The acting is top-notch with excellent performances by Scarlett Johansson as the Major and Beat Kitano as her boss Aramaki.
Also entertaining are visual references to Oshii’s other work and to the original film. These include the airplane fly-over, the spectacular fight on the water, and glimpses of Oshii’s signature basset hound.
Even Avalon gets a nod with the naming of an apartment building.
The movie is not perfect. The police-mystery-conspiracy at the heart of the film is as trite now as it was then. The ‘Who’s really the bad guy?’ theme is also familiar. But therein lies part of the charm of this film as it balances the old and the new.
A word about Scarlett Johansson. She is one very versatile and talented actor. The role she plays here is miles away from her giddy flakiness in Hail, Caesar! ‘ Her Motoko Kusanagi is more in line with her blank but bemused alien in Under the Skin. She works hard to make this character real as she portrays the behavior of a human brain in a robot’s body. For the most part she succeeds admirably.
Forget the other reviews and rent this film. And, be prepared to turn down the subwoofer – it’s loud.
For aNewDomain, I’m Dennis D. McDonald.
An earlier version of this movie review ran on Dennis D. McDonald’s DDMCD site. Read it here.