Ghost in the Shell is the latest example of American filmmakers sticking their hands into the Japanese cinema cookie jar and the results being less than subpar. The latest Hollywood reboot takes over original source material by Masamune Shirow, who wrote the anime film that was released in 1995 and produced a beloved follow-up series. When this happens, the creativity deprived suits out west need to take it, recycle the good parts of the script, and churn out a pointless adaptation that manufactures an eye roll and shoulder shrug instead of wondrous charm.
Scarlett Johansson (she’s American for the record) plays a cyber-enhanced super soldier called Major, who tracks down the bad guys who inhibit the futuristic world dominated by high tech companies doing as they please with poor humans to gain power and turn a massive profit. They take human brains and plant them in a synthetic body made in a lab, and are enhanced in a way to which they can take bullets and explosives without skipping a beat, move lightning quick, and hack into other people’s minds in order to track their location. Big governments cashing checks via the weight of human souls, and eventually, someone will notice. Major is a ghost of human mind stuck in a fake shell with one purpose: take out the trash and don’t ask questions.
Major’s commander, Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) goes along with this process, but knows that her maker (Juliette Binoche) and boss (Peter Ferdinado) are up to no good and can’t be trusted. Cue the notepad flip…
Before long, Major starts seeing flashes of a past that she can’t quite figure out, but doesn’t go away, and keeps pelting her with clues and doubts about her work. When she is sent to find a hacker making messes for the corporation to clean up, Major is met with revelations that change not only her life path, but several others. Her eyes are opened, conscience awoken, and a new mission is set in motion.
Can I be honest with you? While the material is original and leaves room for a cinematic horse to gallop, there was no reason to make this into an American feature film, because the follow-through here is remote and arbitrary. There’s zero heart to the work being done here, and the actors are wooden creations with nothing to offer. Johansson doesn’t just go through the motions; she could have read the lines from the foot of her bed after waking up. She’s aloof, and the supporting cast doesn’t get any room to work with. Pilou Asbaek and Michael Pitt show a hint of flavor in their scenes, but aren’t given the screen time to pursue more.
The only worthy thing about the film comes in the final 20 minutes when Kitano’s threshold for nonsense reaches its limit, and he takes matters into his own hands. The Japanese action star has been along for decades, and still has the moves. That is the only true delight in 107 minutes of forgettable storytelling. Kitano gets the smallest chunk of screen time, and makes it work.
Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning at times, but much like its lead character, lacks the capacity to make you feel anything. It’s a hallow space where perhaps a more inventive filmmaker could have carved something more provocative out of. Oh wait, they did that 22 years ago in Japan. Sometimes, Hollywood needs to pick up the anime comic, gaze through the pages, and promptly put it back on the shelf.
If you want to know if the story has something to give, check out the original, or better yet, just go watch Equilibrium or The Matrix.
Ghost in the Shell is the latest example that Hollywood needs to stay of the Japanese action cookie jar.