Scarlett Johansson combines suave charm with cybernetic hardness in Ghost in the Shell.
The science-fiction movie is directed by Rupert Sanders of Snow White and the Huntsman, and stars Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche, Chin Han, Takeshi Kitano, and Pilou Asbæk. It is set in a futuristic society in which for the majority of people one or more cybernetic implants and enhancements have become part of the everyday normal culture. Natural bodies have been combined with robots. There are artificial limbs and eyes, but also improved brains, for example through microchips that allow a person to learn a foreign language in just one minute. The leading role Major, played by Scarlett Johansson, is the perfect example of the outcome of this process – a human brain housed in a humanoid artificial body. In this world, hacking has become an increasingly real threat. In the future of Ghost in the Shell, criminals cannot only enter bank accounts, but also enter memories and the part of the brain that controls behavior.
Major possesses a human brain inside a fully cybernetic body. Major is the leader of Section 9 which is a group meant to protect against cyber attacks and hacking. Section 9 is directly responsible for protecting the company that developed Major, Hanka Robotics, and its scientists.
From a visual perspective the movie has undoubtedly done very well. The action-packed scenes are nicely shot, easy to follow and do not overwhelm the viewer. Director Rupert Sanders offers very ambitious and creative visuals, showing how it might have been visually if The Matrix had been made in 2017 and not in 1999. Clearly, manga cartoons signed by Masamune Shirow in 1989, as well as the 1995 animated film, serve as a storyboard for Sanders, who uses almost original framing with original material, out of convenience or perhaps as a tribute. Those unfamiliar with the original anime will also be captured by the story, which has a central character whose mere existence is a fascinating moral proposition. The title of the film refers to a context in which the human soul is housed in an artificial body.
The first year of life as the robot of the one who was Motoko Kusanagi (Scarlett Johansson) does not appear in the movie. The filmmakers lose this opportunity, putting the events in the film one year after Motoko becomes the Major. Some reflections on their own condition are sprinkled throughout the film. However, you cannot help but remark the beauty of the central character – it’s not just a robot, lacking in attitudes, troubles, dilemmas and choices. Moreover, Scarlett Johansson combines the suave charm, and an almost childlike sense with the hardness of Major. Scarlett Johansson’s face expresses her emotions as the body moves robotically.
What makes director Rupert Sanders succeed is the creation of a truly complete and coherent future world, using his directorial talent. The backdrop of the action is a retro-futuristic megalopolis, in which the landscape contains not only buildings but also holograms as high as skyscrapers, smiling but still terrifying figures that seem to be advertisements. Everywhere there is the feeling that in this turbulent and sordid world, monstrous corporations carry on a continuous struggle to sell products. This creates a really oppressive and paranoid atmosphere. Hong Kong provides a perfect setting for the film’s background – an anonymous metropolis with a high-tech landscape and sordid corners. The whole world of the film is Pan-Asian, an international world with many values, races and religions. In this carefully designed future world, Section 9 communicates telepathically and remotely by an implanted microchip that augments their metaphysical powers, and interrogation is often done by police holograms.
Other sequences that prove Sanders’s directorial skills are telekinesis – the Major takes breathtaking jumps into the empty. In addition, the Major’s Thermoplastic Costume – a second skin that makes her invisible, made up of a full silicone coating, often passed to the camouflage position – generates new ingenious visuals.
Then we also have a dramatic increase just like in a video game. Major goes searching around several floors of a crowded block of flats, reminiscent of the Communist period, to learn more about her past. There she meets a Japanese woman (Kaori Momoi, who – although playing in a language she barely speaks – stages a big emotional load).
The Danish actor Pilou Asbæk was cast as Batou, Major’s second. Asbaek’s impressive physique was the perfect choice for the role of a tough soldier, plus a harsh sense of humour, and the image of a massive man like a bear, but also the dose of sensitivity Batou needed to be a good companion to Major. Like other members of Section 9, Batou has robotic improvements, but not the same degree as Major.
For routine care and maintenance, there is the researcher who built her, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), who is actively involved in the welfare of the Major. Binoche’s character has a few qualities that make the character succeed – she is out of touch with a slight note of anxiety, perhaps doubting the morality of her work, her life and her world.
Ghost in the Shell is definitely a must-see on the screen (even better in 3D, including IMAX), with an ingenious story. It is almost like an upgrading to The Matrix, focusing on action and performance without questioning too much, without philosophizing too much, but fascinating us visually, and not letting us go out of the cinema without reflecting on the possibility of losing the basic values of humanity to technology.