Scarlett Johansson Breaks Out Into Live-Action Anime
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Pilou Asbaek
Released March 31st, 2017
In 2029’s posthuman future, it’s tough to tell who’s a robot and who’s human. Most people have cybernetic upgrades anyway. You can buy these through proper channels or from your shady neighborhood street vendor. See better, hear better, be more human than human. You can’t stop progress.
Thanks to Hanka Robotics, Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) has a whole new body. It allows her to literally disappear. It comes in handy for her work as a government assassin. Mira got this new robotic body after being the sole survivor of a terrorist attack. At least that’s the story.
Mira has trouble remembering her human past. The glimpses she gets don’t make a lot of sense. The designer of her new body, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) calmly tells her not to concern herself with these glitches. Dr. Ouelet is quite proud of successfully transferring MIra’s brain into her robotic body, reminding Mira that it wasn’t just her brain that carried over; Mira’s “ghost” or soul, is still intact.
None of this matters to Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), the Hanka CEO that just wants Mira to be the best assassin she can be. Working alongside her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Mira has risen to the rank of Major in the anti-terrorism bureau District 9. The Major and Batou intercept an attack on a Hanka business conference, but cannot prevent a mechanical geisha from murdering a hostage. The Major decides to connect her consciousness to the geisha in a “deep dive” in an attempt to find out who hacked her. In this future, humans can be hacked just like computers.
The themes of Ghost in the Shell don’t feel as groundbreaking in 2017 as they did in 1995, but this movie features a SPIDER TANK, so I’m not capable of fully dismissing it. It’s a tank that looks like a spider. More movies need heavy machinery based on arachnids.
Director Rupert Sanders wonderfully recreates the iconic opening sequence of the 1995 anime of the same name, while screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger streamline the original’s impenetrable story into more of a standard action thriller, which I appreciated, but may make some longtime fans disgruntled.
Cinematographer Jess Hall helps bring to life one of the best visions of the future I’ve seen, as massive holograms fill the cityscape as people go about their business. Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe collaborate on a propulsive score that is cold, slinky, and ominous, perfectly complementing the striking visuals of a corporate dystopia.
As Dr. Ouelet, Juliette Binoche takes her underwritten character and imbues it with so much humanity she manages to break your heart by being one of the only characters to come across so vulnerably human. As Batou, Pilou Asbaek is a fully realized live action version of an anime character. He looks like he stepped right out of the original movie and onto this set, complete with oversized gun.
When Scarlett Johansson was cast as the Major it was met with controversy and cries of whitewashing. Was this a role that should have gone to an Asian actress? The director of the original anime, Mamoru Oshii, had this to say about the subject: “What issue could there possibly be with casting her? The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.”
Johansson has had an interesting career of late, choosing roles that challenge the perception some have of what beautiful women are capable of in movies such as this one, Lucy, Under the Skin, and even her appearances as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She proves a great choice to portray the Major, as her blank stare deftly belies her humanity underneath.
Like RoboCop (both versions) before it, this movie questions what it means to exist, to be human, to have a soul, a history, an identity. The themes of Ghost in the Shell don’t feel as groundbreaking in 2017 as they did in 1995, but this movie features a SPIDER TANK, so I’m not capable of fully dismissing it. It’s a tank that looks like a spider. More movies need heavy machinery based on arachnids. 2017’s Ghost in the Shell may not be as good as the 1995 anime, but it will make for a nice companion piece on your shelf. If the original film was the ghost, this version is its shell.