Wednesday 29 March 2017

Ghost In The Shell Review

Ghost In The Shell

In all her un-nippled robotic nudity, Scarlett Johansson swoops down from a high building, ready to do cyberbattle with hackers, criminals, terrorists and the concept of human identity itself. Here is the top-dollar adaptation of the Masamune Shirow manga serial and the resulting 1995 anime gem by Mamoru Oshii.It has been standardised and westernised with hardly any actual Japanese characters left in it, and effectively reimagined as a superhero origin myth, with tropes derived from the existing templates laid down by Metropolis, Robocop, Blade Runner and Total Recall. The film incidentally makes some play with rudimentary Hawking-style robot voices. There are some stately cameos from Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano.

It’s a spectacular movie, watchable in its way, but one which – quite apart from the “whitewashing” debate – sacrifices that aspect from the original which over 20 years has won it its hardcore of fans: the opaque cult mystery, which this film is determined to solve and to develop into a resolution, closed yet franchisable. As for Johansson, she carries off the deadpan cyber-eroticism of her role with that ghost-in-the-shell of a smile of hers: although none of the other cyber-creatures are required to get quasi-nude in the same saucy way. Her otherworldly creature from Jonathan Glazer’s classic horror Under the Skin was a thousand times more disturbing and the obvious superhero quality of the role here, sometimes makes her seem like a more solemn version of Black Widow, her character in the Avengers movies.

The setting as before is an Asian megacity where cyber technology has made it possible for human consciousness to link directly into a mainframe, and which therefore makes hacking – the theft of data or capital – the key contemporary crime. The security agent Major Motoko Kusanagi of the first film is now the Major, played by Johansson, a sleek and impossibly sexy cyborg who with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek) is under the laconic command of Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano, who gets his own gunplay scene).

She has grown up with the knowledge that her brain had been taken from an immigrant who was drowned after a terrorist attack, and implanted to a this hi-tech human robo-chassis. She plunges into the action when an official of the private cybernetics firm which developed her body’s technology is attacked in a rip-roaring assault: a great action sequence from director Rupert Sanders. But this attack is part of a deep conspiracy to control the intelligence network of the state itself, and the Major is to discover worrying things about her own former identity, which keeps coming back to her in glimpses or “glitches”. She is haunted by the residual memory of her brain inside the armour: the ghost in the shell.

Like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell amplifies the fusion-chic imagery of the cityscape: with some huge and nightmarish giant hologram adverts, with some wording in English, the figures waving and moving, bowing and smiling, bumping and grinding, above the buildings: glitzy skyscrapers for downtown, grimmer apartment buildings elsewhere. There are some diverting incidentals. The Romanian star Anamaria Marinca has a droll part as Dr Dahlin, a tech specialist with a worrying habit of smoking cigarettes in the lab. You couldn’t get away with that in the US workplace.

And Johansson herself has the difficult task of making sure that she upstages all of this post-modern production design, and remains just inert enough to be the recipient of fetishised erotic fascination, yet proactive enough to be a proper asskicking action heroine. But the disconnect between her human and artificial form is not as interesting as, say, that of Alicia Vikander’s Ava, the robot in Ex Machina, who was able to parade her exoskeleton more openly and make it vulnerable and mysterious.

Johansson is always convincing as the robot Major: perhaps it was her unseen voice role as the Siri-type computer presence in Spike Jonze’s Her which made her a shoo-in for the part. Her acting style is just elusive or unreadable enough to make her plausible here. This movie gives us the shell, but not so much of the ghost.



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