Hollywood’s take on the incredible Ghost in the Shell franchise was better than I expected and the supposed “whitewashing” of the Major is in fact a plot point.
So if you are avoiding seeing the movie out of fear of Hollywood butchering the mythos or out of rage over the casting of Scarlett Johansson, you can rest assured that there is no reason for you not to see the movie. The movie is a great blend of elements from all the adaptations so far (with particular emphasis on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and GitS: SAC 2nd Gig), so if you’re a big fan who’s willing to be open to a new story, you will enjoy it.
Understand that I say all this as a hardcore Ghost in the Shell fan who was initially rather disgusted by the whole idea of a live action movie. I didn’t think it would work or look good and I definitely didn’t think that Hollywood could handle my favorite franchise. I have been very pleasantly surprised and will happily add the movie to my Ghost in the Shell collection when it becomes available for purchase.
I can’t praise the visual style enough and was extremely pleased by the fact that the writer(s) and director really did their homework researching both the visual and story elements that made the other adaptations enjoyable and powerful. At the same time, it has a solid enough story of its own and makes some very successful changes to a few key points. The emotional scenes hit you hard and the action sequences, even the ones that are references to the first movie, are exciting and well shot. It would be a good movie to use to introduce someone to the franchise, especially those who are resistant to watching anime. Being Hollywood, it is a little less deep and therefore more digestible to a wider audience, but it doesn’t particularly suffer from that. It is a good movie and a worthy entry in the Ghost in the Shell franchise. I would encourage GitS fans and newcomers who like sci-fi or action films to go and see it. The only people I would suggest skip the movie are those who are squeamish of body horror and those suffering from photosensitive epilepsy.
Visual Style: 10/10 Full of homages, but has a unique flavor all its own.*
Story: 7/10 The plot is a bit simple, but solid and the emotional points hit you hard.
Music: 6/10 Not bad, but suffers by comparison to the scores by Kenji Kawai and Yoko Kanno.
Casting: 8/10 Everybody gives a solid performance, but the real standouts are Aramaki, Kuze, and two minor characters.
*There are several segments which depend on heavy strobing for visual effect, which is why I advise those with photosensitive epilepsy to avoid seeing the movie.
From here on there will be heavy spoilers, so read at your own risk.
If you’re looking for a precise adaptation of the manga (or even a single chapter of it) this is definitely not the movie you’re looking for, but then again, neither are any of the other adaptations. So you need to set aside the idea of a “faithful adaptation of the manga/original movie/anime series”. This movie is at its core, a loving tribute to every entry in the franchise with its own discrete story. (Quick note: I have only seen the first two episodes of Arise, so any references to the later episodes or movie were lost on me).
We have the Major, who is introduced to us as “Mira”, in yes, a Caucasian cyborg body. We are told that she is the very first full body cyborg. She is a refugee to Japan who was the victim of a terrorist bombing. Her boat sunk in the harbor and her parents are dead. Her body was made by Hanka Robotics and she will join the forces of Public Security Section 9 in one year, because Hanka needs her as a tool to advance its influence within the government. Her characterization is very much the angsty Motoko from the original film. She moves without authorization and is disturbed when she destroys a robot making a very human plea. Rather than doubting the existence of her brain however, she doubts the idea of herself being anything except a weapon. She treats both her body and mind as invincible/expendable, ignoring injuries and making a dangerous brain dive.
Batou remains her more human foil, showing the wider range of emotion and trying to comfort her the best he can. He makes a reference to his own terrible memories by telling her that she is lucky to not really remember her past. He feeds strays and has a particular fondness for a basset hound he has named Gabriel. Initially he does not have cyborg eyes (in this case not being a full body cyborg), but gets them after a bomb destroys his eyes. He is less gun happy than his counterparts, in this case it isn’t him that blows a companion bot to bits (though the doctor examining it assumes it was him). There is heavy reference to his character in Innocence and a subtle reference is made to his history which was explored in the Stand Alone Complex episode Jungle Cruise. He is still funny, but isn’t given as much humorous material as in other versions.
The movie keeps the major action set pieces from the original movie (which are not from the manga), but the story is more along the lines of Individual 11, with Kuze being the primary “antagonist”, though like in the Laughing Man plot, it is a politically connected corporate entity that is the real enemy. Motoko’s actual origin is changed from being one of two survivors of a plane crash who was cyberized at the age of six or seven (and being the first child to undergo the procedure), to being a teenaged runaway who was dragged off the streets and forcibly cyberized along with 98 others. She is Japanese, but her memories are wiped and she is given a new identity that will incline her towards fighting terrorists. She is supplied with a Caucasian styled body and name to cover up her true origins. Kuze was one of the other runaways who was cyberized, but the procedure was not a full success and he was abandoned to die. The other 97 subjects died. Kuze, not being supplied with a memory inhibiting drug, has some idea of what was done to him and the plot is initiated by his rampage of revenge against Hanka and the scientists associated with Project 2571. The tension between Motoko and Kuze that existed in Individual 11 is very much intact and Kuze’s actor does an amazing job in the film. Their personal connection is parallel to the one in the series, but isn’t exactly the same, so the flavor of their relationship is different but hardly inferior.
Motoko eventually finds out the truth about her past and goes to visit a woman who turns out to be her mother. The sequence is a real tearjerker and it is her interaction with her grieving mother that spurs her into real action. Aramaki refuses to believe that Motoko has actually gone rogue and prepares Section 9 for the attack he knows Cutter and Hanka Robotics will launch on them. Aramaki is much more physically active than in any of the other versions, actually taking to the battlefield himself and scoring several kills. He still has the same attitude and slyness however. And his final showdown with Cutter is so satisfying that you can’t be disappointed that Motoko doesn’t do the deed herself. Then again, her showdown with him via the tank is incredible enough.
The movie blends Kuze and the Puppeteer very nicely. The only thing about him (or the film in general) that disappointed me is that when he transfers his ghost to the net, knowing Motoko will not be following him, is that he does not say “I’ll go on ahead” (like he does in the series). That said, even though he cannot contribute to the fight with the tank, his presence there and his fearless interaction with it really adds a lot to the sequence. His character is in some ways a bit more human than the original character.
There are some things that this movie does better than the original movie (and in one case the manga). One is the effect of the thermo-optic camouflage, which in this case can be shown not fully working and/or deteriorating based on motion or objects bumping against the person’s form. The other is the sequence with the poor garbageman who has been implanted with false memories. He does not recover and go back to work like in the manga. Nor does he sit shell shocked and mute as he realizes he has to live with the false memories. Instead, in an extremely shocking and brutal moment, he uses his neck restraint to hang himself. Which, frankly, is the most realistic reaction out of the three. Finally, the film ends with a Motoko that is sure in her course and looking to the future, something that we have not gotten to see much of in any of the adaptations. Hinting that perhaps, if the movie manages to get a sequel, that we will see a Motoko more akin to the one in the manga.
As I said, it is a skillful blend of the manga and existing adaptations while being its own unique entry in the franchise. I am very glad I went to see it and enjoyed the movie immensely. I can’t wait to buy it when it comes out. Though I will need to buy and watch all of Arise first, so that way I can watch the movie and enjoy all of the references.