We had a date night with the soon to be wife and decided to go see the new Ghost in the Shell film starring Scarlett Johansson. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the animation, so obviously I had to watch that soon after.
Ghost in the Shell 
The Ghost in the Shell anime has been kind of a seminal work for me. By the time I saw the film, I’d read Neuromancer and I was familiar with the role-playing game Cyberpunk 2020, but this was the first time I saw strong visuals based on the genre. Obviously Blade Runner did exist and is a better film, but besides the cityscapes, it is visually very toned down. Ghost in the Shell on the other hand oozes cyberpunk visuals in every scene. In any case, with this background and with the trailers of the film looking very nice, I just had to see the new film. We received some tickets for the cinema as a Christmas present with the addendum that the giver of the present would baby sit, while we went to the movies, so we headed out on a date night to see this.
What is good about this film is the visual side of it. It takes some scenes straight from the anime and even the manga and transfers them beautifully on screen. It takes those scenes and runs with them in an elegant and imaginative fashion. There’s several occasions of being awestruck by the beauty of the film. There’s even more occasions of being inspired by the way this vision of the future is brought to the silver screen. It is by far the visually stronger piece of the two versions of this film.
The thing that didn’t work for me was change of focus in the plot. Instead of being about advancement of technology, specifically about the meaning of humanity in the face of artificial enhancements to human bodies and finally the birth of an AI, this is about Major (played by Scarlett Johansson) trying to come to terms with her new living condition. The Major was saved after a terrorist attack, but the cost was to replace everything in her with the exception of her brain with cybernetic parts, and she is trying to struggle with what it means to be 99% machine. The plot is moved forward by the revelation that she wasn’t actually saved, but stolen to be an experiment in how far cybernetic enhancements can be taken. There are further revelations about previous failed experiments and the Major manages to meet one badly disgruntled experiment that got away. At this point the Major becomes a liability, but manages to escape and the whole Section 9 key staff agrees with her – that she is not a liability and the party that has been funding the experiments is executed instead. Section 9 is somehow kept alive despite the execution, and life goes on with the Major having realized that the cybernetics don’t define her.
The Major comes off as an emo kid with her quest to come to terms with herself. The muddled corporate and government interests isn’t bad of itself, but the resolution is just full of gaps. Advancements in technology are turned into a thing to be feared, since they are demonized into experiments committed by people, who will forgo all morals in the name of progress. That is, the original is a somewhat intelligent essay on progress, how it can be used for good and bad, and how we can find meaning in the face of all that, while this is a very classic scifi from the time, when scifi was just a horror sub-genre (no horror though – even suspense is rarely there), where technological advancement was the root of all evil.
Despite the film being turned into a meaningless and weak effort, the visuals are stunning and the action is riveting. If you are a fan of cyberpunk and futuristic visions, that could be enough to salvage the film. For me, it was just enough.
- Director: Rupert Sanders
- Watched on: 1st Apr 2017
- Watched at: Kinopalatsi
Ghost in the Shell 
I’ve seen this several times, but after seeing the new live action film version of this, I realized that I didn’t remember much about it, and I had to dig out the DVD from my shelf and give it another go.
Turns out that the live action version filled a few gaps on this cyberpunk classic for me – this was actually the first time that I managed to follow the plot completely. The plot is quite complex and the film puts little effort in making it understandable. There’s a lot of players, who aren’t properly introduced, or who play an important role, but come and go so quickly, that there’s not enough context to get the full meaning. There’s a few occasions, where it feels like 20 minutes of the film was lost on the cutting room floor by accident with some important bits of plot just gone. The live action film is done in current Hollywood fashion, where it is considered a failure, if the viewer has to put any effort into figuring things out. Despite the differences between the plots, the live action version filled a few gaps for me and I managed to follow the plot through. Nice bonus for seeing the live action version.
In any case, the film is a cyberpunk classic. It is one of the very first pieces of work in the cyberpunk genre, where the world is so vividly visualized, and it has influenced countless visions of the future ever since. Despite not being the first or even one of the best works in the genre, it is still most often the baseline for cyberpunk visualizations. It is a story about Section 9 government agency and especially about Motoko Kusanagi, an agent almost completely constructed out of cybernetic parts, going after a weird hacker, who turns out to be an AI escaped from military experiments. The plot is heavily dozed with ruminations about the nature of humanity in the face of exceeding amounts of artificial improvements and finally in the face of an actual AI – a completely artificial, self-aware, and intelligent being.
The film seems to exist mostly as a vehicle to ask the questions. Instead of providing answers, it points out a few things we need to give a bit of thought before long. Along the way it is a nice but not really an exceptional piece of film making. The chase after the mysterious hacker is interesting for a while, but there are a few occasions, where the film pulls out the rug from underneath itself just in order to advance faster into the questions it sees as interesting, that is, suspense is lost in the name of efficiency. There was opportunity for more, without cutting away from the philosophical questions that the film poses.
It is a testament to the film, that even after having seen it at least half a dozen times, it still had a few things to reveal to me, and it still held me captive for its duration. This is a classic for a reason and I heartily recommend it for anyone.
- Director: Mamoru Oshii
- Original Title: Kôkaku Kidôtai
- Watched on: 11th Apr 2017
- Watched at: Home (DVD)