In the works for nearly a decade, it has been a turbulent journey to the big screen for the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. Based on the popular Japanese manga book, which has spawned several animated movies, video games and a television series, Rupert Sanders’ film received major backlash when it was first announced that Scarlett Johansson had been cast in the lead role of Major.
Despite Sander’s claims that the film existed within a multicultural universe – many of Major’s anti-terrorism team, Section 9, reflect a cultural melting pot – the fact that the film was steeped in Asian philosophy and set in a futuristic Hong Kong-inspired land only made the exclusion of Asian actors in many of the prominent roles even more glaring. Iconic Japanese actor “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, in the role of Chief Daisuke Aramaki the head of Section 9, is the only minority actor with any substantial screen time in the film. It also did not help that the live-action version deviates from the source material in a what can only be interpreted as a weak attempt to justify the casting of Johansson.
While the whitewashing allegations cannot be ignored, and spark a much needed conversation about the lack of representation of Asian actors/actresses in big budget studio films, there is enough interesting facets to Ghost in the Shell that make it hard to discredit it completely. In fact, visually speaking, it is one of the better live-action adaptations of a manga to ever hit the big screen.
Making its home debut today via Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD combo packs courtesy of Paramount Home Media Distribution, the film is a visually stunning science-fiction noir that captures the essence of the source material in a riveting way.
In a world where humans and technology can be merged to create enhanced beings, Major (Johansson) is the first of her kind; the perfect union of human mind and artificial body. Working as part of Section 9, with a focus on cyber crimes, Major and her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) find themselves on the hunt for an elusive terrorist, Kuze (Michael Pitt), who is determined to take down everyone associated with the Hanka Corporations. This includes its CEO Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) and Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the latter of whom was the designer responsible for creating Major.
As her search for Kuze intensifies, questions around her own identity begin to surface within Major.
Unlike other adaptations, such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Speed Racer for example, the vibrant visuals are not presented in a cartoony way. The bleak existential tone of the narrative works wonderfully with the gorgeously dark and glossy futuristic world in which the events unfold. Though the narrative shifts in the latter half, which is never fully realized, ultimately causes the film to stumble somewhat, the stunning visuals, especially when Sanders is recreating several memorable action sequences from Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated adaptation, make this film more than worthy of a look.
The Blu-ray only offers three special features, which feels a tad light for a technically impressive film like this, but the Hard-Wire Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell offers plenty of tidbits for fans to delve into. This particular featurette has great insight into Scarlett Johansson’s stunt work, the challenges of bringing such a popular property to life, and a detailed look into the overall visual feel of the film, just to name a few.
Despite is problematic the lack of Asian representation, and narrative flaws, Ghost in the Shell is still a Blu-ray worth checking out.
Hard-Wire Humanity: Making Ghost in the Shell
Section 9: Cyber Defenders
Man & Machine: The Ghost Philosophy