In a dystopian future, cybernetic enhancement is not only prevalent, but expected. These enhancements can be improving vision, or the ability to drink in excess without fear of alcohol poisoning. “Ghost in the Shell” creates beautiful images and futuristic cityscapes, both above the city in the holographic advertisements as well as among the slums and alleyways below the city lights. With remarkable cinematics, the plot is left flat, and there is little else to say good about this movie.
The opening sequence of “Ghost in the Shell” depicts the creation of the main character, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), and her story. In the opening cinematic, Major, as the character is referred to, is shown as just a robot skeleton, and the brain of a human, whose body was damaged beyond repair, is transplanted into the robotic shell. Then, the skeleton is given its shell, which is more or less white goo. This opening sequence provides a view into a project by Hanka Industries, the leading cybernetic enhancement company of the time, to create a combination that is the best of technology and humanity; combining cybernetics, the robotic shell, and the best of humans, their conscience. Major proves to be the definition of how powerful the combination can be, as she has many moments where she shows her prowess scaling buildings, descending heights of hundreds of feet, and mercilessly battling any foe in her path. But after her brain was transplanted, she can’t remember any of her past.
While the opening credits had a large amount of potential for the film, afterwards the story did not live up to the cinematics. In a “Blade Runner” type cityscape, “Ghost in the Shell” surrounds Major and her anti-terrorism division, labeled Section 9, led by Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). However there’s something amiss beyond the Major’s poor understanding of her own humanity and place in the world. She’s having “glitches,” visual and auditory hallucinations, frequently, which lead major to believe her superiors are lying about her history. Kuze (Michael Pitt), the terrorist that Section 9 hunts throughout the film, warns her not to trust Hanka Industries, Major begins a search for the truth behind her history.
A frustrating component of this film regarding race is in the dialogue between Major and Aramaki. Aramaki speaks strictly in Japanese, but Major, and every other character responds in English. There is a chance that in this cybernetic future, people have transcended language on an auditory level, but why would everyone not speak English then? This was an opportunity to further the ideology behind cybernetics in relation to race, but instead,
director Rupert Sanders decides to overlook a potentially important feature of the film. Fortunately, the film still had a diverse cast in most categories: Race and gender specifically, but most are not memorable in comparison to the racial issues of Johansson and the dialogue in the film. These characters are all but forgotten as their character is not developed in light of building a story around Major. Batou (Pilou Asbæk) is the only remotely recognizable team member, in part due to his cybernetic eyes, replacing his human ones after an explosion.
While “Ghost in the Shell” proves to be a powerful sci-fi thriller, the adaptation of both a Japanese Manga and two animated movies fall flat in how it pays homage to the previous films. The main concern lies in the depiction of Major, who has traditionally been of Asian descent, however, as with many circumstances, Hollywood whitewashed the role in favor of Scarlett Johansson. While Johansson has done terrific work with Marvel as Black Widow, as well as in films like “Her” and “Lucy,” she is under criticism for her role in “Ghost in the Shell.” Once again, roles that could have been played by Japanese actors and actresses have instead placed a popular name in the credits. Johansson does well in the role, but it is difficult to look past her original name, Motoko Kusanagi, without knowing that the character is of Japanese descent. The one saving
grace for this move would have been to see Major portrayed as a human in a flashback sequence, but even that does not happen. Instead, any on screen recognition of race is discarded.
“Ghost in the Shell” had opportunity to provoke many important questions from viewers. Major is hacked, as happens to electronics from time to time, but with the integration of technology being so prevalent, what does the chance of being hacked say about the fragile nature of identity? In the film, despite having a very diverse cast and set of characters, there is very little mention of race or gender. Does that mean technology has affected what or how people think about race and gender? After all, the leading Doctors that created Major were French and English, and living in Japan. Despite some of these philosophical questions that can be raised and great potential led by cinematics and graphics, there is too much controversy and a lack of development that limit this film from its true success. Ghost in the Shell earns a 6.8/10, but could have been so much more. “Ghost in the Shell” focuses on soul and the idea of human conscience, but seems to lack the same soul it tries to tell a story about.