The recent controversy around the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist in the live-action adaptation of the anime film Ghost in the Shell caused a lot of outrage among some fans. However, this was not the case in Japan, where some viewers believed that the character’s non-traditional appearance actually added to the movie’s themes of self-identity and the merging of natural and mechanical bodies. Even director Mamoru Oshii argued that the character’s physical form was insignificant since she was a cyborg and her body was not her original one. The decision to set the film in a culturally ambiguous city was also criticized, but producer Steven Paul explained that the idea was to create an international world with people from different nationalities, which made sense given the futuristic setting. Despite this, some aspects of the film, such as the depiction of strip clubs, were still seen as problematic.
Despite the controversy surrounding its adaptation, it’s important not to overlook the many merits of this film. Scarlett Johansson seamlessly embodies her bionic character, striking the right balance between being cold and conveying the inner turmoil of a tormented human mind. The plot follows the source material closely, yet manages to keep audiences engaged with the mystery surrounding the protagonist’s past, which is revealed through cryptic “glitches” in her memory. Even Batou, Major’s trusted colleague, surprises with his character development as he openly admits to the monotony of his life and displays a soft spot for stray dogs – a refreshing and unexpected metaphor in a mainstream blockbuster.
The movie’s depiction of the “international world” that the characters inhabit is visually stunning. The towering holographic advertisements are as tall as the surrounding buildings, while low camera angles of gritty apartment blocks add texture to the scene. The opening sequence, where Major’s synthetic body is created to a faith-inspiring score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe, pays respectful homage to the 1995 anime. The action scenes, with kaleidoscopic visuals and light-bending effects involving invisibility cloaks, slow-motion shattered glass, and splashing water, are frame-worthy. While it may not be as profound as Blade Runner 2049 released in the same year, Ghost in the Shell has enough character depth and intrigue to support its impressive visuals and is far from a shallow robot of a film.