Disclaimer: these are my personal views and I admit sometimes I don’t have the best taste in movies. This is for fun so if you disagree let’s keep it civil. 🙂
Another year, another anime adaptation through the Hollywood system. Is this movie another Dragon Ball Evolution or is actually good?
For starters, I won’t address the cast issue. So much e-ink has been spilled about it already and I’m nowhere prepared to talk about it in a meaningful way that helps the issue. Whether the plot twist at the end assuages such issues or just exacerbate them, I will leave it to each one’s opinion.
Thus, I’m just gonna focus on whether the film is good or not on its own merits and whether it holds up to the source material.
With that said, the movie is an enjoyable cyberpunk-action romp. It’s a lighter version in terms of plot and concept to the original material and by that, I meant the manga, which delved in the philosophical, cultural, political and economic implications of a world where the divide between organics and cybernetics becomes blurred by the day.
Usually in the manga and it’s animated adaptations, the Major (that’s her rank by the way, not her name) barely acknowledges her previous life and her evolution moves towards what she is and what she will become. Instead in the new film, Mira (her ‘assumed’ name, not her real one as we find near the end of the film) grows concerned about who was here and what she is now: human or a weapon. Whether she has a soul (the ‘ghost’ of the title) or not. Thus the personal conflict draws comparisons to films like Robocop.
The matter of the story becomes a question of oneself’ identity when your body becomes more machine than human when a hacker can enter your brain and implant new false memories or delete your identity. Whether one is human because you still possess a ghost or soul. The greatest irony is what really happened to the Major and it not only touches the inherent evil of carrying out experiments on unwilling victims but addresses the race controversy (if it fails or lands it is up to everyone’s opinion).
Plot wise the story follows a boilerplate story of a detective solving a case to find a bigger conspiracy and going rogue to stop it with the difference that her hypercompetent boss and teammates don’t fall for the obvious deceptions cast by the villain and trust their comrade. That is probably one of the most refreshing things about the film. The story is basically lifted from the 95’s anime film (no wonder considering that Mamoru Oshii, its director back then is now a consultant for the film). It does add elements from the anime series, such as Kuze (who gets merged with the Puppet Master). The homage it’s so obvious that there are several scenes that frame by frame is a copy of the 95’s film.
In terms of acting, the cast works. Of special mention are Beat Kitano and Pilou Asbaek, who are dead ringers of Aramaki & Batou respectively. Actually, I think Pilou steals great part of the film by giving the necessary levity and heart to a story that is cold. Kitano plays Chief Aramaki with the coldness and smarts of a samurai now working as seasoned shogun. While the rest of Section 9 barely appear, their few scenes show them not only as a superbly effective team but as fire forged friends that trust each other. It’s a credit to the actors that they bright so much with so few minutes on screen.
On the terms of the villains, Kuze is the only one worth remembering as Cuttler is your standard evil CEO and Dr. Oulet is a plain evil scientist that regrets her actions. But the villains here are just to provide us with an easier counterpoint to the arguments of the main characters.
Scarlett Johansson works as the Major (race issues aside). Her acting comes as stiff, stilted and cold, even a times hunched. At first, it comes as off but in hindsight makes sense as she is a brain encased in an artificial shell with barely any sense input. Action wise Johansson is a sure bet and in hindsight, it is good that a woman has now enough pulled in the film industry to lead a blockbuster without any romantic plot.
Possibly the best accomplishment of the movie is in the visual effects, from the unnerving design of the robotic geishas to the mixture of organic and crude cybernetic implants, the screen is full of detail. The design of the city (my assumption is that is Hong Kong but a friend says it is Tokyo) contrast the grit and claustrophobic sense of the environment proper of a cyberpunk story with the colorful and titanic holograms trying to sell anything. This is a vision of twenty minutes into our future and that makes it more relatable.
Music wise, Clint Mansell does a good work (personally I prefer his score of Noah), but it is not memorable to me. Also, I think the greatest oversight of a movie that lifted so many scenes of the 95’s anime film where to don’t use the theme by Kenji Kawai in the opening sequence when the Major’s body is being created. This scene here has become an icon of anime for western audiences.
Bottom line, this was a film of which I had few expectations but has a pleasantly overall quality. It’s almost a faithful adaptation of the world created by Masamune Shirow with some flaws. So far I would dare to say it is the best adaptation of an anime property into a Hollywood film and on its own it holds as a science fiction and cyberpunk piece. A highly recommended film for science fiction fans.
Watch it if: you are a fan of cyberpunk, William Gibson, Blade Runner, the 1995 animated adaptation by Mamoru Oshii, GitS SAC or the manga and are flexible to adaptations. Or if you want an amicable gateway experience into cyberpunk.
Don’t watch it if: you can’t look past the issue of the cast, miss the more deep and thorough heavy knowledge of philosophy, technology, politics & economics of the original manga. Or if you are looking into a more dense cyberpunk story.
Grade: 4.5 out of 5.
Desirability: I will be buying the blu-ray when it comes out.