When the reveal about Scarlett Johansson’s casting in the lead role of “Ghost in the Shell” was made, there was widespread outrage. However, in Japan, some fans felt that the protagonist’s appearance served the film’s themes of self-identity and the melding of natural and mechanical bodies, and weren’t particularly bothered by it. Mamoru Oshii, the director of the anime films, pointed out that since the character is a cyborg, her physical form is irrelevant. The decision to set the film in a culturally ambiguous city was also criticized, but producer Steven Paul explained that the intention was to create an “international world” with characters of different nationalities.
Despite the controversy surrounding its adaptation, there are many aspects of this film that are deserving of praise. Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of the bionic protagonist is natural and convincing, striking a balance between cold and tormented. The storyline remains engaging, with cryptic “glitches” revealing glimpses of the character’s troubled past. Even supporting characters like Batou are surprisingly fleshed out, offering unexpected themes such as the emptiness of duty and a fondness for stray dogs. It’s refreshing to see a mainstream blockbuster tackle such metaphors in a half-decent manner.
The world that the characters inhabit in Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning. The towering holographic advertisements are as tall as the surrounding buildings, and the low-angled shots of dingy apartment blocks add a gritty texture to the setting. The beginning of the film, where Major’s synthetic body is constructed to the sound of Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe’s inspiring score, is a respectful adaptation of the 1995 anime. The action scenes involving invisibility cloaks, slow-motion shattered glass, and splashing water provide images that are worthy of framing and hanging up on your wall. While not as ambitious or profound as Blade Runner 2049, which was released in the same year, Ghost in the Shell has enough character depth and intrigue to support its amazing visuals and should not be dismissed as a hollow robot of a film.