Ghost in the Shell (2017) Dives Deep Enough to Prove Itself a Fascinating, Engaging Ride | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2017 live action film “Ghost in the Shell,” produced by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks, directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow, as well as loose ideas from the entire franchise, especially the original 1995 film of the same name.

The First of Her Kind

In a future not too far from our own, people have grown to love technology. You can bet that anyone you run into on these cold streets will sport some sort of cybernetic enhancement modded to their body: prosthetic limbs, wired inner organs, or the trending metal-encased cyberbrain. These advanced augmentations were coded to grant humans more convenient lives: quicker, safer, and less cumbersome living.

After a horrifying terrorist attack, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) transcends into the first of her kind: the stunning results of the first-ever brain transplant into a fully synthetic body. Now a cyborg soldier programmed to eliminate cyber crime, super hackers, and back-alley schemes, the Major is automatically drafted to hunt down the ultimate next-gen terrorist—one who is able to hack into people’s minds and puppet them.

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Suffering from a faintly growing illness of glitching memory fragments, however, the deeper the Major dives into this case, the more intense her glitches become. As the possibility emerges that her new greatest enemy might in fact belong to her blurry past, the Major arms herself for a treacherous night journey. Nothing will stand in the way of satisfying her human curiosity, as well as the inevitable reawakening of her soul to a life that was stolen from her.

A New Story

While I’ll admit that we’re looking at the film’s weakest part—the plot—first, it’s impossible to deny that this live action reigns as one of sci-fi’s more interesting films in recent times, and holds the gold for the best live action iteration of an anime produced thus far, granted that I’ve only seen segments from most of them. What we’re looking at here with GitS (2017) is a fairly well-structured story of self-discovery followed by revenge, a typical Hollywood formula that feels relatively topical compared to the franchise’s classic 1995 film, which explored the deep values of being human, artificial sentience, and of course, the vastness of the Net.

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This apparent shallowness works out because of what the film is aiming at, though; in 1995 we dove into present identity and the other weighted themes previously listed—the Major as she is existing, if you will—but in 2017, we’re instead considering how the Major would feel about her past (2nd GIG did this), and what her creation ultimately means for the future of humanity, about feeling disconnected because she lacks the background that everyone else has laid out for them. Dig too deep into the original content and you risk deviating from the main intent: a new story.

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How This Live Action Holds on its Own

We take a undoubtedly cliche ride with the Major as she discovers how she came to be, and it all clicks together wonderfully and feels unique because of how huge the title is, what it means to others, and the sheer number of comparisons that can be drawn between this seemingly shallow film and its deep, thought-provoking origination. Everybody’s experience with it will be different, and that notion makes it not only thrilling to watch, but exciting to talk about.

So the film DOES in fact deliver a fresh outlook on an already well-refined series, standing out from its manga, anime, and even video game counterparts by re-imagining the Major’s previous identity, something that purposefully remained ambiguous throughout the franchise. It was a bold, completely unnecessary “prequel” adventure, but now that it’s over, I can’t help but welcome it openly with an applause. GitS is all about varying interpretations, proven true by Motoko’s complexity in 1995 and the franchise itself, which has had several makeovers. The idea of re-envisioning shouldn’t feel new, but everything from its tone, emotional pull, presentation, and core writing should. Speaking of new faces, how does ScarJo hold up as the Major?

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Casting the Characters

Several races and colors collide in the astonishing multicultural world that the franchise is known for. I had no qualms with the casting before I entered the theater, and that hasn’t changed. Johansson is a white female actress playing a traditionally Asian character, but that’s in fact where most of the misunderstandings arise—Motoko Kusanagi embodies no one race, no one color, no one gender, and she probably never will. This was stated by 1995‘s director Mamoru Oshii, and for people to be throwing up their pitchforks in revolt of the supposed “whitewashing” is actually kind of pitiful. The context of the show allows for virtually ANYONE to play the Major, and given Johansson’s overly qualified resume for sci-fi action films, I’d hope people would rescind their bombastic comments.

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TL;DR I thought Johansson was not only appropriate for the role, but her performance was great considering that Rupert was aiming for the more hot-headed, brash, young Major of the Arise series. I prefer this Major to the 1995 one because she arguably feels more relatable.

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But just like she is in her many iterations, the Major is nothing without her Section 9 team, consisting of Chin Han as the very-human Togusa [insert comment about race being appropriate here], Takeshi Kitano as rough and intelligent Chief Aramaki (who actually speaks Japanese since English is hard for him LOL), Pilou Asbæk as the big ol’ softie Batou, and a “surprise” favorite actress of mine: Juliette Binoche as the compassionate Dr. Ouelet. To quote Guy Lodge (Variety), “A warm, wistful Binoche, brings more pathos to the role than the script strictly demands.” She makes my heart weak.

There’s a real chemistry to be felt between Dr. Ouelet and the Major, as well as between Major and Batou, and that’s something that they nailed to a tee.

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“We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” – Dr. Ouelet

The World of the Future

Where its story stumbles a bit, GitS (2017) leaves your jaw dropped with its incredibly “exciting and elaborately designed future settings,” plunging you into a visually entrancing world where cyberpunk is clearly the hottest thing. My GOD, this show is everything when it comes to its unique visual style! They use a clever lighting system that projects the color palette of the original 1995 onto the vast metropolis, giving off a vibe that’s so cold and distant, yet very interconnected with the world at the same time. CG solograms (solid holograms) layered over a typical Hong Kong-like setting give the atmosphere a very futuristic edge to it that I simply crave. You can tell that a lot of love and respect was put into the film.


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My favorite part of this film were the iconic shots of 1995 and Innocence that were recreated and woven into the story: the shelling sequence, building jump, deep dive, water fight, geisha attack, tank battle, and more. It’s all there, and yes, the scenes do not feel “thrown in” just for the allusions, but well-placed for the story’s flow. It’s a visual style to be praised, and its action sequences and use of practical effects (not just CG, but actual, physical props like the geisha masks, thermoptic suit, prosthetic and cybernetic enhancements, and other costumes) give us artsy people something really freakin’ cool to grasp onto. The hard work that went into replicating the world of Ghost in the Shell, largely from that of the film-loving folks of New Zealand’s Weta Workshop for prop creation and setting design, was very much appreciated.


The Greatest Injustice

Here it is, my biggest beef with the show and it’s NOT EVEN about the film itself. It’s about how it’s being dished out, or rather, that some of it is not. Paramount and Dreamworks refuse to offer Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe’s mind-blowing sci-fi soundtrack for sale. I understand that the movie’s box office reception was somewhat poor, but for crying out loud AT LEAST FINISH what you started. It’s a shame that a work of art, even if it’s controversial, cannot be appreciated in full just because it might not sell. These are million, probably billion, dollar corporations—it’s NOT too much to ask for by any means. There’s currently a petition going around for the soundtrack’s release (which I have signed), so hopefully we’ll see some change this way. If you value this show and artistic justice, please consider signing here!

If you stuck around for the credits, you’d have heard a remixed version of Kenji Kawai’s memorable main theme of the original film, a remix which I honestly prefer, as the drums in the second half give it a really epic feel! Again, love the throwback! All of the music adds to the gritty sci-fi tone.

Not the Last of Its Kind

It’s not very often that a sci-fi film will shift from a typical revenge mission to a cross-examination of cultures, intertwined human connections, and the irrefutable weight of family warmth. That in itself makes Ghost in the Shell (2017), despite its somewhat cliche story line, an incredibly unique experience. I’ve got nitpicks, but I’m more so thankful that I enjoyed the film beyond those glaring issues. It’s plenty entertaining, and if you look deep enough (or watch it three times like I did), you’ll surprisingly find deep, thought-provoking layers in the subtle actions of the actors.

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However much you enjoyed the show, there are bound to be more live action adaptions like it in the future—for me, that’s a hopeful thing, something nice to look forward to. This may not be relevant (not to spoil the ending here), but as a half-white, half-Asian lover of science fiction and the entire Ghost in the Shell franchise, I hustled into the theater prepared with an engaged mind, and left with an unexpectedly touched heart. It’s a show about doing what you feel is right—following your ghost—even if that challenges the world you live in and the people that once trusted you.

Because sometimes, like here, you make the right decision. 

“I mean, the character is living a really unique experience. She is a human brain inside an entirely machinate body. She is very brave to take a risk and give up everything she knows, everything that’s ever made her comfortable to discover the truth, to follow this calling. And at the end of the film really makes a huge sacrifice for the greater good of humanity. That, to me, was what was the major draw.” – Scarlett Johansson on the Major’s character

Final Assessment:

+ It’s A LOT better than I thought it would be for an anime live action; it only gets better the more I sit and think about it

+ Homages to the original material and the rest of the franchise are worked in fantastically

+ Visuals easily rival those of high-dollar action films; cool and damp futuristic atmosphere is established with excellent lighting; stylish designs and neat aesthetic all around; a very immersive world

+ Props, costumes, etc. layered beautifully with limited special effects for maximum potential; practical, physical props engineered perfectly

Ghost in the Shell is all about varying interpretations and new ideas, to which this is no exception; multicultural and multiracial world embraced

+ A fine movie if you ignore all the pointlessly controversial backlash nonsense, and this is coming from a hardcore fan of the original

– Story remains weakest part; revolves around somewhat predictable plot twists; boring antagonist; fails to explore Kuze’s Net and the world that could potentially await

– Major’s “strandy” hair can be a bit bothersome at times

– No official soundtrack release as of yet

Ghost in the Shell (2017) may not be an anime, but I’ll still welcome it here at the cafe as a “Cake,” a film that’s shy of master status but certainly worth watching for GitS or plain-old sci-fi fans in general! Despite it being an unfairly received film, I had the time of my life witnessing my Ghost in the Shell journey come to an end. It’d been a long time since I was that happy to see a film in theaters, and I’ll be coming out with a second post chronicling my loose thoughts on its reception, controversy, and the theater experience, so stay tuned for that!

I’m happy and proud to call this one of my favorite sci-fi live action movies of all time! PLEASE, let me know your thoughts on the film! Also, had you been familiar with parts of the franchise prior to, or did you dive in blind? I may be a bit of an optimist, but I enjoy hearing all sides. If you enjoyed the review, let me know with a “like” or a comment! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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12 thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell (2017) Dives Deep Enough to Prove Itself a Fascinating, Engaging Ride | Review

  1. I am so very glad to read another review that praises this movie. So far besides my own review from a few weeks back, there was only one other that also seemed to have enjoyed it. I could not agree with you more. I loved this movie. I have actually seen it twice in the cinema, one them on my own, one time with my parents. Even my dad really liked it, and he really isn’t a big science fiction fan.
    I called it Ghost in the Shell light. It was an homage to the original movie, and I think it was executed very well. Unfortunately because of all the controversy surrounding this movie, it has never gotten a fair chance. It was pretty much doomed from the start. Honestly: what a terrific post this was, really enjoyed reading it. You have really made my day 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raistlin, YOU have made MY day.

      “Doomed from the start” is quite an honest statement for its reception. It’s this terrible mindset of “though I may like it, most don’t” that gets me so conflicted and torn about my own opinions. It’s something that I shouldn’t even HAVE to face, but this world isn’t so idealistic as to have everyone consider all opinions about a given item. Most either A) create an opinion based on catchy wordplay that stand out against the rest, or B) follow by those contagious quotes by repeating the public opinion. We’ll never find the good things in something when we see it this way.

      Like yourself, I loved the film. Happy and proud to say that I do. I’m also glad that you went on two trips like I did: one with family, one without. As fun as it is to watch with other people, I end up stressing the whole time about it: “What will they think of this scene? Will they hate it now? Do they think I have crappy taste?” That sort of thing. There’s something truly magical about a solitary viewing, and as lonely as that sounds, it’s how I learn to grow and form my own opinions.

      Ghost in the Shell Light is a wonderful little name! Clearly, a great deal of passion and respect was put into the film; to recreate it by preserving many of the iconic elements but tell a new story. After all, if you wanted the original, just watch the original! That’s what I tell people.

      But anyway, I’m just so happy to find another sympathizer!! I plan to write another post about this film and other unpopular opinions. Maybe we’ll meet over there, too. Thanks so much for this comment and for sharing your own little story! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, if you do write that post, I will definitely be there. But true, it does influence people’s mindsets. If a movie gets either very positive or very negative thoughts, people’s minds are influenced because of it. If a movie gets very negative buzz, it even makes people not going there, or going but already seeing it with a very different mindset that they might otherwise have had. I had no problem at all defending this movie. I gave it a 9 in my own review, simply because I really thought it was a terrific movie. It wasn’t flawless, but few movies are, but it managed to recreate the spirit of the original movie well enough. And also set out it’s own identity. Also Scarlett played a very good role, despite the “white washing” controversy it all caused. Looking forward to your next post, and ofcourse thank you for writing this great review 😊


  2. This was what I wrote to my friend after seeing the film when it was released:
    “I personally liked it. I know it isn’t doing too well at the box office, but I can appreciate them trying to do the manga/original 1995 film justice. The plot is dumb down to speak to a more general audience but it’s not that horrible. I can see the differences they made but I am not that critical like other viewers. It is a visually stunning film and the special effects were great. My friend thought some of the scenes were too busy in some aspects, but other than that it was good. Not the best but not the worst. I know they made this film more for people who don’t dabble in anime. I get that aspect and I say go at it with an open mind. I feel like people are so hard on movies and the whole “white-washing” ideology, but Major in the 1995 film looks white even though she has a Japanese name. What I liked about Scarlett’s performance was how see always looked stoic. Like her mind wasn’t all there at times. That’s how Major is in the anime film. Kind of always lost in her own thoughts. Her and Batou in this film was perfect! I really liked their chemistry and playing off each others sarcasm. I give them a thumbs up there! The plot was generic but like I said it’s for people who just want to watch a kick ass sci-fi movie!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this, especially what you told to your friend! I don’t like being overly critical of works, especially if I haven’t seen them, so I can relate to you there. Visually, there is very few out there that I can compare it to, which is awesome considering how washed-and-rinsed the sci-fi genre is, and how many sci-fi films look as if they could take place in the same universe. Not Ghost in the Shell, though, and that’s admirable.

      You mentioned how “stoic” and “lost in her thoughts” Scarlett’s Major felt, and I think that’s an absolutely great depiction of her! If you’re familiar with the Ghost in the Shell Arise franchise, you’ll also feel how they went for that kind of younger, almost sassier Major at times for the LA. She and Batou were phenomenally cast, and if a critic’s issue with the film was the Major’s “race,” then they missed the entire point of what made this franchise stand out (and Stand Alone) to begin with.

      It’s not the smartest film of its kind, but it certainly deserves a watch, especially if you’re already into that kind of stuff. Glad to hear that your friend seemed to enjoy it, despite the plot’s attempt at trying to bite off more than it could chew! It’s a kick-ass sci-fi movie indeed, haha! Thanks so much for providing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds alright. Many people had already decided they would hate this film before even seeing it. Weird that they don’t want to sell the soundtrack. If the movie under-performed at the box office what’s the harm of releasing a product to make some extra dosh? These days it’s ot that costly as you can sell it digitally and not pay for CD manufacturing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, you’re right on the money with that one. And yeah, a soundtrack of all things. I’ve seen terrible movies get soundtrack releases—and this one’s even selling its DVDs and Blu-rays quite well! Digital releases (at least) should be no problem for a giant like Paramount. At least the composer is taking it upon himself to release the tracks on YouTube.

      Liked by 1 person

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