Of all the arts, anime arguably has one of the largest cult followings so news that one of its quintessential pieces was to be adapted into a live-action picture was met with bated breath by much of the fan-base. Stepping up to the plate to direct science-fiction fable Ghost in the Shell is Rupert Sanders with what is just his second feature. Set in a vibrant dystopian future, the story centres around Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) who, after narrowly surviving a terrorist attack, has her brain inserted into a robotic body with powerful cybernetic enhancements. Designed to become a crime-fighting soldier by intelligence firm Hanka Robotics, she is assigned to track down and kill a mysterious hacker known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt) who has been infiltrating the company’s systems.
The striking visual style from the Japanese source material is maintained, and the stunning use of 3D is definitely the best I’ve witnessed since Gravity, immersing us in the richly textured futuristic cityscapes. The plot itself is fairly conventional and has the attributes of a slow-burning origins story, but energetic action sequences and luscious cinematography offer enough eye-popping distraction to counteract this for the most part.
The casting of Johansson as the lead has caused much publicised controversy, sparking a heated ‘whitewashing’ debate as all the characters in the original are of Asian origin. However, I personally think she is perfect for this part. Her obscure roles of late include providing the seductive voice of an operating system and portraying a skin-shedding extraterrestrial. She brings a similar sense of detachment to Mira in what is a mesmerising performance. Solid support comes from Pitt who puts the roid into android and throws his weight around during his limited screen time. Peter Ferdinando is terrific as Cutter, the selfish CEO of Hanka who sees his creations as only weapons, caring for the shells but ignoring the ghosts.
Some may be quick to label Sander’s version of The Ghost in the Shell with the ‘style over substance’ tag, but it’s much more than that thanks to Scarlett Johansson. The storytelling can feel laboured or even a little boring when she’s not around, but her commanding screen presence elevates the material and bestows the beautifully constructed digital backdrops with a fascinating focal point. It might not satisfy the army of anime enthusiasts, but as a cinematic experience, it is worth seeing for the remarkable use of 3D if nothing else.
See the trailer: