Ghost in the Shell

Originally published as a seinen manga anime in Japan, the current iteration of Ghost in the Shell is a live-action PG-13, American science fiction film directed by Rupert Sanders, written by Jamie Moss and starring Scarlett Johansson. I haven’t read any of the earlier print or anime versions, that date back to 1989, this review is based exclusively on my impression of the 2017 movie, with some background information from my sons. The film is rated PG-13. Click here for a detailed examination of the film's rating.

In the not too distant future, the line between human and machine has blurred and most humans have cybernetic enhancements.  Hanka Robotics is the world leader in augmentative technology and they have developed a mechanical body, or “shell,” that can integrate a human brain with a cybernetic body. When a terrorist attack leaves Mira Killian on the edge of death, and both parents dead, Hanka Robotics chooses Mira as a test subject for their program. Over the objections of some, Hanka CEO Cutter decides to use Mira in a police-like counter-terrorism role. All of this is revealed during the opening minutes of the movie.

I’ll start off by saying that I’m not a fan of graphic novels, manga, or Japanese anime. I don’t dislike them. I just don’t seek them out. Ghost in the Shell is a martial-arts action film with stylized violence, lots of shooting and death. Everyone in the film seems to know martial arts and carry a gun. Cursing in the film is limited to occasional uses of mild and mid-range words. Sex is limited to machine prostitutes and more implied than shown.  

Since Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese creation there have been accusations of whitewashing from the liberal left over the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi. I’ll just say that Johansson has been a long-time supporter of multiple liberal causes and apparently had no problem playing a Japanese character.    

Visually this science fiction movie is superb. It paints a dark, sordid, but in many ways realistic city and streetscape. Earlier versions of Ghost in the Shell delved heavily into what is the soul and what constitutes a person. This movie scales back those philosophical questions, ratchets up the action, and thus creates a more accessible movie. At least that’s what the creators hoped would happen. Box office receipts suggest the movie is bombing.

If you enjoy anime or go to this film expecting guns, martial arts, and science fiction action I think you will enjoy Ghost in the Shell.

This film offers little outside of those areas mentioned just above and perhaps that’s why it’s not doing well at the box office. The philosophical elements are marginalized and the shooting and fighting are in a dozen other movies. Unless you particularly like what this film is offering, wait and rent it.