Maybe the One Movie Where a Live Action Adaptation isn’t Horrible.
This image of a robotic Geisha is one of the incredible props designed by the Weta Workshop that is featured in the Ghost in the Shell. (Image credit DreamWorks)
Why does it seem like most all of the live action remakes of great anime or video games are always abysmal? Seriously, Doom, a great game but bad movie; Attack on Titan- great anime series, comedic dirge of a film. Don’t even get me started on the Transformers franchise. The deep need for hardcore science fiction has me open to any film remotely technical these days.
But, now we have Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johannson starring as Major Mira Killian, a cyborg dealing with terrorism and personal spirituality. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead-
To be fair, the live action version incorporates a lot of the plot and scenes from the original anime movie that debuted in 1995, which is good and the cinematics and props are full on gorgeous, but if you’re going to jump in with scattered plot pieces, might as well go all the way with the original story. Regardless, the movie centers on the Major- a cybernetic construct (known as a shell) outfitted with a human brain and a soul, AKA Ghost. The Major is part of an elite security agency known as Section 9, who is looking for a cyber-terrorist responsible for hijacking a mechanical geisha and using it to kill the business executive of a high-ranking tech company called Hanka Precision Instruments.
A side thought about the geisha bot. When the Major was about to destroy the geisha bot, it stopped her, saying I don’t want to die. Then switches to the hacker who was controlling them, with a ciptic message. But, that bot’s fear of death was never touched on or addressed again throughout the whole film. A bit a lost potential, if you ask me.
In the original anime movie, the terrorist is a sentient AI known as the Puppet Master, who infects cyborgs and machines using a virus to assassinate the group (known as Section 6) who created it and to ultimately exist inside a living human brain- in order to be mortal. The live action film takes this premise and mashes it together with the Hideo Kuze character and story arc of the Ghost in the Shell anime series Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig.
Pieces of Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. anime series are also incorporated into the live action movie. (Image credit Bandai Entertainment)
In that series, Kuze is part of a group tagged as the Individual Eleven. The saga of the Eleven is long, complicated and deals with using a virus to gain the loyalty of a refugee city and get them to perform terrorist attacks due to their political views. Now, twist the plot of both anime movie and series just a bit, blend them together with a dash of alternate backstory and you get this live action movie.
Kuze, to show his broken condition, has a technological problem speaking. Sounding a bit like a buffering or skipping CD. A little cliche. He apparently is a world class hacker, but can’t fix his voice malfunctioning?
As far as the Major knows, she was the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that kills her family and leaves her body a mess. It’s then decided by AI robotic manufacturer Hanka that Killian is a prime candidate for a procedure that essentially stuffs her brain into a cyborg body. It works, and she rises to the rank of Major in Section 9 and begins the task of tracking down Kuze (played by Michael Pitt), but along the way, pieces of unknown memories begin to trickle into her conscious.
Hideo Kuze- a misguided cyborg bad-guy who just wants mortality. (Image credit DreamWorks)
As the memories progress, she learns that her parents weren’t killed in an attack, but rather she ran away from home, was arrested and then committed suicide, having a false memory implanted to cover up what really happened. She then sets off to find Kuze who fills her in on the big picture- that they and others like them, were anti-cyborg radicals that were rounded up by Hanka to be used as test subjects and became what they hated the most.
Hanka, getting wind that the Major and Section 9 are about to spill the beans on their nefarious actions deploy a spider tank to silence them, which only results in one of the movies greatest fight scenes and ends with Kuze getting killed and the Major severely damaged. She is ultimately restored, returns to her still-alive mother and ultimately continues to work as a counter-terrorist operator with Section 9.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is a science fiction dream, better than most live action films. I just wish they had stuck to the original anime movie story line with the Puppet Master AI terrorist and then used the Kuze arc for a second movie, which will probably happen. The technology featured throughout the film is certainly plausible, especially if you compare what we have today- the beginnings of hologram technology, AI platforms, and AR/VR systems.
Could AI become sentient enough to ponder its existence, could it become hostile and take over otherwise unintelligent machines? Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk seem to think so, but that’s a story for another time.
I give this movie 3.78 out of 5.00 stars for the imagery alone but would have gone five if they centered on the original anime plot.