What makes us human? Is it our thoughts, our sense of self, our mind? Or is it our bodies, our physiology? Ghost in the Shell (2017) touches on these questions in a superficial way, while delivering incredible action sequences set in a visually sublime postmodern Tokyo.
It is necessary to acknowledge the political shadow that has been cast over this film since the early days of production. Happily, the majority of the cast is international; there is a fair amount of japanese dialogue and the acting is engaging – from Kuze’s pitiful twitches to The Major’s intense stare. Mamoru Oshii, director of the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) believes that Johansson was right for the role. And yes, the fictional landscape of Ghost in the Shell complicates the idea of racial representation – bodies are just vessels to be modified, mechanical and almost obsolete. At the same time, our twenty-first century world is one in which race does matter, where lack of visibility continues to marginalise outsiders, and where representation becomes important. It is an issue which cannot help but leave an uncomfortable mark on an otherwise well-presented film.
Ghost in the Shell is also a remake. This inherently requires it to walk a delicate line between paying tribute to the source material and reinventing it. This is done quite well – die-hard fans will appreciate the nearly identical scenes taken from the first film, such as the garbage-truck shootout – and the new choices feel natural and build upon existing lore. With a saturated colour pallet and a techno-dirty aesthetic, Ghost in the Shell is thrilling and beautiful. Its weakest point is the plot, which requires a few leaps of logic and feels somewhat oversimplified. It lacks the intriguing philosophy that fans of the franchise may expect. Regardless, the development of a classic revenge-based narrative fits with the style of the film and delivers a satisfying conclusion.
Ultimately, Ghost in the Shell survives the remake process mostly intact. It stands alone as an action-thriller with an intrinsic backdrop and well-choreographed fight scenes. It is a must-see for cyberpunk enthusiasts new and old.