Human brain, cyborg body... live action, based on Manga. The dichotomies of ‘Ghost’ look wonderful on UHD Blu-ray.
‘Ghost in the Shell’: a human soul in a cyborg shell — this can’t end well.
Ghost in the Shell is a live action re-imagining of the 1980s Japanese Manga. There are a number of stories in the Manga. One version hit the big screen as Japanese anime in 1995. Another story appeared as Innocence: Ghost in the Shell nine years later, and the original version was revised with improved graphics in 2008.
The central character is a lifelike cyborg with a human brain. In this version, the origins are sketched in the opening minute or two. The brain was from a woman, apparently injured beyond saving. She awakes disorientated. Then we jump forward a year and she — Scarlett Johansson — is now the lead agent of Section 9, fighting terrorism. In this case, the terrorism is being conducted by someone called the Puppet Master in the original film, and Kuze in this one. He controls cyborgs and people through some kind of mind virus.
Johansson isn’t the only one with a human/ machine meld. Just about everyone in this movie has some kind of enhancement. The main tech has a section of her face around her eyes which just pushes out and swings up when she needs to interface her mind to her microscope. Johansson’s main sidekick, Pilou Asbæk, who looks astonishingly like his character in the anime, acquires artificial vision in the course of the movie.
Many of the bad guys in the movies appear to have chosen their enhancements for no discernible benefit other than achieving a particular grotesque appearance. Perhaps those metal fittings around their lower faces help them to chew food more effectively.
Like her anime equivalent, Johansson likes to shed her clothes for one action scene near the start. This scene is patterned on the original, except that our actress’ body appears to made of segmented plastic. Unlike her face, which looks (and of course is) real, until a section is removed at one point by the enemy.
Inevitably a 2017 Ghost in the Shell with a white star was going to generate some controversy, with allegations of ‘white washing’ — the use of a white actor to play a person of another race. Apparently the Japanese originators of the material, and the Japanese people themselves (the movie was released there a couple of weeks before making its way to the United States) had no problems with this. Some noted that the character is a machine.
I wonder how many of those complaining were familiar with the anime versions. As with many anime presentations, many of the characters are not sketched with strong racial characteristics. The Motoko Kusanagi character — the anime version of Johansson’s character — actually has blue eyes and a very pale complexion. It’s as
though the character designers aimed at some kind of mid-Pacific amalgam to appeal to a wider audience.
Johansson herself also looks vaguely midPacific in this movie. And she’s clearly one of the best things about it.
Also brilliant is the visual realisation of this world, with holographic billboards and logos everywhere across the city. It’s at once rich and chaotically seedy. There are moments of first-class acting in scenes which are rather moving, such as Johansson meeting the older woman as she’s probing her origins, or her interactions with the Puppet Master, played by Michael Pitt, who has quite a history of playing tortured characters.
But the movie as a whole seems a little too much by the numbers. What is the magic that makes a movie really work, compared to one that doesn’t? No one really knows. If they did, most movies would be great. But as eye candy, especially on Ultra HD Blu-ray, this is glorious. The amount of CGI work that has gone into creating the environment in which this movie takes place is breathtaking.
Be warned, you’re going to want a display that handle blacks well, and is good at discriminating between dark tones, for this is rich and visually dark, almost without a break.
As good as the picture is, so is the sound. On both Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray it’s presented in Dolby Atmos, and the sound engineers clearly had fun steering sound every which way. The package of languages is the same on both discs, which is unusual; most UHD/Blu-ray packages have the latter more localised, the former with stacks of languages. I’ve assumed that they’ve only wanted to press the one UHD for international distribution. Perhaps that is the Paramount way. (Yes, the distributor Universal Sony also distributes Paramount in Australia these days.).
Bit-rate (Mbps) of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ main feature on the Blu-ray disc.