“Ghost in the Shell” brings anime to life

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Ann Hor­nady

Fic­tion. PG- 13. 105 min­utes.

Ar­riv­ing in the­aters a bit bruised by ac­cu­sa­tions of white­wash­ing and bat­tered by au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions rang­ing from skep­ti­cal to sky high, “Ghost in the Shell” winds up be­ing the kind of good- but- not- great movie that does lit­tle to live up to the controversy that pre­cedes it.

Scarlett Jo­hans­son stars in this moody, vis­ually daz­zling adap­ta­tion of Ja­panese direc­tor Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime film, which be­came a cult clas­sic for its rev­o­lu­tion­ary mash- up of clas­si­cal an­i­ma­tion and com­puter gen­er­ated ef­fects. Di­rected by Ru­pert San­ders (“Snow White and the Hunts­man”), this it­er­a­tion of “Ghost in the Shell” stream­lines the orig­i­nal story, about a crime- fight­ing cy­borg whose hu­man soul— or “ghost”— be­gins to flut­ter to life with un­set­tling frag­ments of past memories.

Wear­ing a ra­zored black hair style, her eyes two smol­der­ing black em­bers, Jo­hans­son de­liv­ers a con­vinc­ing if im­pas­sive per­for­mance as the “Ma­jor,” a somber su­per­heroine who, like her an­i­mated an­tecedent, strips down to her porce­lain- col­ored body suit ( her “shell”) be­fore lit­er­ally div­ing into the ac­tion to per­form her most ac­ro­bat­i­cally im­pres­sive der­ring- do.

In a time when most hu­mans are cy­ber­net­i­cally en­hanced to live longer and per­form bet­ter, the Ma­jor is sim­ply the most ex­treme ex­am­ple of how the lines be­tween what’s hu­man and what’s tech­no­log­i­cal have blurred. But she’s haunted by ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions about her true iden­tity.

Her doc­tor— a sci­en­tist played with moth­erly con­cern by Juli­ette Binoche— told her that her brain was sal­vaged from a refugee whose par­ents were killed by ter­ror­ists in the har­bor of the sprawl­ing Ja­panese city where “Ghost in the Shell” takes place. In the film’s ar­rest­ing open­ing se­quence, we see her brain be­ing trans­planted into her syn­thetic body, which emerges from a fi­nal bath of milky glaze that hard­ens and shat­ters, re­veal­ing the hu­man­like form be­neath.

San­ders evinces a sim­i­lar fas­ci­a­tion with sur­faces through­out “Ghost in the Shell,” whether they’re grimy, gleam­ing, glis­ten­ing or dis­solv­ing into an enig­matic haze of pix­els. The movie is of­ten lovely to look at, its ul­tra­mod­ern metropolis set­ting a hive of holo­graphic bill­boards, per­sonal- me­dia bub­bles, se­duc­tive neon and clas­si­cal Asian de­sign el­e­ments.

As the Ma­jor and her col­league Ba­tou seek out a mys­te­ri­ous super- hacker known here as Kuze, what passes for a story turns out to be rel­a­tively pro­saic.

With her chilly, mono­tonic re­serve, Jo­hans­son is play­ing an­other ver­sion of a char­ac­ter that’s be­come some­thing of a go- to in re­cent years, in such in­trigu­ing spec­u­la­tive fan­tasies as “Un­der the Skin,” “Lucy” and the rapidly evolv­ing op­er­at­ing sys­tem in “Her.” Al­though purists will still no doubt think of the Ma­jor as a prop­erly Asian char­ac­ter, San­ders has eased the in­her­ent cul­tural ten­sions of “Ghost in the Shell” some­what by mak­ing it a plu­ral­is­tic en­sem­ble picture: Binoche is French; the Dan­ish ac­tor Pilou As­baek plays Ba­tou; the Ro­ma­nian ac­tress Ana­maria Mar­inca plays a key role; and the legendary Ja­panese crime- film ac­tor “Beat” Takeshi Ki­tano por­traysMa­jor’s com­man­der, Ara­maki ( toss­ing in an amus­ingly self- ref­er­en­tial mo­ment along the way).

Nar­ra­tively, “Ghost in the Shell” is rather dull, in large part be­cause of the many movies that have copied the anime orig­i­nal Scarlett Jo­hans­son in "Ghost in the Shell."

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Black­coat’s Daugh­ter Rated R 66 ¼ 5 Re­viewed on 4C The Boss Baby Rated PG 6665 Re­viewed on this page Ghost in the Shell Rated PG- 13 6655 Re­viewed on 5C The Zookeeper’s Wife Rated PG- 13 6655 Re­viewed on 1C so in­ge­niously. This ver­sion may not break new ground, but it re­vis­its fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory with a vi­brant sense of style and wel­come re­straint. It ex­em­pli­fies the kind of re­spectable and ut­terly un­nec­es­sary re­make that now de­fines the Hol­ly­wood busi­ness model.

Jasin Boland, Para­mount Pic­tures

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