Thriller a feast for the eyes
Ghost in the Shell Rated: M Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Wincott, Michael Pitt
There has been no escaping the “whitewash” outcry about Scarlett Johansson’s casting in this big-budget sci-fi thriller based on Masamune Shirow’s late-80s classic manga series of the same name.
Would there have been as much fuss if her character, Major Mira Killian, had a blonde wig instead of a black one that gives her the vague appearance of being, or trying to be, of Asian origin?
Mamoru Oshii, director of the 1995 anime Ghost film, said he had no issue with Johansson playing the part because Major’s character is a cyborg with no fixed form or race.
But others have attacked the film for failing to address questions about race and cultural identity.
Since the film’s release, two schools of opinion have emerged, claiming this an unworthy movie — all ghost, no shell — or that it is a visual spectacular.
Controversy aside, Ghost in the Shell is a dazzling feast for the eyes, with the 3-D effects in several water scenes, and one where Major smashes through a pane of glass, making stunning use of the medium.
It is set in an unnamed city in the future that could be in Japan, or one of its filming locations, Hong Kong (the bulk of filming took place in and around Wellington, New Zealand, home of effects specialists Weta Workshop).
Ghost in the Shell could so easily have descended into a showcase of style over substance.
Fortunately, it has a solid story. Major is the first successful meshing of a human brain and synthetic body by Hanka Robotics, and is now a prized weapon for fighting terrorists.
Major was told by Hanka’s Dr Ouelet she was rescued from a refugee boat and her brain was all that could be saved. But as the film unfolds, she begins to suspect this is not the truth.
With its exploration of artificial intelligence, the value of human life, data privacy and the rights of the cyber-enhanced, Ghost in the Shell should appeal to anyone who loved Ex Machina or hit series Westworld.
Scarlett Johansson in the film.