“Ghost in the Shell”
The very embodiment of the American remake of something foreign, the new American “Ghost in the Shell” is like a late-comer to a party it started itself. You can blame a good deal of modern blockbuster cinema on Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 cyberpunk anime (adapted from the beloved manga). Word is, when they were trying to get the money for “The Matrix,” the Wachowskis simply screened “Ghost in the Shell” and said something to the effect of “We want to do that.” “Avatar,” “A.I.,” “Ex Machina” — all owe it a fancy dinner. It’s a husk that’s been picked apart by buzzards, its remains now regurgitated onto multiplex screens because Americans don’t like to watch movies from other countries.
Considering that, it’s amazing how watchable the new “Ghost in the Shell” turns out to be. Freely mixing in bits from the original film, its superior 2004 sequel and its various TV shows, the new version, like the old, follows the exploits of a gang of robocops working for a counterterrorism outfit in deep future Tokyo. While most from the world of tomorrow are at least part-robot, the agent known as the Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first that’s allsynthetic — a brain wiped of its memories that’s been implanted in the body of, well, something that looks like Scarlett Johansson. While investigating a series of assassinations, the Major slowly realizes the case may lead her to discover her true identity.
This last plot thread wasn’t in the original, making this “Ghost in the Shell” if not essential then at least not not essential. It molds a classic until it conforms to modern blockbuster shape. The favorite bits from the original are kept; the bits that might alienate mass audiences are cut down
Its one arguable improvement is also the thing that’s made it a controversy-magnet. As our bot-hero, Johansson is so steely and charismatic you can periodically forget that this is yet another case of Hollywood “white-washing.” In a way, she’s even perfectly cast: With this, “Her,” “Under the Skin” and “Lucy,” she is the movies’ reigning queen of humanoids and post-human characters. Of course, in another way, she’s simply the wrong person for the job.
Scarlett Johansson plays an iconic (and, ahem, Japanese) character in “Ghost in the Shell.”