“Ghost in the Shell”

Metro USA (New York) - - Wknd - MP

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.

PARA­MOUNT PIC­TURES

Scar­lett Jo­hans­son plays an iconic (and, ahem, Ja­panese) char­ac­ter in “Ghost in the Shell.”

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