GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)
In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals.
Review by Louise Keller:
Fantasy, reality, dreams and memories propel this visually stunning live action version of Masamune Shirow's 1989 cult manga to great heights, with Scarlett Johansson striking as the deadly weapon whose human brain is in sync with her curvaceous synthetic body. It is her soul - the ghost in the shell - that causes problems, even though we are repeatedly told it is not our memories that define us, but what we do. In that vein, there is no shortage of action: director Rupert Sander's extravagant reality set in a high-rise society in futuristic Japan dishes out spectacle after spectacle as Johansson's cyber-enhanced Major exposes her vulnerable mind to unknown dark forces trying to sabotage the elite A.I. production line. Don't always search for logic in the exposition; let your senses fly with the concepts and visuals. It's a stimulating sensual feast.
In a mesmerizing opening creation sequence, the initiation phases of Project 2571 take place with indelible images involving a human brain, a robot, a milky bath and the first signs of life. 'She's a miracle,' Juliette Binoche's surgeon Ouelet declares with motherly pride, while cutting edge robotic company Hanka CEO (Peter Ferdinando), working with the elite anti-terrorist government, states his pragmatic view: 'She's a weapon. And the future of this company.'
Design is everything and Johansson is decked out in a variety of flesh-coloured patchwork bodysuits, offering the tantalising illusion of being naked. No nipples, though. At times, she is splattered with aesthetically decorative ruby-red blood splotches that form part of the fabulous production design. A vision of alabaster skin, black-cropped hair and pouting red lips, Johansson is formidable. The tricky issue about the film's origins and characters' ethnicity is mostly overcome with its multi-national cast: Johansson has an exotic look and the casting of Danish actor Pilou Asbaek as Batou, the man who cares about dogs, not people works well. He is striking with spikey white hair and designer eyes. Takeshi Kitano is effective as Aramaki.
There's a dark edge to the claustrophobic sequences in which the Major allows her mind to be hacked by Kuze (deep dive), played enigmatically by Michael Carmen Pitt. 'What a beauty you are,' he tells her. The same could be said for him. The story strand involving Pitt and Johansson is nicely drawn as the seed of uncertainty is planted.
Squeezing the most out of technology but retaining humanity is the film's key theme and emotionally, the film can be encapsulated by the line: 'There's a problem with the human heart.' It's a visual spectacle.
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GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) (M)
CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Rila Fukushima, Michael Pitt, Michael Wincott
PRODUCER: Ari Arad, Avi Arad, Steven Paul
DIRECTOR: Rupert Sanders
SCRIPT: Jamie Moss (based on manga by Masamune Shirow)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jess Hall
EDITOR: Billy Rich, Neil Smith
MUSIC: Clint Mansell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jan Roelfs
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 30, 2017