"Dreams? Reality? It's all the same. It's just noise"
The film references, nods at and is indebted to a number of contemporary films be it "AI Artificial Intelligence", "The Matrix", even "The Terminator" as it reaches it's third Act but it resembles Ridley Scott's epochal 1982 science fiction behemoth "Blade Runner" throughout. From the wide crane shots of the neon lit cityscape of a dystopian and noir tinged future, the holographic advertisements on every available space, the constant questioning of who is human and who is a robotic AI cyborg through to Clint Mansell's absorbing musical mix of synthesiser pop and piano all take their cue from Ridley Scott's 1982 classic. But where Scott's film has a gritty, dirtier edge to it's vision of the future, Sanders' Ghost in the Shell has a vibrancy and pin sharp visuals, often a Blue/Green visual hue, that are real highlights of the film. Where Blade Runner was ground breaking, dialogue heavy with "Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion" and questions continuing to this day as to whom was a replicant and their individual motivations, Ghost in the Shell is far more formulaic. There the Blade Runner comparisons will end but not before I shamelessly plug my Twitter posting today which was something like "This film should have been titled Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Ghosts?" Which for me is vaguely witty! So considering the films from which it takes it's energetic ideas and inspirations I was left a little flat and wanting more as the closing credits rolled.
Based on the Japanese Manga Comic of the same name and adapted for the screen by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler, we are in a far off future of multi levelled motorways, heavily neon lit skylines and holographic advertisements dominating nearly every available building. We are also in a future of cybernetics, artificial intelligence, collusion between large organisations and Government and terrorist cells wrecking havoc. To counter this omnipresent threat, Hanka Robotics and Cybernetics create intelligently designed cyborgs to assist the Government's Department of Defence and finally, through an unseen accident, they are able to create the first human hybrid fighting machine, combining a fully functioning human head, mind and brain with that of their cyborg exoskeleton. The first of it's kind and known simply as "Project 2571" or more commonly as "Major" (Scarlett Johansson) she is immediately thrust into a tug of war between it's creators and an especially sympathetic and empathetic "Dr Ouelet" (Juliette Binoche) and the immediately nefarious "Cutter" (Peter Ferdinando). Where Cutter immediately sees the potential in Major to be a huge step forward and "A Miracle" Dr Ouelet is aghast that they are already "reducing a unique human being to a machine". Cut immediately to a year later and we immediately see Major in action guided remotely from afar by "Aramaki" (Takeshi Kitano) and on the ground by "Batou" (Pilou Asbaek) defending the creator of Hanka Cybernetics in an attack that sees the first of The Matrix style "bullet time" action sequences that pervade the film. With The Major and Batou jointly seeking the terrorist thought to be behind the attacks and other crimes "Kuze" (Michael Pitt), The Major's thoughts and her human mind begin to fracture into fragments of returning memory or "glitches" as the film again touches on one of it's many inspirations, that of 1980's RoboCop and slowly these glitches in her memory become clearer.
Scarlett Johansson performs admirably in the lead role as Major who is in almost every frame or scene of the film and portrays the dead eyed, almost unblinking persona of the human/cyborg fighting machine very well. She dominates the screen, drawing emotion and empathy from the audience almost immediately as she comes to terms with the reality of her situation as well as her struggles with a fractured memory and "nothing I know is real". She is more than a weapon and uniquely retains her soul or "ghost" before the glitches become more and more apparent to her, and in another, perhaps accidental Matrix reference, she sees a cat that triggers more real life memories. It may not be a black cat, but deja vue from The Matrix anyone?! In her bomber jacket and fatigues, Major has an almost masculine air about her and in a male dominated film I was also particularly impressed by another supreme performance from Juliette Binoche as the empathetic Dr Ouelet. Equally so Pilou Asbaek as Major's sounding board and second in command Batou. Chin Han is excellent as "Han" but the final stand out performance falls to Michael Pitt as Kuze. A shadowy villain cloaked and hooded reminiscent of a Star Wars Sith Lord, Pitt is excellent in his purposeful, quiet, tempered ways as Kuze, providing great support to Johansson's lead role.
I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell and will be seeing it again before it disappears from the big screen, but it left me wanting more and just failed to tie up all of it's constituent parts in a film heavy on it's contemporary references. From the very beginning it tackles the question of what it feels like to have a soul, desires and a human being but this gets a little lost in the narrative despite it's cathartic conclusion. I was however continually intrigued throughout but not so much by the story but it's inspirations, be they the bullet time and long slow motion sequences of The Matrix, the AI of Artificial Intelligence or the beautifully neon lit landscapes of the city so eerily reminiscent of Blade Runner. For Ghost in the Shell is undeniably beautiful and brilliantly shaped, crafted and realised by Director Sanders with swooping and forever moving cameras depicting the almost dreamlike city drenched in colour and an immersive world that is brilliantly accompanied by Mansell's synthesiser musical score. The action sequences are expertly orchestrated and with occasional humour and an odd scare or two, Ghost in the Shell is a well crafted film that perhaps deserves a second viewing but equally will never quite match the films it aspires to be.