Much to most anime fans' displeasure, Hollywood finally delivered on its promise to adapt the hugely influential animated classic Ghost In The Shell from 1995, directed by Mamoru Oshii, with Scarlett Johansson playing the lead role.
After a controversy which saw the project get accused of "whitewashing" and persisting complaints that such an adaptation is basically sacrilegious, this looked set to be the least popular remake since Ghostbusters. Indeed, after hardly glorious anime adaptations like Dragonball: Evolution and Speed Racer, it's no surprise why so many were nervous about this new venture. Early trailers looked uninspired yet the more we saw from the film, the more interesting it looked with its slick Blade Runner-meets-Neo Tokyo look and all the potentially cool action scenes on display. It's very clear, right off the bat, that a lot more effort was put into this film than the criminally lazy Dragonball: Evolution. Visually, this new Ghost In The Shell is a treat even if the original's hand-drawn animation is admittedly more impressive. The mood and look of the anime is recreated surprisingly well even if quite a few changes were made to hide just how much The Matrix stole from it initially.
It is a shame that Major is not played by a Japanese actress, that's unavoidable, and this goes for several other characters in the film but at least the filmmakers tried to make this odd choice work plot-wise. It remains a distraction throughout, however, and it'll no doubt fatally stain the experience for some. On the plus side, the casting of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano as Daisuke Aramaki is perfect and everyone in the film gives a decent performance. The film isn't a complete remake of the anime feature as it borrows heavily from series Stand Alone Complex so fans will find a lot of elements missing from the classic film including a lot of philosophical dialog. To be fair, this Ghost In The Shell is probably deeper than most American sci-fi blockbusters even without all the Buddha quotes and existential pondering we loved to decipher in the original.
Plot-wise, this is a much more straight-forward film making it easier to follow for mainstream audiences, which is fair enough. That said, this means that parts of the film become clichéd due to how much they were simplified such as the real villain of the film who isn't all that intimidating and comes off as much more generic than he did in the anime. For the most part, the CGI is very cool throughout: the futuristic cityscapes, the cyborg geishas, the robotic enhancements. Then again, a couple of scenes suffer from some rushed CGI near the end of the film, meaning that this adaptation will become dated much quicker than the anime which still looks gorgeous even 20 years later. Highlights from this remake include an attack on Daisuke Aramaki that backfires, a cool chase scene in the city and that good old spider tank.
The best way to look at his new Ghost In The Shell is as an American version of a Japanese classic rather than a 100% faithful adaptation. This version is certainly a mixed bag but, as a whole, it's a great-looking sci-fi film with enough good stuff intact from the anime to keep you interested and fairly satisfied.