It took more than twenty years before Hollywood cinema seized on the famous Ghost in the Shell franchise. The interest of such an industry was enough to arouse the fear of the fans. Is it really justified?
A pioneering manga and anime monument of the 90s, Ghost in the Shell remains the archetype of the work that is difficult to define. Alternating spectacular action and in-depth reflection on the future of our societies, Shirow Masamune’s story has acquired over time an untouchable figure, just like Akira before him. Status reinforced by a beautiful animated film adaptation, signed Mamoru Oshii. Unlike the Marvel and DC Comics catalogs, which have been widely looted over the past twenty years, the depth of these works has kept sirens away from productions eager for rapid return on investment.
But over the years, the talent of Wachoswki or Spielberg to transcribe cyberpunk universes ( Matrix , Minority Report …) has given a sounding board to this visionary anime. Rupert Sanders’ still light CV was nothing to reassure, but the Briton focused on two essential aspects of the original film to lead his boat.
The first is visual, and therefore more subjective, but in itself clears the director of a real bad intention. The universe offered to us clearly responds to a desire to stick to the work of Masamune Shirow. More than a simple mimicry, the sequence of scenes inspired (sometimes shot by shot) by Japanese preserves the artistic direction of the series. Rather than follow the initial narrative, Sanders chose to stake his film with cult scenes from the extended universe of Ghost in the Shell.
This visual mosaic made up of Oshii’s films, but also of the Kamiyama series ( Stand Alone Complex ) has the advantage of offering always inspired action scenes. This desire to preserve Shirow’s graphic DNA is also felt in the cosmopolitan vision of the metropolis. Some will find the whole too heavy, but the exuberance of the decorations is beautiful and very similar to that of the famous manga. Choosing as he sees fit through hours of anime, Sanders offers a faithful transposition of the overall iconography of the series. He also demonstrates a certain sense of photography, especially in the precision of the reproduction of certain emblematic plates, such as those from the birth of the Major.
For the sake of understanding the audience, the director saw fit to use Shirow’s script in the same way as with his staging. Aware of the density of reflection of the original work, Sanders engaged in a sort of much more questionable script patchwork. If he skilfully avoids the questions related to the choice of Scarlett Johansson for the main role (we let you discover how), he does not manage to reconnect with the intellectual ambition of the anime.
An observation above all due to the choice of the antagonist. The Puppet Master is arguably the most fascinating character on the show, but his philosophy doesn’t find a concrete echo in Sanders’ film. The director decided to recreate an entity from several characters from the saga (including Hideo Kuze). If the visual aspect never suffers, it is different for the script. In particular, because this emblematic enemy represents the keystone of the reflection that haunts Shirow’s work: what makes us humans?
The result presented here will inevitably seem watered down to the fans. His feature film is not for all that an ordinary action film, since Michael Pitt, astonishing as a tortured terrorist, manages to raise questions rather rare in the current Hollywood production. Newbies should appreciate… but is the film for them?
The casting undergoes the same observation as the structure of the film. The actors stick perfectly to their paper equivalents, and let glimpse a plausible section 9, made up of men and women from all walks of life. We think of Pilou Aesbek (Batou) or Takeshi Kitano (Aramaki), whose appearance is faithfully respected, but whose writing is unfortunately too little highlighted.
The character most representative of this fragile script is probably Togusa, the only real “human” in the group, who never exists in the film. A prominent figure, Scarlett Johansson manages to convey emotions in a character who is not supposed to have them. After Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) and Her (Spike Jonze, 2013), the actress continues to fuel a form of ambiguity between body and mind in her filmography.
The same digression could be used for music. The talent of Clint Mansell is no longer to be confirmed, but his electronic compositions do not provoke the same emotion as the almost experimental sounds of Kenji Kawai. When we know that they alone contained all the ambivalence of Oshii’s film, we say to ourselves that it is regrettable not to have preserved them in full.