Saturday, April 1, 2017

I saw Ghost in the Shell...

One might presume Major Motoko Kusanagi to be Asian, and for the sake of her manga origin, it's safe to say that most of her fans do presume the same. Of course, when it comes to Japanese-to-American translations, the designations sometimes get blurred. The "Speed Racer" live-action movie could have been cast with Asians, and yet...

Nevertheless, Scarlett Johansson is cast as the sexy, cyborg heroine (reassembled like Officer Murphy into RoboCop) in director Rupert "Snow White and the Huntsman" Sanders' "Ghost in the Shell", based on Masamune Shirow's popular, Japanese saga. Per the script by Jaime Moss and William Wheeler, the Caucasian-looking Kusanagi (referred predominately as Major in the film) is part of an intelligence league called Section 9, which tackles terrorists (i.e., Hanver Robotics hackers), but as the story develops, the mechanical beauty realizes she may have been misled in her pursuits: a kind of "Logan's Run" (turf that Johansson previously traveled in "The Island"), with our lead gaining enough understanding to buck the system and maybe even actual autonomy by the adventure's conclusion. 

I must confess, I've never viewed any extensive examples of "Ghost in the Shell'"s anime/manga incarnations. I've known the franchise mainly by name and through its fleeting, lurid imagery. Therefore, it's only the live-action version I can currently assess. With that said, "Ghost in the Shell" feels a lot like other artificial-intelligence/cyborg stories I've seen and/or reviewed, with this one taking place in the not-too-distant year of 2029. 

Major is, in essence, a lost soul (or at least one entrapped within a synthetic body) in search of the meaning of life (yeah, a familiar theme with these sorts of entities), which of course, means she needs to define her purpose and plan, while her particular world adheres to a suffocating, near Borg/Matrix-like dystopia. She wonders who's pulling the hacker's strings and for that matter, her own, trying the whole while to remember who she once was.

Along the way, Major encounters a number of individuals who directly or indirectly substantiate her concerns and paranoia or try to sever her from such, each with a slick name and an eccentric and/or dangerous attribution, including the stoic Security Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano); the protective Batou (Pilou Asbaek); the Frankenstein-inspired Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt); the skillful Togusa (Ng Chin Han); the compassionate Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche); and the tale's heartless antagonist, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando). 

The film's profuse, gaudy intrigue is fine and dandy, as are several of its shock sequences (the robotic geisha being particularly unsettling), but for me it's the sexual implications that do the trick, for in several scenes the Major wears a suit so skintight it would make Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine blush. Heck, in the same regard, the Major would give Kate Beckinsale's Selene a good run for her money. It's because of this shapely enticement that I wished to see the film. I wasn't one iota disappointed, either. There's loads of Johannson in this thing, whether in simulated undress or not, and she looks damn good at all moments, including even those where her lovely parts are either gruesomely detached or reattached. Now, if the actress can look fetching under those unorthodox circumstances, it's safe to say she's reached unshakable, sex-symbol status. (And when one really comes down to it, that's the reason she's the film's headliner. Oh, and please do keep in mind, a shell is just a shell and needn't define one's background, heritage or character.)

Plot-wise, "Ghost in the Shell" also contains distinct similarities to "Ex Machina" and "Metropolis", but then this tale seems to head even more so in "Blade Runner'"s direction, with its extensive, architectural design being precisely that. 

Do the anime and comic versions of "Ghost in the Shell" capture any of Philip K. Dick's thoughtful fable? I'd imagine so (in that from what I've read, the long-lasting saga touches upon the significance of memories, identity and general civil rights), but my hunch is, most fans of Shirow's material appreciate it for its own merit. Whether they'll enjoy this adaptation is speculative, though it seems likely they'll not accept all aspects of it. Most die-hards aren't inclined to enjoy their favorite mythologies playing second fiddle to what may be perceived as glitz-for-the-sake-of-glitz, even if the comely curves at the center are abnormally alluring. 

No matter how one tries to spin it, Sander's film exists as a tour de force for its celebrated, Marvel-movie, action star. If anyone from the outside-looking-in goes to see "Ghost in the Shell" for any other reason, they're being insincere. Taken for no more than what it is (and even at its smallest degree, it still offers much), it'll entertain for a couple, solid hours. For those who might find the publicized content too threatening in its politically incorrect, visual vigor, there are plenty of play-it-safe movies from which to choose. This one, however, belongs to that wide range of erotica-craving adults of the science-fiction kind, and no apology should they dare make for desiring it.

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