Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017) (Another Dodgy Remake of a Japanese Classic?)

“It’s okay, just breathe”

Within a month or two, we’ve had two live action remakes of classic animations. The first was ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ which recreated the original faithfully but felt wholly unnecessary. Now, we have ‘Ghost in the Shell,’ a remake of the beloved 1995 Japanese anime. Yes, there were concerns about ‘whitewashing.’ Why cast Scarlett Johannsen as the main character? Why not a Japanese actress? But the whitewashing is one of the many problems that one encounters whilst watching ‘Ghost in the Shell.’ A lame script, an irritating Westernisation of the original’s plot and endless shots of the (admittedly impressive) futuristic city are among the other big problems.

My first thought after watching the remake of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was “where are all the Japanese people?” There’s one major Japanese character, played by the unassailable Takashi ‘Beat’ Kitano, but apart from that, the major roles were played by white people. Isn’t the film supposed to take place in a Japanese city (or at least an Asian one?)? The only Japanese we hear spoken is from Kitano himself. No one talks Japanese to him. He has to suffer English. Why is that?

It looks gorgeous. But while the shell is pretty, it’s empty

However, let’s get through the positives. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ looks darned impressive. Sometimes it seems we are seeing the futuristic city just to pass the time, rather than add anything to the story, but it’s also fascinating to look at. Huge holograms, sky high skyscrapers, dingy blocks of flats and urban wastelands are a feast for the eyes. Every action sequence brings something eye-opening to the table. Scenes taken from the original are faithfully brought to live action with impressive verve. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to the city, with just the right 80s electro vibes running throughout. It’s a city you’d like to spend more time in, with more interesting characters and an improved script.

“I wasn’t built to dance”

Because, almost from the first line spoken, the script is dire. The first dialogue takes pains to make sure that we uneducated folk understand that ‘ghost in the shell’ means the mind/soul. They spell it out for us. Do we need anything like that? Surely we can infer it from the title alone? Clunky exposition stutters along. It may be understandable in the case of Major (played by Scarlett Johannsen), the titular ‘ghost in the shell.’ She is a robot with a human brain, after all. But the other characters sound as if they’ve been badly dubbed. Only Kitano rises above the awful script to make him a character you care about. Johannsen, on the other hand, plays pretty much the same character she always plays: emotionless and stern looking. Her speech at the end of the film sounds like a monologue at the end of a really poor superhero hero film.

To be fair, Johanssen plays a good robot

That’s another problem with this remake. It strips down the original’s themes to their bare minimum. Do Western script writers think their audience is stupid? Major’s story arc is reduced to a retread of Robocop. A person’s brain is put into a robot. The robot is used as a weapon but the brain begins to discover its past. There’s little reason for the ‘shell’ to be white; why not have the ‘shell’ be Japanese? The casting of Johannsen could have been utilised to tie into the themes of the original ‘Ghost in the Shell.’ Does a Japanese mind in a white body change your cultural identity? Instead, it’s glossed over. There are few philosophical debates about personhood and identity, just a few glimmers of serious talk before the film turns to action. Obviously, we white people do not have the mental capability to sit through people talking about philosophical issues.

“Don’t send a rabbit to kill a fox”

And don’t remake a film solely to make money. My feelings about ‘Ghost in the Shell’ were the same for my feelings about the live action remake of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ To justify a remake, there has to be something developed from the original. Both live action films faithfully recreate famous scenes from the originals, but like good old Plato said, a copy of an original is inferior. They may look pretty in live action, but what’s the point? What did ‘Beauty and the Beast’ add to the original? Nothing, apart from a silly prelude and over-explaining little things. What does ‘Ghost in the Shell’ add to the original? Nothing. In fact, it detracts from the original. It dumbs down the original’s themes and plot whilst giving us navel gazing shots of the futuristic city and awful dialogue. I would say it’s a missed opportunity, but it isn’t.

VERDICT: 3/10. Just watch the original. Apart from impressive visuals, the remake of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ adds nothing to the original. It treats the audience as stupid over and over again.

What did you think of ‘Ghost in the Shell (2017)’? Leave your thoughts below!

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