REVIEW: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Live Action’s Spectacle and Failed ‘Deep Dive’

Written by Tiffany Tolones

Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures

“We cling to memories as if they define us. But they really don’t.”

Ghost in the Shell’s premise surrounds the idea that memories do not define us; our actions do. When we live in a world where humanity and machines are intertwined, it forces us to create a new version of ourselves to the point where we can transfer our brains and consciousness to a mechanical body. In times of memory relativity (loss or alterations), who are we, really? What really makes you, you?

The film still followed the premise laid down by the original, yet misses the most important points of the franchise. Perhaps it may have suffice if it weren’t for the controversy at the heart of it.

GITS Action

Ghost in the Shell came from a rich cyberpunk genre of science fiction that focuses on a near-future Earth, with several technological advancements (not on a galactic one) and post industrialist dystopias. This movie may remind you of movies such as Blade Runner, The Matrix and RoboCop and Terminator.

I understand Mamoru Oshii’s animated masterpiece in 1995 is surely hard to forget. After all, he cemented this franchise as one of the best Japanese animated movies of all time. The live action series has its own feats and failures. It would have a hard time surpassing the original, and perhaps will never do.

If you haven’t watched the trailers, I recommend you watch it first before scrolling down.

READ: You can now watch the first five minutes of Ghost in the Shell

GIST Windows

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. (Read at your own risk)

Rupert Sander’s Ghost in the Shell follows an un-nippled cyborg agent Major Mira Killian (Scarlet Johansson), who heads an anti-terrorism task force Section 9 in a futuristic city that looks like a mix of Tokyo and Las Vegas full of holographic giant ads.

The only Japanese-speaking person in the film, section chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), leads the group, while Major and her fellow operatives Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Togusa (Chin Han), and others hunt down terrorists, hackers, and cybercriminals alike–who plant false memories on the brains of digitally enhanced citizens and even controlling them like a puppet.

The trails led them to Kuze (Michael Pitt), a super hacker who seeks vengeance against those involved Hanka Robotics, an influential robotics company that manufactured Mira’s body. But then, Kuze took interest with Mira and told her a conspiracy that implicated people around her.


The original was shown years before I was even born. To be honest, I’ve never known there was a Ghost in the Shell anime until the news about the American adaptation came out, despite being an avid anime viewer.

Anime fans and critics were skeptical about Sander’s Ghost in the Shell. I did not watch the 1995 movie to avoid bias for the original, but after I watched this movie, I proceeded to watch the original afterwards.

The film is amazing and easy to watch, but I find the core of its story–the important philosophical aspects–simply lacking.

GITS Overview

This movie starts the momentum for adapted Japanimated series

At last, Hollywood produced a good adaptation from anime. Ghost in the Shell redeemed the strained reputation of American adaptations after ruining some monumental anime series like Dragon Ball Z, Speed Racer, Astro Boy, and Avatar: The Legend of Aang.

Ghost in the Shell starts the retaliation of American movies, with hopefully better adaptations true to the source material. Movies coming up are Death Note (also criticized for whitewashing), Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist and Bleach.

GITS Geisha from IMDB

Aesthetically Fantastic

The film gave us a fantastic actual representation of Major’s world, the Tokyo-like downtown city that makes the movie alive and real. For a Hollywood produced film, this is quite spectacular, especially on the technology and special effects. The fashion is on point, aside from Major’s un-nippled nude costume (to suit PG audience.)

The first few minutes followed Masamune’s version, which shows the creation of Major’s cybernetic body, from metal materials to artificial muscles to skin layers. She was surveilling hackers who try to hack into the consciousness of Mr. Cutter (Hanka’s executive).

GITS Repair

Only Scarlet Johansson can pull it off

Scarlet Johansson is the best (American) actress you can get for this movie. Her roles as Black Widow (Avengers series) and Lucy (Lucy) makes her fit for the sci-fi action movie. She can gracefully execute action and fight scenes, like the encounter with the Truck Driver hacked by Hanka’s detractor, Kuze. Her acting as a robot may be a bit bland at first, but throughout the movie, the intensity of emotions seem to evolve as she unleashes the secrets of her humanity.

For me, changing Major’s name as Major Mira Killian from her actual name in the original suits the plot better, since it intensifies the conflict on planting fake memories in her head. A fake identity will further the disconnect between her true and encrypted memories.

GITS Falling

Failed ‘Deep Dive’

Of all things people expect from this film, the philosophical arguments and questions to existence were expected. Yet, Major’s identity crisis and existential dilemma only touches the tip of the iceberg. Instead of following the provocative depth of the premise, it only deals with Major’s identity dilemma. There could be more details that this movie can fathom, but it never went beyond her story and just went on a conflict with her mother figure Dr. Oulet (Juliette Binoche) who purposefully planted false memories in her codes.

The Deep Dive entails diving into one’s thoughts and memories to get some information, through witnessing the actual event that happened in the brain’s records. People have the ability to connect to other’s brain effortlessly, just by plugging in some cables–literally.

Deep Dive already hints us that there is a huge existential question that humans and cyborgs alike should realize: Who are we when we lose our memories? How do mechanically enhanced and cyborg humans see themselves? It was problematic in a way; the intensity of this existential dilemma was not properly shown. Yet, Major’s character was complemented by Kuze, who served as her reality check.

GITS Awakening

The movie emphasizes on memories not defining who we are, but for me, they do. If we forget about our memories entirely, we might lose our identity, since we primarily depend on memories to establish ourselves. Our memories are the accumulated account for all our experiences and knowledge in life.

In the imaginary world of this movie, there were no races in particular. It may have seemed that people who live in the city are East Asians, yet the major characters were all white (except from Togusa and Section Chief Aramaki). This could be the reason why most fans were aggravated when the casting was “whitewashed.”

Still worth the watch

In the end, this movie is still worth the watch, especially if you’re just in for the entertainment. It’s enjoyable, especially for the action scenes and her realizations. It may provoke you to ponder about your own existence, now that we’re at the era of exponential technical advancements.

In watching this film, you may learn a thing or two.

Rating: 3.5/ 5 shining stars

How did you like Ghost in the Shell? Let’s discuss in the comments!


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