Ghost in The Shell's global success outside Japan was well deserved. It was a thinking man's science fiction that happened to be animated; one with big ideas and a bigger scale, designed with meticulous detail and boasting a story that was eerily current. It was a razor-edge ballet of stylish violence and cerebral plotting and it's no surprise that it has been remade as live-action Hollywood spectacle. What is surprising, however, is that it's taken 22-years to get here.
The good news is that the intervening decades have done nothing to dull the film's prescience. If anything it's more relevant now than it was then. That's how flabbergastingly ahead of the curve it was. The 2017 remake wisely takes the best set-pieces of the original (the waterways fisticuffs and the Spider-tank finale) and recreates them in accurate, thrilling detail, but thanks to Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger's screenplay, the '17 version isn't slavish to Kazunori Ito's original, convoluted and cryptic plotting. Instead the story is far more palatable and penetrable without sacrificing the potency of the original's dense and well-explored thematics of 'what is it to be human?' and 'where is the human soul?'.
Ghost In The Shell is Rupert Sanders' second outing as director - following Snow White And The Huntsman (2012) - and much like his handsome debut, it is undeniably one of the most beautiful mainstream American films of recent memory. It's a vivid and fantastically detailed reproduction of its source without being slavishly dependent on it.
Set in the near future it has Scarlet Johansson as Major, an advanced cybernetic law enforcement agent who uses her shell (her cyborg body) to hunt a nefarious hacker-terrorist, Kuze (formerly known as The Puppet Master in '95 played by Michael Pitt) who is invading those with enhancements and using them to commit unspeakable acts of murder and destruction. Through her investigations she discovers truths about her own past and sets out to find those who can answer her questions and finally discover who she really is.
To explain too much of the plot would be a disservice to the film; suffice it to say the slightly expanded-upon story delves into unexpectedly emotional terrain, giving Johansson and Pitt some of the more emotionally penetrating scenes to chew on.
For as fine a performance that Scarlet and Pitt deliver (this is the most physically-detailed role she's delivered, though not too far removed from her delivery in Under The Skin) playing Major with a constant rigidness in her limbs and mental detachment it is cinematographer Jess Hall, treating on the same ground he was occupying for Wally Fister's Transcendence, who is the real star of the show.
His world is a cross between modern-day Ho-Chi-Min City, Hong Kong and LA and even if he wears his influences on his sleeve (A.I., Bladerunner, etc) his vision of a future Los Angeles is a neon nightmare metropolis of considerable marvel rendered scarily precise by his team of VFX artists.
More so, the technology-bastardized future-world has remained the most faithful. It's a mish-mash of cutting-edge and neon-gloss where high-end computers and holographs sit alongside decay and rubble in a chaotic, off-kilter disharmony like a tactile representation of Major's psyche.
Underpinning Hall's breathtaking visual carnival is Clint Mansell and Lorne Blafi's ominous electronic score which is slightly reminiscent of Daft Punk's outing for Tron. Their brooding, pulsing sonic landscape is one of the few disappointments of the film; derivative and obvious and nowhere near as interesting as either maestro is capable of.
In the end it's interesting to speculate why the $110-million remake failed as poorly as it did at the box office. All the ingredients are there for a solid night of popcorn-munching, regardless of whether we've seen a lot of it before.
This is the world William Gibson conceived when he first penned Neuromancer in 1984; a cross-culture, bilingual merging of man and machine, of retro and futurism, of skies the colour of a television, tuned to a dead channel. This is cyberpunk finally come fully into itself.