At first glance, the story of this live-action version seems rather faithful to the original. If the manga offers the base of the story (chap. 1, 3, part of 8, 9 and 11), it follows more the storytelling of the animated movie. Shirow’s manga is rather disorganized with lots of silly or humorous moments, while Oshii’s anime movie is more linear, but with lots of reflective and philosophical pauses (maybe a little too much). In this regard, the live-action movie seems more balanced. Of course, they changed a few things here and there but the spirit is all there (no pun intended). My main complain is that this story doesn’t show any Fuchikoma (think tanks, a.k.a. Tachikoma (in the TV series): spider-like robots with great sense of humour that assist in combat) and it is missing the incredibly beautiful music by Kanji Kawai, which is heard in the movie only in the end credits. However, the biggest change is in the background stories of both the puppet master and of the Major, which were completely altered in order to link them together. I am not sure (I can’t really remember) but I think they may have taken a few elements from the TV series and OVAs (at least the part on the origin of the Major). They also kept a hint of philosophical reflection (not too much, but just enough) to preserve the mood of the original movie—the age-old existential question of what’s make us “us”. They also paid an homage to Mamoru Oshii by putting his favourite dog (basset hound) in the story (actually, Batou’s dog comes from the second movie, Innocence — which is itself based on chap. 6 of the manga).
I heard plenty of negative comments. People complained they chose an American actress to play a Japanese character (first, this comment came out in the midst of the Hollywood whitewashing scandal and, anyway, not many Japanese actresses would have the action and language skills to play that role — although I like that Takeshi Kitano acts only in Japanese). They also complained that her acting lacked expression (come on, she plays a human turned into a machine, wondering if she’s still human, so it’s part of her role). On the other hand, some purist fans complained that they changed this or that. It’s not a perfect movie (personnally, I hate the design of the spider-tank!) and it was obviously not good enough for many since it didn’t performed well at the box office (which barely exceeded the production budget) and received lukewarm reviews (45% on Rotten Tomatoes !).
Of course, I don’t know if someone who has never heard of the Ghost in the shell universe would be able to follow, understand and really appreciate it. Because I am a fan, I am probably biased. So I wonder: purely in a technical point of view, is it a good movie? I think so. The story is captivating and interesting as it asks some relevant questions about human nature and it remains one of the best depiction of the cyberpunk genre I’ve seen. The storytelling is fluid and easy to follow (unlike Oshii’s movie), the acting is good and the special effects are superb. In the end, what else should we expect from a movie? Ghost in the shell is a complex universe, first in its story (socio-political cyberpunk) but also in its making as the franchise includes several manga, movies, TV series and OVAs, so maybe we should try to see the live-action more as what it is in itself than try too hard to compare it to the manga or anime. For my part, it’s an excellent entertainment and I enjoyed it a lot.
Ghost in the shell: USA, 2017, 107 min., PG-13. Dir.: Rupert Sanders; Scr.: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow); Phot.: Jess Hall; Ed.: Neil Smith, Billy Rich; Mus.: Clint Mansell, Lorne Balfe; Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, and Juliette Binoche.
Ghost in the shell (攻殻機動隊 / Kōkaku kidōtai : Gōsuto In Za Sheru / Mobile Armored Riot Police: Ghost in the Shell) : Japan, 1995, 82 min.; Dir.: Mamoru Oshii; Scr.: Kazunori Itō (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow); Phot.: Hisao Shirai; Ed.: Shūichi Kakesu, Shigeyuki Yamamori; Mus.: Kenji Kawai; Voices: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka, and Iemasa Kayumi.
An excellent adaptation of the manga although with a little too much philosophical pauses. If the sequel movie is also nice (Ghost in the shell 2: Innocence) it doesn’t follow the manga. My favourite part of the franchise is the TV series Ghost in the shell: Stand Alone Complex (there’s also an OVA series: Ghost in the shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture).
Ghost in the shell (攻殻機動隊 / Kōkaku Kidōtai / Mobile Armored Riot Police) by Masamune Shirow (translated by Frederik L Schodt and Toren Smith). Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Manga, 2004. 368 pg. $24.95 US / $33.99 Can. ISBN 1-59307-228-7.
This is one of my favourites manga. It offers an excellent cyberpunk story (although the storytelling is a little episodic and disorganized), with an awkward mix of action and humour. The second part, Man-Machine Interface, has a better graphical quality and incredible cyberpunk scenes, but the complexity of its political and terrorist plots makes it a little hard to follow.
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