Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell plays up to hyper-connection and disconnection felt from our own world, being so drenched in the constant techno-stream. Through the lens, everyone else seems to belong somewhere. The memories ourselves and others present to emulate that same belonging could just as well be fantasy, or mere glitches in our perception. Scarlett Johansson’s special ops cyborg Major grapples with this disconnect, but in a way that slathers her struggle in white angst, to the ignorance of the literal erasure backing the mystery of her being.
It begins with the birth of Major Mira Killian’s cyber self, echoing Mamoru Oshii’s anime movie close to shot for shot, behind flickers of Kenji Kawai’s spectral cherub chorus from the original’s score. But before the credits have rolled there is the feeling of something missing from the profound layers of the original. Rather than reinterpreting the integrally Japanese reflection on tech in Masamune Shirow’s manga, then the later pensive feature-length animation, this remake has stripped the flesh and soul from the barest chrome skeleton. It’s left the western awareness not with something simpler to grasp, but simplified, cold and afraid of the deep dive into its real meaning.
In fact, the film is at its best when working as short music video clips; essentially the teasers that garnered so much hope for the new Ghost. Panicked synth captures the mood of a woman at home, getting ready for work in a way we almost recognise, touchably sci-fi. Her memory, or maybe the trip switch of her brain rejecting her new eyes, scratches into her world with something familiar yet other. A tabby cat trapped in Perspex. A look out into a ghostly city always in night, but bright and inviting in sugar glass and blue and pink fluorescence. There’s a dive into the cybermind for connection with Kuze, portrayed by Michael Pitt as a fritzy Stephen Hawking-voiced hacker. He hijacks the ghosts – the souls, as we’re constantly prompted – of human-tech hybrids like Mira, pulls her in with the waves of phantoms he’s enslaved. The deeper we go for meaning, the more we’re lost. Sadly, that sentiment applies as much to the story in its final act as its broader metaphor.
The human in the machine bundled as the misplaced, marginalised and left behind goes sour when dosed with Ghost‘s blundering whitewashing. Mira, without her past memories, is “pure”. Better free of that old, dead self. Better heartless than facing up to the flesh body she’s desperate to know. Better ignorance than knowing exactly how and why her soul was saved.