In Ghost in the Shell, viewers are welcomed into a hyper-realised augmented reality through the setting of a fictional Japanese city, Niihama, created through a mix of real location shooting, CGI overlap, and even holographic projections.
The films begins with the introduction of key character Major (Scarlett Johansson), the cyborg protagonist who first appeared in Masamune Shirow’s graphic novel, reanimated step-by-step in the film’s opening montage. The directors deliberately open with the creation of her android body in a prologue that acts as both the ‘launch’ of the silver screen version of the graphic icon and as an analogy of the evolution of the human form. The spirit of the whole film, in fact, ponders the pseudo mechanics of how the ‘ghost’, or one’s essential nature, could possibly endure or exist in such a vulnerable, disposable ‘shell’ like the human body. Yet despite being considered human by some, Major is foremost a lethal weapon.
Many films, past and present, have sought to fascinate us with the fantastical. You only need to consider sci-fi gems such as Metropolis, Children of Men, and Dredd to see that, beyond all the flash and fancy, they all explore elements about our survival, and the intrinsic meaning behind our progress as human beings.
However, the more real-world technologies evolve, the less the chasm between theorisation and plausible practicality becomes. In light of this, you quickly realise that Ghost in the Shell is startlingly familiar because we do live in a time were the far-fetched and the absurd as described by, say, Phillip K. Dick or Issac Asimov, could well morph into the tech-laden here and now.
Ghost in the Shell achieves its reality stylistically in several ways. The throw-back retro film score plays a part in this. Decorated with a heady mix electronica that has been used in past films like Oblivion and Tron Legacy, the soundtrack working as backdrop for context and as provider of feelgood emotion in an otherwise intensely dark movie.
On an aesthetic note, the far-stretched prosthetics and layered digital settings ought to see Ghost in the Shell succeed in going beyond commercial blockbuster to land on that cred shelf of cult sci-fi that houses classics such as Bladerunner and Gattaca.
And of course Scarlett’s always awesome in action! Jesse Short
‘Ghost in the Shell’ in in cinemas now.