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Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ghost in the Shell - Cyberpunk Rebirth

I just love cyberpunk science fiction, but unfortunately it peaked in the 80's as a bleak prediction of what a dystopian future would look like. You're probably saying "but wait, didn't the Ghost in the Shell anime appear in the 90's?" Yes, in 1995 actually and to great and overwhelming appraisal. In my opinion, it was one of the last hardboiled and noir-esque cyberpunk movies, even if animated, from its generation, since it was based on a 1989 manga series that was very popular in Japan. It followed a similar thematic allegory as Akira, but rather in tone with Blade Runner, set in a colorful yet downtrodden city infested by technology, a setting that was in fact born long ago, in the first cyberpunk movie ever envisioned by humans, Metropolis (1927). As we all know, cyberpunk has understandably changed throughout the years and since then, from Luc Besson's The Fifth Element to Wakowskis' The Matrix series, each passing generation emulating the trending social fears of their time. But we're back now, I don't know if you noticed, we're back to 1984, when fear of being watched and controlled from the shadows, the fear of having no real freedom prevails. And what a beautiful way to revive the old school, neo noir, cyberpunk era with a remake of the classic Ghost in the Shell!
The story in Ghost in the Shell is one about individuality, what defines a person and the importance of free will. We're shown a world in which technological implants and cybernetic enhancements have become basic extensions to humanity, just like smartphones are to us now, yet the people who choose them are slaves to their providers. Major, the main character, doesn't choose to become an elite anti-terrorist soldier, she's made. Without a memory, or rather one she can recount, her individuality is tied to a sense of obligation and duty. She's not free, but her mind wants freedom. A mysterious figure comes asking questions and he appears to seek the same answers as she does. Towards the end, the movie shifts the heavy black line to a greyish "what the hell is going on?" revealing the true face of evil from which the events in the movie are all but inevitable.
Let's get over the fact that some Japanese characters in the manga and the 1995 movie are now played by American actors. Most of the hardcore fans who are upset about this "whitewashing" (a word that's wrongly abused) are blinded by their love for the source material and usually want to dig up controversy where there's actually none. The movie handles this change very well, it's even a very important plot related reason that comes into play and blurs the "racial line" we've grown used to notice.
Let's be honest, there is some degree of westernization involved, since producers usually want their customers to relate to the characters in their movies, and that happens even in Asian countries. For example, The Great Wall is almost a hundred percent a Chinese production, yet in order to cater to the western market, they hired three very popular western actors, Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal. Yes, they really did that and their strategy worked. I'm getting too sidetracked. Anyway, Mamoru Otoshii, the director of the 1995 animated movie, gave his blessing after visiting the set and watching Scarlett Johansson perform, saying that "artistic expression must be free from politics," among spoilers and stuff. Aside from that, I believe this movie to be one of the most racially and culturally diverse big screen productions from at least the last few years, as far as I can think of, and that's something to celebrate, not berate.
I believe Scarlett Johansson gave a lot of emotion and life to a Major that really was constrained in the past by a monotone drawing, in my opinion. In the anime, she never gave up the mysterious and tense look, while a good actor can show more than one depressing emotion. Watch the movie, you'll enjoy this version of Batou, played by... I can't pronounce this name... wait, I don't need to pronounce it, he's played by Pilou Asbæk. He's a whole lotta fun on the screen. And most of the actors are. The scenes are very well directed, very colorful, an incredibly visual feast. The action is easy to follow, none of that shaky cam mess, and the scenes that are copied straight from the source material are beautifully shot. It doesn't stop there either, the movie features 80's car designs and neon colors. It's not only a remake, but a beautiful and respectful love letter to the original Ghost in the Shell.
I'm glad I wasn't spoiled by the trailers, even though I was really hyped about this movie. I was surprised to find out that the "villain" is played by a very talented young actor I've grown attached to in a popular TV series. I won't be the one to spoil it, but when he revealed himself, I was caught unprepared and I enjoyed that. He did a really good job as the Puppeteer. It is very important to have a really good villain, and this movie has two. Kind of. I can't say any more than that.
While the 80's revival may have started a while back, in my opinion with the 2009 horror movie The House of the Devil, the first time I saw a strong comeback of this wave was with Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive. While Drive is one of my favorite movies of this decade, I still had this futuristic neo noir itch. Well thank all movie gods for the late 2010's, for we're in for a streak of cyberpunk goodness. We have a blast off with Ghost in the Shell, followed closely by Blade Runner 2049 and even closer by Luc Besson's strong return with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I've also heard rumors of a Robotech full feature movie adaptation and a Space Invaders one, so I'm pretty hopeful for the next few years.
Huge thanks to Inspire Cinema - Cinema 3D Craiova for the invite to the preview of Ghost in the Shell 3D. By the way, one of the best 3D features I've seen in a long while where 3D is actually worth something and looked amazing.