In Depth

Ghost in the Shell review: Scarlett Johansson takes on Japanese anime classic

After the 'whitewashing' controversy, are the critics sold on the actor's manga-inspired cyber-soldier?

Sci-fi crime drama Ghost in the Shell opens in UK cinemas this week, but after stirring up a race controversy, can it win over fans of the haunting Japanese tale?

Rupert Sanders directs the live-action film, which is based on Masamune Shirow's manga comic of the same name. It was also turned into an animated movie in 1995, directed by Mamoru Oshii.

Scarlett Johansson plays a cybernetic human who has undergone technological enhancement following a terrible car accident. 

Now a counter-cyberterrorist field commander known as Major, she works with the Section 9 taskforce to combat hi-tech crime bosses, discovering a secret about her past along the way. 

In the original comics, Major is Japanese and the casting of Johansson prompted accusations of whitewashing, especially after it was claimed that filmmakers planned to use CGI to make her appear more Asian. 

YouTube star Freddie Wong even created a satirical video mocking Hollywood executives and accusing studio bosses of lacking "the balls to take the risk" of casting a lesser-known Asian actress.

However, reviews of the film have been mainly positive.

Guy Lodge in Variety says Ghost in the Shell is a "pulse-quickening, formally stunning live-action take on the Manga classic", a "smart, hard-lacquered entertainment that may just trump the original films for galloping storytelling momentum and sheer, coruscating visual excitement".

Equally enthusiastic is Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph, who praises the "thrillingly well-organised" and "dazzling" visuals. 

Johansson's "soulful" performance is singled out as key to the film's success.

"Purists may not want to hear it," says Robey, "but she's ideal at the conceptual side of the role."

He adds that "this could easily be a franchise in the making" for the actor: "Her own futuristic, post-human equivalent of a John Wick or Bourne."

However, Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter is unconvinced, saying the real issue has "less to do whitewashing than with brainwashing" and that the filmmakers have lost "the more thought-provoking, cryptic aspects of their source material".

Giving it three stars out of five, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw agrees. "It has been standardised and westernised with hardly any actual Japanese characters left in it, and effectively reimagined as a superhero origin myth," he says.

Recommended

The Power of the Dog
Benedict Cumberbatch is ‘spectacular’ in The Power of the Dog
In Review

The Power of the Dog

The real story behind the House of Gucci
Lady Gaga in House of Gucci
Getting to grips with . . .

The real story behind the House of Gucci

The best films of 2021
Andrew Garfield stars in Tick, Tick…Boom!
In Review

The best films of 2021

Will Alec Baldwin be prosecuted for fatal film-set shooting?
Alec Baldwin pictured prior to the accident
Today’s big question

Will Alec Baldwin be prosecuted for fatal film-set shooting?

Popular articles

Are we heading towards World War Three?
Vladimir Putin
In Depth

Are we heading towards World War Three?

Woman diagnosed with ‘climate change’
Humber Bay Arch Bridge in Toronto
Stranger than fiction

Woman diagnosed with ‘climate change’

Channel crossing crisis: why Priti Patel’s ‘push-back tactic’ is not working
Priti Patel
In Brief

Channel crossing crisis: why Priti Patel’s ‘push-back tactic’ is not working

The Week Footer Banner