Ghost in the Shell - The First 15 Minutes Preview

The Ghost in the Shell film is an endeavour that has been mired by controversy since its inception. I highly recommend reading the hyperlinked articles in order to get a bird’s eye view of the problem. That aside, I do want to comment on the first fifteen minutes of the film, that I was very lucky to have seen on March 9th. I have to say, it did look very interesting. So, beware, this is going to be a spoiler for the first quarter-of-an-hour of the Ghost in the Shell Hollywood blockbuster. (To be honest, I don’t feel like I am spoiling much; even the trailer is a spoiler for the first fight, we just didn’t know it was the first fight.)

The first thing that is worth noting, is that the Scarlett Johansson film adheres to a stricter chronological order than the original Ghost in the Shell film, starting the film credits very sedately with what I assume are neural filaments growing to connect to The Major’s brain. What follows, after the director and main actors have had their slides, is something that’s an almost shot-for-shot remake of the following sequence from the original film:

Then, we cut to a close-up of Johansson’s face. She is being gently woken up by a female doctor, and she chokes up. Dr. Ouellet tells her that she was drowning and that they couldn’t salvage her body, but now The Major has a new body—a better one. The Major starts to hyperventilate and the doctor isn’t able to calm her down, so she is sedated and left in a room. Then we cut to an ominous shot wherein The Major is centered in the frame, while Dr. Ouellet and a man (who is from the corporation that finances the experiment) talk about her. We cut again to another shot that copies the original animated film; the one where The Major is crouching on top of the building, hooked with cables to a comms network and assessing the situation of a possible assassination attempt on the President of the African Federation, while he holds a meeting with a high-ranking member of the Hanka corporation.

This is where the robo-geisha fight happens, with gangster men outright shooting the security guards and bodyguards. The situation goes FUBAR, and The Major decides to disregard orders to stand by from Chief Daisuke and takes a leap of faith and crashes into the window. She then starts being a complete badass shooting everything on sight, taking damage and dominating the fight. One of the robo-geishas turns into the spiderbot we see in the trailer, and drags the Hanka corp rep away and hacks into his brain. It’s at this point that a strike team lead by Batou (played by Michael Wincott) enters to support The Major.

Ghost in the Shell, brain hacking, robot, geisha, science fiction, gif

The Major is stuck in a difficult position by the robo-geisha who is hacking into the Hanka rep’s brain, not before The Major shoots it fatally. The robo-geisha scuttles back while begging for her mechanical life. ‘Please don’t shoot me,’ I think the robot says. This unsettles The Major, so the robo-geisha has to be shot by Batou. Batou then tells The Major ‘you are not like it, you’re not a robot,’ which angers The Major and she storms off, turning on her cloaking device.


Subtle, this film is not. I don’t expect much from a Hollywood cyberpunk flick.

The film immediately sets up its main narrative theme: Is The Major human? This happens in the scene where Dr. Ouellet is speaking with the shady corporation businessman.  At least, I assume the man is from a corporation since the narrative clues us into that, with his slick business attire and his dehumanisation of Scarlett’s character. This man outright calls her a ‘weapon,’ while Dr. Ouellet insists The Major is ‘special’ and ‘more than human.’ This is a cyberpunk staple, after all.

What I find interesting is that the film also points us in the direction of a big difference between the original Ghost in the Shell film and this live-action film, which is The Major’s characterisation. In the animated feature, The Major displays her emotions in a very subtle way, and her internal humanity, or ‘aliveness’ is contrasted with the way she is animated. One of the things that make The Major so eerie in appearance is that she doesn’t blink at all while she’s awake and has a constant wide-eyed stare paired up with her blank face. Yet, the case is made in the animated film that, if not human, she definitely qualifies as ‘alive.’

In the Hollywood film, on the other hand, The Major is immediately established as human to audiences. When she wakes up, she gasps, struggles breathing, starts having a panic attack about the drowning and Dr. Ouellet has to sedate her again. Clearly, we are meant to sympathize with her from the start.

Scarlett Johnasson, Ghost in the Shell, science fiction, gif

I’m not a big fan of this change because it means that the fundamental question the film grapples with has been resolved from the start. It removes the thematic conflict from the narrative, by dumbing down the themes of personhood in service of a more standard internal conflict about identity.

This is also shown with the aftermath of the fight scene. The Major is clearly affected by the pleas to spare it, coming from the robot. After Batou shoots the robot in the head and outright tells The Major that she is human, unlike the robo-geishas, she leaves straight away, even bumping into some kind of Section Nine SWAT teammate on the way out. She clearly struggles with seeing herself as a human. Motoko Kusanagi, on the other hand, brings up the question of whether being alive necessarily equals being human in her advanced, technological world, especially after the encounter with the Puppet Master.

There’s also a small contrast between gentle femininity and harsh masculinity paralleled in the duplets of Dr. Ouellet and the corp rep at the beginning of the film, and The Major and Batou. It’s not a particularly subversive scene. However, I believe this will be something present in a superficial manner in the rest of the film.


Before diving into the specifics, we really need to talk about filters. Between the influence wielded by Michael Bay’s Transformers films, and Disney's TRON: Legacy, the Ghost in the Shell live-action film didn’t stand a chance. Remember the good old days when sepia or brown filter was gritty, a green filter meant teh future!!!!/cybernetics, blue was horror or night and so on and so forth? Yeah, no, I think The Matrix poisoned till the end of time the well of ‘green is for cyberworld.’ This film is so blue-tinged and washed out it doesn’t make for a very interesting colour palette. The live-action film looks good, but it’s not memorable.

The overall look of the city looks like a crossover with futuristic Gotham from Batman Beyond with the city from the first episode of The Animatrix. It’s not a very original look, but what makes it interesting are all the holo-ads livening up the background. It gives off a very Tokyo vibe. In the live-action film, the city looks a bit too clean compared to the grimy underbelly as shown in the animated feature. I don’t think it detracts from the film, I’m just jotting it down.

Then there is the scene about the meeting between the President of the African Federation and the rep from the Hanka Corporation. I like this set piece. It really looks like a futuristic Japanese tea salon. The robo-geisha’s design is also warmer than the rest of the aesthetics in the film; they look more steampunk, like clockwork machines. It gives a feeling of the robo-geishas being antiques, which lends itself very well to the appearance that the meeting is happening in a very upscale place. Very interesting.

ghost in the shell, steampunk, film design, robot, geisha, science fiction

Also, TRON: Legacy, why do you do this to me? In the Ghost in the Shell live-action film, just like in the 2008 Disney film, whenever there is a sequence that takes place in the digital world, it is all orangey. This Scarlett Johansson film is orange and blue, same old, same old for contemporary action films. I was expecting the digital world to be green as a reference to the original films. I am disappoint.

Other Quibbles

Sometimes I felt as if the CGI over Scarlett Johansson’s body wasn’t all that well done. They removed the nipples of the naked body in favour of a more cybernetic look in order to get the PG-13 rating, albeit it looks really inconsistent. Even her back is supposed to look a bit mechanical, and sometimes Scarlett just looks naked. I guess we need to have those titillated eyeballs paying cold hard cash to look at Scarlett’s butt? This is even more evident in the fight scenes.

About the robo-geisha fight scene. Yes, it’s with the President of the African Federation, not the meeting with the programmer asking for asylum of the Galvess Republic. Maybe out of guilt, but the film seems to take a more multi-cultural approach, at least when it comes to to secondary characters. Too bad it doesn't  have more of a diverse main cast. Also, would the African countries have unified under a single banner considering the vast cultural differences between them? It feels like the done-to-death ‘Africa is a country’ spiel. I would like to know for sure if there’s more diversity in this film. At this point, it’s difficult to say.

There’s also the fact that the fight scenes are not as surgical. This Major is not as precise as Motoko. I don’t know whether it’s because the fights are not as well choreographed or because the producers don’t want The Major’s fights scenes to look like Black Widow’s in the MCU. For some reason I don’t think Scarlett Johansson’s character is as tactical as Major Kusanagi. I have to remind you all that I only watched the first fifteen minutes, and I may be mistaken about the way the fight scenes are structured.

In Conclusion

The Ghost in the Shell live-action film seems to be a more easily digestible, high budget version of the Ghost in the Shell animated film. I recommend it, but I wouldn’t go into it expecting any sort of cerebral fare. It clobbers you in the head with the main narrative themes. So far it seems a more dolled-up Hollywood sci-fi action flick, but I’m sure it will be a lot of fun to watch.

Remember, Ghost in the Shell premieres in theatres on March 31st.

Rosario is an early-twenties, outspoken woman, who likes to burrow between piles of books, and store miscellaneous trivia in her head.