A robot you could take home to meet mother.


I was intrigued to watch the other day (purely for the interest in the technology employed of course!) a short Guardian video on the development of the world’s first fully functioning sex robot: a disturbing watch, requiring a fairly broad mind. Watching it on the same day as going to see Scarlett Johansson’s new film “Ghost in the Shell” though was a mistake, since the similarities between Johansson’s character (‘Major’) and the animatronic sex doll (‘Harmony’) were… erm… distracting.

Johansson is a stunning actress, with unquestionably a stunning figure that she loves to show off, but you would have to start questioning her film choices: since there is hardly a hair’s breadth between the emotionally reserved superhero depiction here and her recent roles in Lucy” and “Under the Skin“. With her other ongoing “Avengers” superhero work as Natasha Romanoff, and nothing much else beyond that other than brief cameos (“Hail Caesar“, “Hitchcock“) and voice work, its all getting a bit ‘samey’: I’d like to see her get back to her more dramatic roles like “Lost in Translation” that really launched her career.

Making business for the glaziers of Niihama: the profession just LOVE superheroes!

Anyhoo, back to this flick. Set in the dazzling fictional Japanese city of Niihama, Johansson plays a terrorist victim saved only by having her brain transplanted into an android by the Hanka corporation. In this time (40 years in the future) human ‘upgrades’ with cybernetic technology are commonplace, but Major is a ‘first of a kind’ experiment. Hanka are not pure humanitarians though, since they have turned Major into a lethal fighting weapon with powers of invisibility and lightning reactions.  She works for a shadowy anti-terrorism unit called Section 9, led by the Japanese speaking Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano, “Battle Royale”).

A geisha who needs regular oiling. Creepy and effective robotics in action.

The upside of having no human form is that if you get burned or blown up, the team of cyber-surgeons back at Hanka, led by Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), can rebuild her – – they “have the technology” to quote another bionic hero.

But all is not necessarily well in the idyll of anti-terrorist slashing and burning. Major suffers from recurring ‘glitches’ of memories from her past life:  a life that she has no clear memories of. Her latest mission against a deformed and vindictive terrorist called Kuze (Michael Pitt) progressively resurfaces more of these memories, since Kuze clearly knows more about Major than she does.

Kuze (Michael Pitt)glad every morning that his face is not a 1,000 piece jigsaw.

“Ghost in the Shell” looks glorious, with the Hong Kong-like city being in the style of Blade Runner but with more holograms. (What exactly the holograms are supposed to be doing or advertising is rather unclear!). The cinematography and special effects deserve an Oscar nomination. 

Given the film is based on an original Manga series, written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow and well known for its complexity, this Hollywood version has a surprisingly simple and linear story. As such it may disappoint the hoard of fans who adore the original materials.

With accusations of Hollywood ‘whitewashing’ of the character, if there as one white actress to match the Manga image, it was probably Johansson.

Treating it as a standalone film, it should have an emotional depth beyond the superficial action, dealing as it does with loyalty and family ties. However, the scripting and editing is rather pedestrian making the whole thing a bit dull. Johansson and Pilou Asbæk, as her co-worker Batou, breathe what life they can into the material; but Binoche is less convincing as the Dr Frankenstein-style doctor. The best act in the piece though is Takeshi Kitano as the kick-ass OAP with attitude. 

Adding just a little Japanese content into an ostensibly Japanese film, Takeshi Katano excellent as the kick-ass boss Aramaki.

Where I had particular issues was in some of the detail of the action. ‘Invisibility’ is an attribute that needs to be metered out very carefully in the movies: Harry Potter just about got away with it; in “Die Another Day” it nearly killed the Bond franchise for good. Here, exactly how the androids can achieve invisibility is never explained and I disliked that intently. Similarly, the androids can clearly be physically damaged, yet Major seems to start each mission by throwing herself headfirst off the tallest skyscraper. Again, never explained.  

Even though the premise, and the opening titles, brought back bad memories of that truly terrible Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”, this is a dark and thoughtful adaptation with great CGI effects but unfortunately its pedestrian pace means it is one that never truly breaks through into the upper echelons of Sci Fi greatness. Worth a watch though.

Fad Rating: FFF.