Ghost in the Shell

Apr 2, 2017

The exciting anime tradition done just right.

Ghost in the Shell

Grade: B+

Director: Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsamn)

Screenplay: Masamune Shirow et al., based on the comic.

Cast: Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Under the Skin))

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 47 min

by John DeSando

“Everyone around me, they feel connected to something. Connected to something, I'm not.”  Major (Scarlett Johansson)

It is less about hybrid human android Scarlett Johansson kicking ass in cult manga tradition than it is about her character, Major, finding out who she is. The fascinating Ghost in the Shell has the typical sci-fi tropes with enough grave philosophy underneath to raise it toward the transcendent level of a, say, Eugene O’Neill drama.

In a dystopian future, cyber-enhanced humans have an unusual makeup of body parts and that elusive ghost in that shell, the soul. While the good guys prefer the borgs just do their job of eliminating dangerous criminals and  saving empires, the complex of character emanating from a head, for instance, that has not lost its desire for freedom, is a “major” problem, so to speak.

Another intriguing difference from other current sci fi is its unwillingness to litter the landscape with destructive shells, the explosive kind. “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” (Major) 

Gunfire is at a minimum while the search for soul is pre-eminent. Although Major can shoot and fight with the best of them, the film seems to be anchored by identity, more about the human elements of androids than even the individual identity.

Credit should be given to the darkly-beautiful design of Jan Roelfs and costumes out of this world by Kurt and Bart. Cinematographer Jess Hall evidences the influence of the memorable Blade Runner landscape.

In the end Major finds like the rest of us she’s made of many parts that if you rely on the corporeal only are just as soon to evaporate.  It’s the soul that makes the difference, the soul that promises immortality, the ghost in the shell of an evanescent body.

“Well, maybe next time you can design me better.” Major 

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at