Sci-fi film ponders what makes us human

SHATTERED ILLUSIONS: Advanced cyborg Major (Scarlett Johansson) in action in ‘Ghost in the Shell’

Ghost in the Shell, with Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Peter Ferdinando. Directed by Rupert Sanders.

4/5

BASED on the Japanese anime, Ghost in the Shell is a sci-fi movie set in a futuristic, cosmopolitan Japan where cybernetic enhancements are the order of the day.

Some people have had the surgery out of necessity, to replace injured or diseased body parts, but many have chosen elective enhancements even for something as mundane as being able to consume more alcohol without getting drunk.

Among all this already mind-blowing technology, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind – a human brain in a completely synthetic body. Waking up at Hanka Robotics, she is told her name was Mira Killian and that her body was destroyed in a terrorist attack, and this was the only way to save her.

Hanka scientist Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) tells Major she is special because she still has her soul, or “ghost”, in a robot body. The shock is almost too much and they have to sedate her brain.

Fast forward a year and we learn Major has been recruited and trained as a member of an elite anti-terrorist squad called Section 9, with partners Batou (Pilou Absaek) and Togusa (Chin Han).

Using hi-tech surveillance to observe a meeting between Hanka representative Dr Osmond and an African ambassador, they learn a robotic geisha has been hacked and then all the geisha-bots start attacking the guests.

Orsmond is especially targeted for information, which the geisha-bot attempts to retrieve through the plug socket at the back of his neck.

Major swings into action, against the orders of Section 9 Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). The geisha-bots are joined by other terrorists, but prove no match for Major, with her cloaking technology and superior fighting skills.

Nonetheless she does sustain an injury to her arm which requires a visit to Dr Ouelet. She also mentions she is having hallucinations, which may be past memories, but they are referred to as glitches and she consents to have them removed.

Looking for clues on how to locate the mysterious hacker responsible for Orsmond’s murder, Major decides to “deep-dive” the geisha’s memories with the help of another Hanka scientist Dr Dahlin (Anamaria Marinca).

The risk almost proves fatal as the terrorist mastermind is still connected to the artificial intelligence and tries to kill Major. Only a quick disconnect by Batou saves her.

A little closer to finding the hacker, they visit a Yakuza nightclub where more action follows – intense hand to hand combat, gunfights and a booby trap that leaves Batou blind. No problem, he gets cybernetic eyes.

The hacker targets more Hanka scientists and is eventually identified as Kuze (Michael Pitt). When Major finds and confronts him, he tells her the truth of their pasts, and who the real villains are.

Ghost in the Shell has echoes of Blade Runner, from the cityscapes so reminiscent of that sci-fi classic, to the question of what makes us human.

It was also a perfect vehicle for Johansson, in fine form from her role as Black Widow in the Avengers movies.

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