One of the most striking sequences in “Ghost in the Shell,” a dystopian noir-thriller with no shortage of striking sequences, shows a female cyborg being assembled in mid-air, piece by piece. The circuitry pulses exquisitely. A fleshy pink brain snaps neatly into place. The body, once built, is submerged in a milk-white liquid, forming a hard, glossy shell that splinters open to reveal the impeccably sculpted form and features of Scarlett Johansson.
While this “birth” sequence closely follows the one that kicks off Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 animated tour de force of the same title, that full-body cream bath can’t help but take on vivid new significance this time around. Talk about a whitewash! Could the director, Rupert Sanders, be engaging in some sly auto-critique, possibly in response to the Internet furor over the casting of a white actress in a role immortalized by Japanese pop culture? Whether or not he is, it’s hardly the only moment that finds the movie assuming a half-apologetic, half-defensive pose.
But to “Ghost in the Shell’s” credit, its fascination extends beyond the matter of its irksome racial politics. In recombining elements from Masamune Shirow’s groundbreaking sci-fi manga series and its various film and TV reincarnations, and reconstituting them in a CG-heavy live-action framework, Sanders and his three screenwriters have subjected some of the material’s most salient mysteries to a daunting aesthetic test.
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