Back in 1995 and after becoming a popular Manga comic within Japan, the animated version of Ghost in the Shell was released to great acclaim. In fact, it, along with the animated Akira, were the two major anime releases that brought a virtual wave of such material to the attention of fans within the United States. Here’s the animated film’s trailer:
Not so very long ago I saw the anime film (for the second or third time) and gave it a review which you can read here. From my review of the anime film:
Ultimately, (Ghost in the Shell) becomes something not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, a meditation on the thin line between machine and humanity. While by today’s standards the story may not be quite as deep and mysterious as it was when it was released (there have been many such meditations offered since), Ghost in the Shell still holds its own.
Fast forward to last year when word came out that a live action version of Ghost in the Shell was in the works and that it would star… Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. Unfortunately for her and the film itself, this coincided with people realizing -and becoming quite vocal- about Hollywood “whitewashing” ethnic roles. The Major, the protagonist of Ghost in the Machine, many argued, should be played by an Oriental woman and not someone like Scarlett Johansson. Worse, the film’s ending (I’ll get to that in a bit) kinda pressed one’s nose into that whole controversy.
I know, I know… such a minor matter to worry about nowadays when dealing with all the lunacy in Washington D.C., sexual harassment, etc. etc., but I suspect the outrage in no small part helped to make the live action version of this film fizzle at the box office.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ghost in the Shell, the live action film, was directed by Rupert Sanders, who had a hit with Snow White and the Huntsman. While that film managed to have a sequel made, Mr. Sanders moved on to make Ghost in the Shell and the controversy that followed.
Look, I understand the controversy.
If you are making a movie set in a futuristic Japan -a setting that is central to the story- then perhaps you should think about having a more “Oriental” cast of characters rather than a couple and, certainly, you may have wanted to think specifically of using an Oriental actress to play the lead role.
Having said that, let’s face facts here: Scarlett Johansson is about as BIG a star as one could get to play the lead role in a film whose protagonist is an ass-kicking cyborg.
When I finally got to see the film yesterday, let’s also face facts, so much water has gone under the bridge (Trump, sexual harassment, etc. etc.) that I couldn’t really get myself all that riled up to the casting choice controversy, though to be honest it never did rile me up all that much to begin with, at least in this particular ocassion.
So I just sat back and watched the film and tried to judge it on its own merits.
Look, Ghost in the Shell isn’t a bust. Far from it.
Its visual looks clearly pay an awful big tribute to Blade Runner, as did the original anime, and there are several scenes within the live action movie which mimic the anime scene for scene.
The movie stumbles, however, when the film makers alter the story presented and, frankly, dumb it down. What was originally, as I pointed above, a mediation on the fine line between machine and humanity becomes, frankly, a remake of the original 1987 (not the terrible remake) Robocop. Only, its not nearly as exciting and the action sequences are competent but rarely exciting.
The Major here is a machine created by a company to be a bad-ass cop but hidden within her is an actual soul which, eventually, comes out. The corporation people that did this to her are bad and she emerges by the end to show her humanity.
If I want to see this story, why bother with the live action version of Ghost in the Shell when I can simply watch Robocop again?
I’ll get into the film’s ending (SPOILERS ABOUND!), so if you want to see the film without it being spoiled, don’t go past the trailer below.
In sum, Ghost in the Shell is a decent enough film with some beautiful visuals whose biggest problem, if you’re not too bothered by the casting whitewashing, is that it echoes too strongly the plot of Robocop and is never as exciting in its action sequences as one would have hoped they’d be. Having said that, I’ve seen far, far worse.
Now, the film’s ending.
So here we have a movie that, like Robocop, features a machine/human hybrid where the corporation has tried to use the person’s “soul” in a machine. They’ve also tried to remove all memory traces and those memories start to come back.
By the movie’s end, the Major knows who she is and this is where that whole whitewashing stuff really comes roaring back. For the movie takes place, like the anime and the manga, in a futuristic pseudo-Japan and the person the Major was… was an Oriental female. In the closing moments of the movie, the Major sees her tomb and tells her mother “You no longer have to come here”.
Again, the whitewashing stuff didn’t bother me as much as it did many others, but the filmmakers, with this ending, essentially acknowledge their whitewashing and throw it back in the faces of those who were protesting such a thing.
I grant you, they didn’t do this on purpose as I’m certain filming of the movie happened before this controversy blew up to the proportions it did, but still… how unfortunate.