REVIEW: ‘GHOST IN THE SHELL’

So GHOST IN THE SHELL opens this weekend, and I’ll say right off the jump, I wish I had better things to say about it.

GHOST IN THE SHELL has been one of a handful of movies lately that has been under fire for whitewashing in Hollywood. In this case, Asians. But, me, being an Asian-American and a fan of the source material, I ended up being okay with the casting for reasons I mentioned previously on this site. And I have been really looking forward to this movie, especially considering how much of a fan I am of the creator, Masamune Shirow.

But as for the whitewashing, I’ll get into that later.

As for the movie itself? Well, I can best describe it as, “meh”.

If you’re not familiar with the world of GHOST IN THE SHELL at any level, here’s a quick blurb about the movie itself:

In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, “The Ghost in the Shell.”

But the movie, honestly, this thing was a VERY loose adaptation of the first anime movie from Manga Entertainment back in the ’90s. And even with some fun shout outs to the original anime, right down to recreating some of the more memorable scenes from the anime, it does a really poor job of capturing that world.

I mean, the production design? Bleh. I mean, sure, you can make the argument that it’s visually stunning, and I would agree to that to an extent. But the look was very dated to me. I mean, it looked like a vision of the future from the ’80s. As if the filmmakers looked to BLADE RUNNER for inspiration, and just dropped a ton of CG on top of that. And to me, that just showed a crazy lack of imagination in bringing this cyberpunk world to life.

Aside from the movie’s, and the property as a whole, overtones of soul and individuality, at it’s heart, I guess you can call this an action movie. And there was some pretty bad ass action, but you’ve already seen the majority of all the cool stuff in the trailers (I hate it when Studios do that), including, what I would argue is the action sequence centerpiece, where the geishas are hacking into the guests. I mean, beyond that, it’s a little generic. I kinda felt like with something like GHOST IN THE SHELL, there was an opportunity to explore something really cool and innovative like THE MATRIX gave audiences back in the day.

Now, Scarlett Johansson’s performance? I mean, I do consider myself a big fan of ScarJo… but her performance here was a little weak… well, “weak” might be the wrong word. But definitely think poor choices were made in portraying the Major. Essentially it felt like she went the LUCY route, a movie I was not a fan of, and was completely robotic & without emotion. And I know that had to have been a conscious choice, because Scarlett is by far a more accomplished actress then just being devoid of emotion. And I’m sure some of you will probably be all, “Well she’s a robot, isn’t she? Why would she have emotion?”. Well, the Major is not a robot, she’s a cyborg. And given trying to inject ideas of a soul into the story, have some emotion to make me care about your journey! I mean, in every incarnation of the anime, the English voice actors gave the Major personality. I don’t see why they wouldn’t have gone that route here.

But as I bag on the movie as a whole. I mean, there were some fun bits. Like recreating the scenes from the anime I mentioned. And they even used some of the classic music from the original anime.

…but when I saw a basset hound, I couldn’t help but giggle at that Easter Egg. If you don’t know, the director of the original anime I keep bringing up, Masamune Oshii, a mainstay of pretty much all his anime movies is including a basset hound somewhere in the film. So yea, I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw that. Haha.

Overall this thing felt like a fan film or a love letter to the original anime. Kinda like SUPERMAN RETURNS felt like a fan film. It really didn’t feel like it’s own movie, it’s own thing.

My opinion? If you’ve had no exposure to the GHOST IN THE SHELL manga or anime, yea, you might have a good time. I could see how going into this blank you might enjoy it as just a fun ride.

My recommendation? Whether you’re a fan of the manga & anime, or not… this movie was pretty bad, if you want to see a GHOST IN THE SHELL movie? Go rent the original anime that this looks like the live-action version was based on. You can find it’s IMDB page here.

BUT I promised you a short commentary about whitewashing in this movie… well, before I get into that, I should warn…

POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!

You know, like I mentioned before on this blog, I was okay with the casting in this movie. I mean in the manga and anime, the characters don’t “look” Asian, as opposed to say something like AKIRA. The source material even has it’s own vibe to the art, though obviously fitting into the manga/anime silo, doesn’t really go the “big eye” route that I think most would associate with Japanese pop-culture. 

So I was good with international casting.

Though a lot of my friends would give me shit about that, claiming, “THEY HAVE JAPANESE NAMES! IT TAKES PLACE IN JAPAN!”

To which I could only respond that I think that’s more to do with the creator being Japanese and living in Japan.

But whatever.

It’s funny though, any issue I had with casting was actually with the Asians cast. Haha. I mean, Takeshi Kitano was cast as Aramaki, the head of Section 9, and though I think Kitano is an amazing actor, thought it was misplaced here. I think they could’ve found an actor with more of a similar stature as Aramaki’s manga and anime counterpart. That is to say, shorter, and, well… not as fat. 

Then there’s Togusa, it’s funny, cause growing up with the anime and manga, I always read him as a white guy. But here, he’s played by Chin Han. And not that was a bad thing, I just found it funny my take and what ended on screen was so different.

But yea, I would say there was a lot of whitewashing in the movie. I mean, regardless of the casting of the principal cast, for being placed in Japan, there was a SEVERE lack of Asians inhabiting this world. Which was odd, and a bit of a shame.

Then there’s Scarlett Johansson’s casting. Now, I was okay with her being the Major, she definitely looked the part and more than capable of playing it. But, I remember in an effort to curb racial issues affecting the box-office, filmmakers stated that she would not be called Major Kusanagi, but simply the Major.

Which, turns out, is not true.

ScarJo’s Major at the start of the movie was Major Mira Killion… and I can’t tell you HOW MUCH my ears bleed when I heard that.

But it gets worse. And at this point this is where the movie kinda falls into hypocrisy for the filmmakers. I remember Scarlett Johansson saying  she’d never play another race… well, SURPRISE, the Major is Japanese! By the end of the movie, not only does the Major recover her past, meets her mom, yup, we learn she is in fact Japanese. Specifically, Motoko Kusanagi. The character’s name from the manga and anime.

So yea, the filmmakers claims to address concerns about whitewashing in the movie? Bullshit. I mean, regardless of how I regard the source material with a multi-cultural stint. The filmmakers PUT IN THE FILM the Major being Japanese, and cast a white actor. So that was both funny and disappointing at the same time.

I mean, again, whatever argument you want to make about the principal casting, there definitely was a severe lack of Asian in this movie. And most definitely an oversight or missed opportunity on the filmmaker’s part.

And like I mentioned earlier, overall, coming from a fan of the source material, this movie is pretty bad. I’d save your money on this one.