DM Haight


For all intents and purposes, anime fans can be some of the most critical film goers when their favorite anime, film or series, faces down an american live-action adaptation. Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, directed by Rupert Sanders, was no stranger to the outrage that comes with anime adaptation. Accused of whitewashing as soon as Johansson was cast instead of a viable Japanese actress, the production faced its fair share of backlash, all the way up to the first trailer. Whitewashing continued in the public conversation, however, the visuals and style of the trailer gave many hope that Sanders and the producers at Dreamworks would actually do justice to the 1989 manga and the subsequent anime films and series that followed. That was until the film’s release.

The anticipation I had before seeing the film was a mixed bag of excitement and dread. Johannson didn’t bother me (She’s a bonafide action star with acting chops like few others. The studio either ran the risk of casting a asian action star who wasn’t Japanese and would ultimately be accused of racism. Or they cast a Japanese actress in the hopes that they are a massive box office draw, and can carry an action film on their back, of which there are very few that aren’t “unknowns”.) Johannson has the Avengers, Lucy, and Captain America keeping her up for action, and Lost in Translation for acting. She’s the best choice in a lose/lose situation. What was throwing me was the trailer’s aim of showing just how like the manga and animes it was. Many of the shots in the trailer were right out of the anime, which was a ploy to get those who had been previously bashing the yet-to-be released film to switch gears jump on the bandwagon. And for some it worked. Others stayed home opening weekend, or saw something else, which let GitS slip into less than stellar numbers.

What is most frustrating about this film is that I wanted to love it. I like Johannson, Beat Kitano, and Michael Pitt. But Kitano is used so awkwardly that he falls into the background and hardly wows me as Aramaki, especially when he’s the only character speaking another language. This massive misfire just opened up the reality that the world isn’t as connected and interwoven culturally as it should have been. Maybe not everyone should be able to speak multiple languages, but if Kitano is relegated to Japanese, then give someone else a prefered language as well. The multicultural aspect that Sanders and Dreamworks could have played off of was tossed in the garbage, which hurts the chances that GitS had at being an inclusive and culturally binding film, despite the main character, The Major, being cast as non-Japanese. Pitt was the only standout character in this film, but his character has minimal usage and has less impact than the characters his is based on.

More than anything, what ruins the film is the lazy writing, or dumbing down of the philosophical elements that western audiences apparently are unaccustomed to. It’s incredibly insulting for me to hear that the message of the original was altered, not because the themes are outdated and message is overdone, but because the philosophical undertones and dilemmas are too deep or complicated for the audiences that are going to watch it. Western audiences can handle thoughtful films, often making them into the biggest cash cows of the year. Inception comes to mind, another film that takes inspiration from an anime (Paprika). The idea that machines struggle with their impending humanity, or that a person’s humanity struggles with their increasingly realized cyborg reality is all okay, but it’s been done a half dozen times in the last decade, the big one coming out only a year ago in Ex Machina. Why can’t we handle the message of singularity; of giving in to the power of understanding through omniscience, morphing into one, all knowing entity? Why can’t we play with the themes and ramifications of identity in oneness?

Sanders and Co took a deep look at humanity and the age of complete connectivity, and turned it into a popcorn action romp, where story and message get lost in the next explosion, punch, or gunshot. The acting was uninspired, the design, though beautiful, misses the point from the anime. The whole film misses the point. This was supposed to be a work of introspection on the self and culture. The grime and questions are supposed to be beautiful, not stylish. Not in fashion. What could have been a precursor to an age of thoughtful scifi blockbusters, just regresses back to the scifi dud of yesteryear. Hopefully one day we’ll get our spark, but Ghost in the Shell just isn’t it.


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