Sunday, April 2, 2017

What's wrong with Ghost in the Shell?

ghost in the shell 2017 movie poster

Glad you asked. And since I saw it last night . . .

If you're a fanboy of the original anime like me, you might end up mildly disappointed by this movie. It's not a bad stand alone movie. But if you've watched the hype over this since the decision was made to make the film, you've heard how it was going to be a live-action remake of the classic 1995 anime.

Uhmm . . . yeah, about that . . .

A more accurate description would be that this 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell, is a lush, cgi heavy, sci-fi movie based on the classic 1995 anime of the same name.

We've got a lot of the same characters -- Batou, Togusa, Ishikawa, Saito, and the Chief of Section 9. For no apparent reason, the Chief now has a name -- Aramaki (and is played by well known Asian actor 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano). And the Major's name is also changed to Mira Killian as opposed to the original Motoko Kusinagi from the anime. Though there is a reason for that. And that is where the live action version veers away from the classic anime.

While the original is a story of how a hacking program amassed so much knowledge that it became aware of its own existence, essentially becoming a sentient digital life form referred to as The Puppetmaster but originally created under the code name Project 2501.

In the live action version, the villain, referred to as Kuze, is a failed previous iteration of the human/cyborg hybrid experiment that the Major is the culmination of. His course of action -- hunting down all those responsible for creating him and killing them, is quite different from the Puppetmaster's motivation in the original -- simply to be allowed to exist and be recognized as a new form of life with all the freedom's we afford other sentient life forms on the planet.

And while the 1995 anime is more focused on the profound implications of artificial intelligence and what might happen if/when machines evolve beyond what we've made them to be, the 2017 version is more of an indictment of the capitalist industrial complex and their (supposed) heartless drive to create new product. In this case the melding of a human brain and a cybernetic body. Of course they have to wipe out those pesky memories that might complicate matters, hence the Major's new name of Kira instead of her real name Motoko, something that is revealed in the climactic final sequences of the 2017 film.

The original also had quite a bit of examination of the politics of a new future world where the lines between corporations and governments have become blurred, that are reduced now to simply corporation = bad, government = maybe not bad.

I had previously wondered if any of the changes in the live action version might have been driven by the thought that audiences, particularly mainstream American audiences, would be put off by the talky nature of the original anime. Part of what I like about those flicks is exactly the fact that they have a lot of narrative and exposition in them as they put forward complicated thoughts on whatever subject is driving the film.

But there's also quite a few dialog heavy scenes in this current film where the Major struggles to understand who and what she is and where she came from and what might have happened to her. That sort of surprised me.

The film makers did throw in a handful of iconic scenes from the original, pretty faithfully recreated to please us fanboys -- the opening and closing back dives off skyscrapers by the Major, the cyborg body creation sequence, the water fight with the ghost hacked assassin. The Major's battle with the spider tank was altered a bit, but not in such a way that I was overly disappointed.

All in all, it isn't a bad film. I'm not sure how it will do with audiences that aren't familiar with the original. I think it's a decent stand alone movie, but I myself, couldn't separate my expectations/knowledge of the original from how I was viewing this version. It did make me smile at times. The Chief is sort of a bad ass in this version, that was fun.

So, like I said at the outset . . . what's wrong with Ghost in the Shell?

In two words -- nothing really.

And now a word about whitewashing . . .

All these social justice warriors bitching about Scarlett Johansson playing an Asian character need to shut the f*ck up, put their onesie on, grab their warm milk and go back to their pillow filled safe spaces.

Once you watch the live action version you'll understand why Johansson was a completely valid choice of actress for this part as it was written in the same way that Michael Pitt was okay as Kuze (who's original name was revealed in the movie, but I cannot remember it now).

And I know that I had written a post about Johansson's casting in this part previously and had suggested Asian-American actresses for the role, but that was primarily driven by my exhaustion of Scarlett being cast in every freakin' role that was coming down the pike back then. Watch the original anime in the English dubbed format. If you discard the Asian character names, I defy you to see any of those characters as Asian. That's one of the fetishes of anime -- the westernization of the character features. And it is also part of the underlying narrative of both the original anime and this live action version -- a Japanese woman has her mind/ghost implanted into a generic cyborg body, not a replica of her original human form, but a fully artificial man-made cybernetic body. One that is a prototype for a future lucrative business.

In fact, in the original, part of the Major's angst is that she is not sure how unique she is. She struggles to understand what defines her in the world and society. At one point, she is riding a water taxi and looks up to see someone who looks exactly like her dining at a restaurant. Perhaps if the 2017 film's creators had been able to cast a more unremarkable actress in this role it would have driven that point home with more effectiveness. But they chose ScarJo for the box office. But whitewashing?! Know what you're talking about before you make statements like that dumbasses.