It took me a couple weeks but I was finally able to check this film out despite the angst and vitriol spewed at it in the wake of Scarlett Johansen being cast as the Major. I liked the original anime released back in 1995 directed by Mamoru Oshii based on the manga series written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow, neither of which had a problem with the casting by the way. If you’re unfamiliar this story follows the exploits of a leader of an elite team called section 9 who is basically a brain housed inside of a fully synthetic android body. I believe the brain, or “ghost” of the woman who is in the body is definitely Japanese, but the body can be modeled after what ever race you want. Also interesting to add that many anime characters often have European features but the Japanese still consider them as Japanese or Nihonjin in their eyes. Most of the uproar occurred here in the U.S. where it’s at approximately 31 million in revenue yet 96 million worldwide and doing well in Japan. Go figure. That’s not to say I think whitewashing doesn’t happen because I know it does. I just don’t think that was the case with this film.
Getting back to the plot the Major in the anime and loosely in this film is always questioning her existence and searching for a past she only vaguely gets bits and pieces of through flashbacks they call glitches. The film is visually stunning with plenty of CGI but not so much that it gets overwhelming. Where it falls short is the execution of the plot as well as development in regards to building a connection to the Major or any of the other characters. I like Johansen but she’s not here for her brilliance at expression of varying emotions and it’s actually a benefit in this film. Another actress regardless of ethnicity may be better at conveying feelings but that’s not really needed here given the role. She looks the part in my opinion and another actress would not have made this film better. That would have been done with better use of the source material and better writing.
This is a classic case of flash over substance but what they do give you is enjoyable. At least I was able to enjoy it. Like I mentioned earlier the bread crumbs they leave for you to follow the trail of her past are too few and far between. This I think would have affected me more had I not been familiar with this story, and it makes me wonder if they were leaning too heavily on the story’s fame and fan base. I say this because it’s been done before where the film acts as if everyone watching knows what’s going on when that may not be the case, especially here in the U.S. For a good example see Assassin’s Creed. Not everyone played the games so not everyone knows what an animus is or the basic premise. Another thing I did like about Ghost in the Shell was that some of the scenes were taken straight from the anime. That kind of fan service is always appreciated.
In my opinion this film stayed visually faithful to the anime for the most part, the action was good it just fell short in the execution department but was otherwise an enjoyable experience. There are actual whitewashing cases out there however this isn’t one of them. Go look at the original anime or the manga books and see if the other portrayals of the Major don’t have European features as I stated before. This isn’t a Gods of Egypt or John Wayne playing Ghengis Khan situation. We do however need more people of color and other marginalized groups to have representation in prominent roles, and my answer to that is we need more creators to create! If we can flood the market some of our own stories are bound to get made. The other thing we don’t do enough of is support indie authors or creators that tell stories that resonate with the personal experiences or cultural lore outside of what Hollywood gives us.
Truth be told they may make enough money to justify a sequel, and if they can improve upon the mechanics of the plot it might do well if enough people stop protesting enough to watch the first when it goes digital but it will be up to the studio to see if they will even risk it. Had the creators of the original spoken against the casting I would have been on board. It’s still a tough situation as they may not have even if they didn’t agree with the casting for fear of being seen as someone bad mouthing something they’re associated with. This was an average movie with good aesthetics but lack of substance. It’s fun if you take it as that and enjoy it for what it is and leave it at that. I am curious what your opinion is if you’ve seen the film, or even if you haven’t if you abstain because of the main protagonist casting. Feel free to leave a comment and discuss. Please be respectful of others opinions and discuss things without need for name calling. We should all welcome different view points as a tool to help us grow. Until next time.