Movie Review: ‘Ghost In The Shell’ (2017)

Posted Friday, March 31st, 2017 04:18 pm GMT -4 by

Ghost in the Shell posterHave you ever had one thing ruin your whole day? For example, maybe you won tickets to see your favorite band, but when you get there you find out that they’re obstructed view and you’re stuck behind a wall. Or maybe your find your favorite ice cream or gelato flavor and the only way to get it is when it’s mixed with your least favorite flavor. (In my case, it’s whenever they have pineapple ice cream mixed with coconut.) Or even worse, the show that you’ve been marathoning and loving for months ends with a reprehensible finale that makes you never want to lay eyes on anything that has to do with that show ever again. (‘Dexter’ anyone?)

Sure, letting that one thing get to you may be a tad overdramatic and most people would try to make the best of a situation like that, but sometimes it’s really hard to get past it for a number of reasons. Maybe you were so hyped that the disappointment took everything out of you. Or that one little thing was supposed to be the shining moment in a bad week. Or maybe you thought that it wasn’t humanly possible for a thing to get even worse than it already was. (Yeah, we’re not talking about ‘Dexter’ anymore.) Life is far too short and awesome to willingly succumb to moments like that. So with that in mind, you should probably stay the hell away from ‘Ghost in the Shell’ this weekend.  

Based on the 1995 seminal sci-fi anime directed by Mamoru Oshii, this live-action adaptation from Rupert Sanders controversially starring Scarlett Johansson follows a one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid known as The Major as she and her elite task force hunt down a terrorist that aims to eliminate Hanka Robotics’ advancements in cyber technology that have been adapted by the majority of society. However, when new information begins to unravel her very existence, she starts to see that things aren’t as they seem and not everyone can be trusted.

To begin with, Sanders and his team did a pretty incredible job of bringing the world of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ to life. On top of the epically designed futuristic cityscapes and the mind-blowing mix of robotic technology and humans, this was largely accomplished by masterfully ripping some of the most iconic scenes straight from the anime. The Major’s fall into action with the help of her thermo-optical camouflage, the water fight, the spider tank, and the creation of a shell were just a few of the moments that were a visual feast. They even got the machine guns in the briefcases spot on! These scenes may not have been presented in the exact same way that fans would remember them, but it was still a wonder to see them presented in “real life”. Featurettes on costume, weapon, and background design would be most interesting to check out some time.

In addition to tweaking classic scenes, the additions to the plot really felt like they were rooted in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ mythology. The filmmakers did a really good job of expanding the 82-minute anime into a 106-minute feature film with really interesting new material. It’s almost in the same vein as Zack Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ where it both was and wasn’t exactly like the source material at times, but overall it captured it’s essence extremely well.

However, with all that being said, there’s that one thing that messed everything up. I may have even said, “Are you serious?” out loud when I realized what was happening. If you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll just say that while this production figuratively whitewashed the main character when they cast Scarlett Johansson in the part, they literally whitewashed The Major in this movie. And before anyone gets into it, this goes way beyond any “complaining” about an Asian actress not being cast in yet another Hollywood version of a beloved anime or manga. Seriously, this is pretty f*cked up on so many levels. 

Also, seriously turn away and skip the next two paragraphs if you want to avoid SPOILERS

Ghost in the Shell water fight

During the climax of the movie, The Major learns about her life before she was turned into a weapon by Hanka Robotics. As it turns out, she was an anti-robotic enhancement radical that fought against the company and sought to expose their shady dealings. And after Hanka attacked their base, they harvested the brains of the rebels in order to conduct the experiments that resulted in the creation of The Major. But here’s the kicker: Her name was Motoko Kusanagi and the terrorist that she has been chasing named Kuze was actually her companion/partner Hideo (who is played by Michael Pitt and is also literally whitewashed). 

Just to put it bluntly once again, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ figuratively then literally turned their main character from an Asian person into a white person. The subtext of these actions is just beyond infuriating. The best way that I can express my frustration is by turning to a line from the movie that says, “Memories don’t define you. Your actions do.” Yeah, well this movie’s actions say that there has to be a white star front and center of every Asian story if it wants any chance of being told in Hollywood with a proper budget or any reverence to the source material.

Rupert Sanders’ ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was almost awesome. Despite the irritation caused by the film’s casting decisions, it was way more engrossing and entertaining than originally anticipated. Looking at it from a technical standpoint alone, the movie was a triumph for the costume, props, animation, and the rest of the general behind the scenes departments. But the plot developments leading up to the third act took all the wind out of its sails and left me beyond angry. After all the initial backlash from casting Scarlett Johansson as the iconic Major Motoko Kusanagi, how could Sanders, Dreamworks, or Paramount even think this was okay?

And I know that this review is going to be panned by people who don’t see the subtext of the movie as problematic and demand that the audience (and this reviewer) just “enjoy it for what it is”, but Hollywood has a long and storied history of erasing Asians from the big screen in one way or another and it needs to stop right f*cking now. Normally I would say to see for yourself and form your own opinions, but I’m imploring you not to give your money to this movie. Wait for it to come out on Netflix or watch it through other means if you’re going to watch it. Just don’t give it any of your money so the studios might finally get the point that our media should reflect the audience that is consuming it and that particular audience is diverse as hell. 

Final Score: 

atoms_1.5

’Ghost in the Shell’ starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Kaori Momoi, Danusia Samal, Yutaka Izumihara, Tuwanda Manyimo, and Chin Han is in theaters now.

horizontal lineDespite being a “professional writer”, Ben likes run-on sentences far too much. For more of his attempts at being funny and the occasional insightful thought, follow him on Twitter and Instagram

  • Lucius

    Spoiler alert: the trashing of this movie has little if anything to do with the movie and everything to do with Scarlett Johansson, who is, apparently, too white, too Occidental, too not Oriental enough to play this part in a friggin movie. So, this so-called review is just one long embittered ad hominem that just regurgitates all the complaints about Johansson from the moment it was announced that she had the role. Get a life.

    • Ben Silverio

      I must have missed the part where I specifically targeted Scarlett Johansson, her casting, or even her performance as the reason for this movie’s shortcomings. If I’m not mistaken, I actually cite the writing and the subtext contained in the script because of the screenwriter’s choices as the movie’s real problems. So maybe you could work on reading more carefully.

      Oh and by the way: Rugs are oriental. People are not. Get with the times.

  • Ben, I saw the movie too and while I wasn’t particularly taken with it, I did’t get the subtext as a body slam like you did. In fact, it wasn’t particularly clear in the movie that the homeless (by choice) Motoko was anti-robotics / anti-Hanka. Maybe I was just in a daze from the non-stop CG at that point, but I think that there was an existential depth to the original 1995 anime film that was completely missed in this remake. Ghost in the Shell, even the name, is about identity and it’s just not very well addressed. Even Robocop did a better job…

  • althotos

    I have no exposure to Japanese Anime. I do love special effects and I like movies that showcase futuristic technology. As a software developer with over 35 years in the field, I could appreciate the themes that were presented in this movie – both the subtle themes like the gentle undertow of a tide and the more in-your-face themes that hit you like a 2×4 across the noggin. This movie went places that Lucy did not and both have a very common theme and as such I was very disappointed in Lucy. Similarly, the movie Transcendence failed, because it quite didn’t take us there. This movie went there – to the “Singularity”. I like both the philosophical and the metaphysical ideas this movie presented. It went to a place where Lucy and Transcendence did not go. Additionally, it also entertained.

  • Steve Valliere

    Can someone please explain why an actor playing the role of a mind within a 100% cybernetic, man-made body (shell) needs to be ANY particular ethnicity? I agree that the twist in her origin wasn’t very good (typical Hollywood writers trying to add meaning where none would be better) but , in my opinion, very few of the members of SEction 9 in the anime versions “look” Asian — especially the Major. Though the Major does have what sounds like a Japanese name, there’s no need for her body to LOOK Japanese if the builders of the shell didn’t want or need it to do so.

    As for a non-Asian director… Did anyone complain that the director of the (fairly) recent Solaris wasn’t Polish? How about Snow White and the Huntsman? The director wasn’t German, but no one complained until he directed GITS. Even Cinderella should have been French, but no one ever complained. Aren’t we all human here? Isn’t it somewhat racist to attempt to raise one sub-group over another?