Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ghost in the Shell review

Ghost in the Shell is the live action film of the Japanese manga and the 1995 anime movie of the same name. Like its source material, the movie takes place in a futuristic Japan where humans and machines can merge to form cyborgs. Scarlett Johansson plays the Major, a cyborg cop with a human brain but a robotic body. She's part of a police force called Section 9. At he beginning of the movie, she interrupts an attack on a Hanka Robotics executive. Unfortunately, the executive is "hacked" and killed. Soon, other Hanka executives are killed and it's up to the Major to find out why.

Okay, let me first say that I am an Asian American and have a unique view of this movie. So, I need to address one of the major controversies surrounding this film. that is the whitewashing of the Major character. Having seen the anime, there's no question this is a Japanese movie with Japanese characters. The anime's Major is not only rank only. She has a Japanese name. Motoko Kusanagi. In the anime, she looks Japanese. She is Japanese.

Does that create a problem for this live action version? Yes. In baseball parlance, there's a strike against it before it even steps up to the plate. Placing Johansson who is white in a movie which takes place in Japan and playing a Japanese woman removes the Japanese character of the material. Yeah, there can be a reason for the Major to be a white person but the movie never explains it. I'm guessing it would be too racist to explain in that the theory would be white people are more attractive and are better models for robots. Or maybe it's a metaphor for Hollywood. Again, none of this is really part of this film. Setting this movie in Japan and putting a white person in place of Japanese one is a slap to people of color. Would you cast a white man as Kunte Kinte for a Roots remake? And yes, it cuts both ways. Casting an African American as Johnny Storm in the dull Fantastic Four (2015) was wrong also since in the comics he was white. The producers of this movie would have been better off if they just removed the whole thing from Japan and put it in New York.

Okay, what about this remake? First, let me make some cinematic heresy. The 1995 anime was mesmerizing but suffered from a lack of exposition. Who is Section 9? Who is Section 6? In the new film, Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger's screenplay stays away from that mess but changes the theme from "what is life?" to "what defines our humanity?" That's better handled with a Data-lkie character of Star Trek who has no human parts. They add a one dimensional villain in the CEO of Hanka whose motive is corporate greed. And let's hope this was not at the insistence of the movie's Chinese producing partners. The problem in this movie was it should have been longer. Yeah, longer. I wished it would have told me more about this cyberpunk future. Tell me more about the people. The charismatic Juliette Binoche plays a mother like figure in scientist Dr. Ouelet. Well, the movie needs more fleshing out of her character to justify her actions.

Director Rupert Sanders has made a movie with stunning visuals. It's a crowded Japan with huge futuristic holographic ads. They stand up well with the now classic neo-noir science fiction classic Blade Runner. I just wish there was more of this world on the screen. Action pieces are well made. Some of them suffer from a lack of originality since they were literally ripped from the 1995 anime.

Ghost in the Shell is like one of the movie's robots except without the human brain. It's empty and inert. Time may be kinder to this film but it will be an example of Hollywood whitewashing for its existence. The grade is B Minus.

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