Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ghost in the Shell: Bringing Anime to Life

If you don't like anime or manga or understand why anyone would like this kind of animation or graphic, then you will hate Ghost in the Shell. The movie has also been dogged by the "white washing" controversy that tends to attack any live-action adaptation of anime.  It is the pronouncement that a movie based on Asian material should star an Asian actress. It was a charge made against other adaptations most notably The Last Airbender. The problem with this is that anime more frequently than not draws its characters as non-Asian. If you think that because a movie Asian anime that only Asians should be cast, you've probably haven't seen much anime. Here endeth the rant.  

Ghost in the Shell is among anime and manga lovers something of an iconic movie and graphic novel starting in the late 80's and being made into a movie in 1995. When I first saw that Ghost in the Shell would be adapted, several thoughts ran through my brain. First, I hope they don't do to Shell what was done to Aeon Flux. The filmmaker didn't. Second, will an American audience be ready for a movie that, if it stays true to the original, that will often have odd movement and dialog stilted and philosophical nature of a noir Japanese archetypal piece? Judging from ticket sales in the US, the answer is no. Third, how long after the casting of Scarlett Johansson will someone complain about a Caucasian actress being cast will it take for someone to complain? The answer was not long. Fourth, how long before the movie is made will someone complain about the casting choices? Also, not long. With all this in mind, the more I think about the movie the better I like it, but it also has problems.

Scarlett Johansson has built something of a reputation of playing ice queens with a heart in action flicks. Characters like Lucy and Black Widow have solidified this view. In Ghost in the Shell, she takes on the role of Major who is a cybernetic being in that her human brain is hosted in an unfeeling robotic body. Major is the first successful hybrid of her kind. Her real memories have been suppressed and altered by an evil corporation headed by Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) who views Major as a weapon and nothing more. Major is assigned to Section 9, a special government force led by the noble Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano). Major's partner is Batou (Pilou Asbæk) whose eyes are artificially enhanced when he is blinded in an explosion caused by Kuze (Michael Pitt) who was one of the failed attempts to create someone like Major. Kuze is loosely based on The Puppetmaster from the original. 

This is a world where humans regularly enhance themselves with mechanical devices. It also makes humans hackable. Major and Section 9 seek to protect humans from this. She learns that her memories have been altered. In a very Jason Bournesque way, Major begins to seek who she is. It is more than this, though. At the center of Ghost in the Shell is the question of what makes us human? It is not just the quest of Major to discover who she is. There is also Kuze and Batou and all the others who are enhanced. When does the machine replace the human or is there something more to us than our bodies? In short, there is our essence-our ghost- that makes us more than our physical mechanics. I told you that anime can become pretty philosophical.

Ghost in the Shell has a rich amount of material to draw from. I liked the casting. Johansson even moves in a somewhat anime and robot-like manner. The biggest problem that the movie faces is that it has far too many visual additions that really offer very little to the movie. It is at times a little disjointed in its plot and the visuals do tend to get in the way. I really didn't expect critics to like the movie and in all honesty, its anime style is not going to be something that American audiences are going to easily accept. I personally liked that the movie worked to remain true to its origins. It made me want to go back and re-watch the original animated film. Is it the best movie of the year? No. As a fan of the original, I liked the overall texture and casting of the movie. If you're going for just the action, it has that too, but if you want a little less anime form, you might want to stick with something like The Matrix

Again, if you're not a fan, you like most critics will probably not like Ghost in the Shell. I am a fan, and I did like it. I am going to guess that in the larger Asian market, it might do well and if it does, there might be more in store for Section 9 and Major. I liked it in 3-D and I will likely buy the Blu-ray. 

For fans, below are few pics comparing the actors with the original anime. 

Batou before enhancement