A friend asked me if I had issues with whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell. I told him Scarlett Johansson was pretty close to naked (yes, go watch Under the Skin and leave me alone) and if she were to play Martin Luther King in a nude bodysuit I would have no issues. This isn’t completely true but you get the idea. I did say it but I probably would have an issue if she played MLK — even if it were in a nude bodysuit. Maybe. You’ll note all the pictures I’ve chosen contain the nude (sorry, thermoptic camo) suit.
But I don’t have any issues with whitewashing here. I don’t see anything wrong with a Hollywood film wanting a white actress because they believe she will relate more with American audiences. I think the issue is with how well known Ghost in the Shell is. Edge of Tomorrow (Live, Die, Repeat) was adapted from a Japanese novel but nobody knew that so there was no outrage. The Ring and The Grudge were originally cult J-horror films which were re adapted with caucasians as the leads. Hollywood even got the director of the Japanese Grudge to direct the U.S. version set in Japan and flew their white cast to Japan! No outrage. Though the PC police are much less lenient today. I’m sure if they had Asian actors they’d then be mad if they didn’t speak in Japanese. If I want to see a film with Asian leads I’ll watch an Asian produced film. And I watch lots.
On to the review.
I’ve watched the original Ghost in the Shell anime probably three times in the past few months. I’ll admit I don’t really understand Japanese existentialism but I think I’ve understood more in these past viewings having several years to mature mentally since I originally watched it. The movie directed by Rupert Sanders has been criticized as being more style than substance. My favorite digs involve something like “very little ghost in that shell” though my favorite also tied in a Lost in Translation reference. I will also admit that I can be bought with style over substance but sometimes not the reverse. So for me a poor story can be overcome with amazing visuals and Ghost in the Shell does not fail in its imagery.
Ghost in the Shell is set in the near future where technology has reached a level that people enhance themselves with cybernetics. The story revolves around Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) who was critically injured by terrorists and became part of a test program where her brain was placed in a robotic body. She was the first success in this procedure and ended up joining Section 9, a military specialist group. Section 9 is hunting a cyber terrorist, Kuze (Michael Pitt,) who is killing off people who helped create Major.
This adaptation hits all the big points from the anime though not in the same context. It’s beautiful and the story is passable. It simplifies things out from the source material and doesn’t ask any deep questions. It hints at some but doesn’t dig deep for any philosophical answers. The action is good. I saw it in IMAX 3D and there is a lot of slow-mo because that looks good in 3D. Not as much as a Resident Evil film but noticeable.
As an actress, Scarlett seems perfect for this type of roll — disconnected from humanity. Her recent big rolls all seem to emphasize this: Under the Skin, Lucy and even her Black Widow in the MCU. In Lucy Scarlett portrays a normal human briefly before her brain usage starts to go up to 100%. And the few moments of “was I your first kiss since the 1940s?” banter in Winter Soldier were a delight but very brief and much like Cap we weren’t sure if she was playing us. Scarlett seems to know her limitations as an actress or she’s just taking it easy and sticking with the same thing as she’s a big box office draw. I don’t know that she could do a St. Crispin’s Day speech the way Sanders tried to get Kristen Stewart to in Snow White and the Huntsman. At least I’ve not seen anything from her to indicate she could.
I enjoyed Ghost in the Shell but know that if you can’t be bought with style over substance or are angry at whitewashing you may not like it as much.
I’ve also seen Beauty & the Beast and the new Power Rangers but I have a Japan Nite blog which I have in the works that I hope to finish first.