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Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

tl;dr – a very good retelling of the original

Possible spoilers below. See my previous posts here and here about the film.

Thoughts, in no particular order:

1- Visually and aesthetically impeccable. Director Rupert Sanders did an excellent job of portraying a society figuring out its relationship with acute, mechanical, physical augmentation. He skirts the line between its usefulness and nightmarishness, though with the subject matter and the people involved, we see more of the nightmare aspect.

2- Mostly followed the plot points and thematic elements of the original, though obviously it much more Westernized: there’s less philosophy, more conflict, and a less open-ended resolution. There were times things where characters turned narrator and it kind of broke the spell, particularly the first scene where the setup of the Major’s creation was over-explained by the computer-intercom.

3- Related to #3, as I had predicted, the “I’m going to kill my creator” sentiment is there, a sentiment that is wholly absent from the original. This was to be expected since Western-philosophy based folks have (at least) a mild fear of metaphysical/supernatural phenomena, and it seems that sci-fi, as it is embracing a lot of transhumanism and artificial life-creation scenarios, is being expressed as a kind of wish-fulfillment at being able to “get back” at our creator. Since man can barely rebel against God, much less commit deicide, positing “God” to the natural level, as a literal creator, gives us physical access to Him.

4- Regarding the whitewashing accusations: that Motoko is basically Anglo in appearance is fairly central to the plot; her completely artificial body needed to look different that her original, Japanese one. Progressives don’t need to wring their hands anymore about any of this, and Rupert culturally appropriated Western-style diversity into the cast that wasn’t there in the highly monocultural Japanese version. From what I could see, one or two characters in Section 9 were blackened or feminized. The two antagonists are, thankfully, White Folk, though the Antagonist You Didn’t Expect redeems his/herself nearing the resolution. The Head Evil White is male, as expected.

5- Pure trivia: Togusa, in the original, used a Mateba auto-revolver. In the film, it was an older-style gun compared to the more advanced tech (it was emphasized that he was purely natural/non-enhanced and his handgun reflected that), and in the real world, they are not manufactured anymore. There was a scene in the 2017 version where Togusa very noticeably uses a Chiappa Rhino handgun, which was modeled after after the Mateba design, and share the same designer.

Official Ghost in the Shell Trailer

I have to admit, it doesn’t look bad at all; they’ve mirrored some iconic scenes from the original. My only qualm is how it seems director Rupert Sanders is treating Motoko’s identity crises, and it’s important because that was the theme of the original film. How can we know ourselves? What separates us from, and connects us to, another? How do we cope with incompleteness? Sanders is framing it as a Bourne-Neo-Wolverine-Robocop “whoever did this to me will pay” revenge story, which definitely deviates from the source material, probably because it’s being marketed to Western audiences. If I can read into it too much, that existential questions are solved primarily by discovering (and likely killing) your creator is a sign of neurosis and not a real desire for self-discovery.

Scarlett Johansson’s Race and Ghost in the Shell

ghost_in_the_shell_motokoIf you’re my friend on Facebook you’ve seen me briefly whine about Scarlett Johansson’s role in the Americanized, live-action version of Ghost in the Shell (GitS). As I’ve said on there, I don’t care much about race qua race in most contexts, but within the GitS fictional world it matters a lot. Since both movies, the two series’ season and related movie, the recent mini-movie reboot, and (presumably) the manga, take place in Japan and heavily involve high-level government workings in a near-future Japan, the artistic pressure to match the race of the protagonists is present*.

Rupert Sanders, the director, could work the non-Japaneseness of Motoko Kusanagi, the main protagonist and Johansson’s role, into the plot. Kusanagi’s body is completely synthetic. Though the ethnicity of her cybernetic body has a Japanese appearance, she could conceivably have a Caucasian body since it’s not difficult to “change” bodies out. This doesn’t seem likely since this new film is going to be marketed to a more general audience than a GitS fanbase. The former demographic is not going to be concerned or even be aware of the discrepancy. Since the nature of human consciousness is a major theme, especially in the original film, Sanders could even work in some meta-counter-criticism of race by leveraging the a-ethnicity of the soul (however one may consider the nature of the soul to be).

But my main point in all this is that many Facebook commenters are calling the casting a “whitewash” of the source material. I wonder, though, if the people making this criticism would call the newest Annie film or Idris Elba’s possible casting as the new James Bond a “blackening” of the original, or if they consider a black Santa Claus a betrayal of a European tradition? Why would Johansson’s casting not be considered a win for diversity in a franchise that is traditionally very Asian?

* As far as I remember, all of the main, recurring characters in GitS except for Batou are Japanese. Batou is actually French, and presumably Caucasian. Might be interesting to track the casting of his character as well.