On February 28, I saw a 15-minute sneak peek of the Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. From the announcement of the project, this has always been a bad idea. But the announcement of the cast and story has made things much worse. Most noticeably, Hollywood adaptations of Japanese anime have yet to be successful. Either their stories veer too far from the source material, the director isn’t a good fit or the casting makes no sense. You would think Hollywood would learn, yet here we are, on the precipice of another anime-adapted flop.
Here are the takeaways from what I have seen of Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell so far.
The plot of this movie is nothing like anything in the original Ghost in The Shell films or shows. Don’t let a few of the philosophical conversations in the trailers fool you. It’s a hodge-podge of familiar elements from different parts of the series, but the philosophy and exploration of existentialism seem to be missing. Even the trailers denote this adaptation is nothing more than a revenge story. Nothing about the original Ghost in the Shell has been about revenge. Revenge is never a prime theme here.
What happens is, in her new Shell, Mira the white feminist Cyborg is forced to work for Section 9 by some omniscient character. According to the story, Mira is the newest and most perfect weapon. I guess this is what drives the revenge plot. She’s created against her will and made to do Section 9’s bidding. “They did not save your life: they stole it,” this quote is from the trailer said by Kuze (Micheal Pitt). That pretty much a tells you the whole plot.
This is just lazy writing.
Screenwriter Jamie Moss never planned on making anything smart, or close to the source material. I knew this. Yet, here I am, shocked at the nerve of it all. Why call this Ghost in the Shell if the only thing about the story you keep is the cyberpunk look and body swapping?
Well, yes it is whitewashed because Scarlett Johansson does not belong in the role of the Major, but man it gets worse. From the sneak peak footage I saw, it looks the Major is originally Japanese. Let me explain. It appears that the character is in a nearly fatal accident. This accident causes her body to be rendered useless, but her brain is the only thing that can be salvaged. So this Japanese woman whose brain is recovered is transferred into a body, or Shell, that just happens to be Scarlett Johannson’s new body. Now her name is “Mira.”
This is horrifying.
The “yellow face” comments hold merit because there is a scene that shows Mira awakening in her new body. That particular shot is suspect as Johannson looks… well… Asian. Even the cut of her eyebrows makes me side eye. However, nothing about the Major has ever screamed WHITE WOMAN. That is in the imagination of people who default to whiteness.
So, not only has the role been whitewashed but they start with a Japanese woman and put her brain in a white body. So what does this say? It says that an Asian actress was an afterthought and that Asian visibility wasn’t valuable enough to carry this through to the end. This is made worse by Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) continuing to speak Japanese to her character at the beginning. Wait, what? I understand many non-Japanese folks can speak Japanese, but since her brain is that of a Japanese woman, she still retains her mother tongue. It’s just on the outside she looks white and is named Mira.
That said, the visuals are stunning. I watched the sneak peak in IMAX 3D and was floored by the immersive world created by director Rupert Sanders. The look of the Ghost in the Shell anime is inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and the live action adaptation certain captures the look and feel of that film, with the grittiness of a PG-13 version of Robocop.
In this case, it has potential to win awards for makeup, costume, and visuals. But seriously, who gives a shit about all that if your intentions are racist, to begin with?
Although the visuals are fantastic, from what I know, the plot seems to lack vision. Also, the casting of Johansson is abhorrent, and putting the brain of a woman of color into the Shell of a white woman is unconscionable. I don’t see this ending well or this film being very successful in the U.S. and if you’re tired of whitewashing, then you will make sure it isn’t.