We’re about to get into what may seem like a heated debate over ‘whitewashing’ and reaction differences between the original Ghost In The Shell and the Hollywood re-make starring Scarlett Johannson, warning. Full Spoilers ahead. Furthermore, these are my opinions, I’m not saying anyone is ‘right or wrong’, I’m just looking at the situations and giving my thoughts using evidence.
Firstly, let’s discuss “whitewashing”. There have been many completely viable arguments explaining Ghost In The Shell character the Major was ‘whitewashed’. As an Asian character, she should have been played by an Asian woman and that there are plenty of capable women for the role, which is true to a degree. However, moviemaking is a business first and foremost, there’s needs to be certainties in gaining profit from a studio’s investment, the fact Paramount invested anything into a live action Ghost In The Shell is already a feat in itself.
I’m sure if I was an American studio spending £110 million on an already impossible anime to live action adaption, casting an Asian actress that isn’t well known is going to be a very risky decision.
Already there are many factors weighing in on where profit will be made, the fact it’s anime adaptation (known for unsuccessful box office returns), it’s a universally loved film in the industry but mostly unknown to a general western audience plus as a studio you’re not skimming on money here, you’re injecting big money into this. Now you’re thinking, “Okay, what can we do to get average persons to flock to the cinemas to this obscure adaption? Star power!” there is the legitimate reason for casting maybe the most well known female actress in America, Scarlett Johansson.
For one thing, blessings for an American actress have been given not only by the director of Ghost In The Shell (1995) Mamoru Oshii but even those in Japan, some saying it would be weird if an Asian actress did play her. Especially when the ‘her’ The Major in the film is not Asian. In the 2017 movie Ghost In The Shell, Scarlett Johannson does not play an Asian character, The Major has the mind of a young girl who was indeed Asian and the movie addresses this, but The Major is not this character, which is the whole point of the film, Who was she before she became the Ghost In The Shell? Not only this, there’s no talk of race or nationality in the movie. The movie has a completely diverse cast of Japanese, African, mixed race and white people and is set in a completely anonymous city.
The Major was a woman called Motoko Kusanagi, who in the film is Asian, the Major is of no nationality. She is a cyborg created by Hanka and given the false alias/background of Mira Killian who in her fictional origin was a refugee travelling to the city, the fact she isn’t Asian adds further to the idea that Hanka took her from her body and perverted her into their own creation and weaponised her to the point she doesn’t know what she is.
Fun Fact: At the start of the original Ghost In The Shell movie, it states the idea of race and nationality has been eliminated.
It seems here in the west we have become obsessed with trying to point out so-called “whitewashing” without even really knowing what it means, for example: remember that film ‘The Great Wall?’, China’s biggest ever production starring Matt Damon. It was criticised for it’s casting, with a little bit of research or even watching the film you would know Matt Damon played a character called ‘William’, who’s a foreign mercenary… Again, Iron Fist was criticised for it’s casting of Finn Jones, this is the most ridiculous because Americans wanted an Asian actor to be cast in what is supposedly a ‘white’ role if his name was changed to something more culturally appropriate it’s not an issue apparently. Before trying to target whitewashing proper research has to be done, furthermore, if an Asian woman was cast in the role, that doesn’t mean the film would have been better and this argument of ‘it would be better’ needs to die. Do you want a proper example of whitewashing? Go watch Gods of Eygpt or Exodus: Gods & Kings where white men dress up and pretend to be Egyptian people.
Whether or not Ghost In The Shell breaks even is a different question altogether, either way, the production never at any point tried to pass Scarlett Johansson as an Asian woman and never discredited the fact that Motoko Kusanagi is Asian too.
DOOMED FROM THE START
Sanders’ adaptation was always going to garner mixed reaction due to the source material itself. Try releasing the original anime film in cinemas today to a general western audience and they’d probably think it was boring, slow trash, probably, or at least what I’m trying to convey is that’s it’s really not for everyone. And I’m saying this because the original already gets a mixed reaction from reviewers, but why does it boast a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and why is it widely acclaimed you ask? Well, that’s because it’s also an anime, I guess? When doing research I noticed a common positive for critics was simply the fact the film is an anime, ‘thoughtful sci-fi anime’, ‘A hit for hardcore anime fans’, ‘cool anime adventure’. Try adapting a film with that kind of reaction into live action.
Show an average viewer not a critic (remember these are the people who actually pay for the tickets and make up the box office) the original anime film and the live action remake and I’m almost sure they would prefer the remake. It’s a better mixture of general entertainment and artistic themes, a sci-fi action, that’s not me saying it’s a better film, rather it’s more accessible.
I thought it was interesting how a ‘fresh review’ for the original film has practically the same short review as a rotten review for the new film.
It’s a review posted in 2007 so at this point, the movie’s already gotten a lot of praise, why go against the grain even if you think ‘It doesn’t make much sense’. I guess the ‘magic’ Ruper Sanders’ film is missing might be it’s ‘not the/an anime’.
While IGN makes great points in their review, they summarise the film by saying ‘Ghost In The Shell‘s successes out shadow its problems’, yet still, give it a one-word rating of ‘OKAY’ and despite garnering a large amount of praise for the run time of the review, the final rating is 6.8/10? Which isn’t a bad rating, just strangely a lot lower than they lead on. Even before I saw the film I found this summary wildly confusing.
THIS IS NO COPYCAT JOB
It’s impossible for Sanders to copy the original movie, I’m glad he didn’t try to, according to some the original is a masterpiece. While I do think it’s profound and definitely ahead of its time, it’s no masterpiece to me. This Ghost in the Shell focuses on similar themes but begs a different question altogether, Who am I? What defines me? How much of the human body can you break down and replace before it’s not human anymore? As well as, the fight between nature and cybernetics, we see stunning visuals of greenery and water during the last act of the film as nature and biology triumphs over programming and robotics. We see The Major fighting for a human life in a broken down wooden shack by a tree surrounded and overwhelmed by an industrial concrete structure. There’s constantly visual cues of The Major trying to connect with the biological (she escapes by going diving, away from the city and the ‘noise’) when Cutter dies he falls into a small garden and is enveloped by water, it’s a satisfying moment and this kind of imagery is layered throughout the film with other themes too.
The original was released in a time before the internet and smartphones…a completely different time period and I can imagine how special that was, this iteration doesn’t have that luxury. I feel Ghost In The Shell will be a cult classic, like many films before it Donnie Darko, Fight Club and Blade Runner at some point it will be seen with clean eyes, by an audience who have no pre-conceived ideas and maybe then it get the appreciation it deserves.
Now, by any means, I don’t think Rupert Sanders’ Ghost In The Shell is a masterpiece and ‘no one gets it.’ I do think it’s a very good movie and the work done by everyone involved it’s not getting the light of day, instead, being bogged down by typical movie politics like box office returns, adaptations and whitewashing.
Words by Levi Eddie Aluede