In 1989 a Manga (a Japanese comic book) changed the pop culture landscape. “Ghost in the Shell”, better known as “Mobile Armored Riot Police” in Japan, tells the story of a near cyberpunk future full of political intrigue, advanced cyborgs, brain control, and much more. These stories were so engrossing that in 1995 it was turned into an anime movie which would garner critical praise and a cult following. This anime film was my gateway into the world of anime where typical storytelling was thrown out the window and anything was possible. 22 years later, Hollywood is finally making this franchise into a live action movie starring Scarlett Johansson as the lead character.
“Ghost in the Shell” begins in a future where cyber augmentation is commonplace and advancements from Hanka Robotics are excelling at an exponential rate. Hanka Robotics is secretly working on a project that could forever change how man, mind, and augment exist as one. All they need is a test subject. Enter Mira Killian, she has been injured in a terrorist attack and is beyond saving. Hanka has “recruited” her for their new project and wants to turn her into an anti-terrorist operative. As Killian adjusts to her new lot in life, she will soon discover conspiracies in high level offices and a revelation that will change the way she looks at herself and the in which she inhabits.
The controversy of “whitewashing” has surrounded this project ever since production. Meaning the production was hiring predominately white actors to fill traditional Japanese roles. The problem with that logic is, even though this story takes place in Japan, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all the characters are supposed to be Japanese. Even the creators of the original work have addressed this issue and see no problem with ScarJo filling the role of the main character. When watching the anime, like I have, you’ll see not all the original characters were supposed to be Japanese in origin.
Nevertheless, this adaptation has more pressing issues to address other than the claim of whitewashing. Ghost’s biggest problem is that it just comes off as a dull affair. A runtime of an hour and forty five minutes felt more like three. Director Rupert Sanders has a tendency to make the proceedings quite dour. The film may be exciting in some spots, but it reverts back to this oppressive air of complacency. The writing does take liberties with the source material, but overall not to the detriment of the film. By the time we reach the finale, the revelation that is revealed felt like an antiquated way for the movie to answer the whitewashing claims. Unfortunately it detracts from the movie and ruins whatever good will had been built up to that point. I will say that the two standout performances that save the film from mediocrity is Johannson as the main character, Killian. She is subtle in her performance and it echoes her work in “Under the Skin” about someone not comfortable in theirs. The amazing “Beat” Takeshi as Chief Aramaki is captivating to behold and is fantastic in his role and it’s always fun to watch him work.
In the end, “Ghost in the Shell” the movie is just that, a shell of what was and still is a brilliant piece of manga and anime. I appreciate the effort of what was done to make this film happen. It’s quite possible that making this classic into a film was just too ambitious a feat and director Rupert Sanders was unequipped to take on this material. Sadly, with the controversy surrounding this film it’s destined to fail. The movie may find an audience when it hits home video and this film may be a cult classic in the making. Until then this “ghost” won’t be haunting theatres for much longer.
Two and a Half Stars
-originally published in MAUIWatch