Are we destroying the human experience by increasingly relying on technology? What is more important — our memories or our identities? Is it appropriate to cast a white woman as the lead in a film based on a Japanese anime and manga?
The 2017 live-action version of “Ghost in the Shell” asks these questions and many more throughout the course of the film, but never really offers any conclusive answers.
The film tries to be extremely philosophical, but that’s just it. It tries to be something it really isn’t.
Like the original Japanese manga, and the subsequent 1995 anime-film adaptation and TV series, this version of “Ghost in the Shell” is set in a futuristic Japanese cyber-punk city. In this world, people augment their bodies with technological advancements and the line between human and robot is blurred.
A woman by the name of Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) struggles to walk this line. When her body was destroyed in a cyber-terrorist attack that killed her parents, a technology developer transfers her consciousness into a cyborg.
Under the new name Major, technology developer Hanko Robotics sends her to work for Section 9, the government intelligence agency that investigates cyber-terrorism.
Major and her team are faced with their greatest threat in the form of the cyber-terrorist Kuze (Michael Pitt), who threatens the entire civilization when he hacks the minds of ordinary people and murders members of Hanko Robotics.
Overall, the film attempts to engage in extremely interesting ideas, but falls short on focusing on one. This created a vague understanding of the film’s central message and diluted the plot.
To the film’s credit, however, the world-building and visual effects throughout the film are quite breathtaking. The work done in set design and visual effects rival that put forward in films like James Cameron’s Avatar. I expect an Oscar nomination here.
Scarlett Johansson does a serviceable job as the lead in the film. But while trying to portray a robot, she became too emotionless and it became difficult to relate to her. The rest of the cast was admirable in their roles, especially Juliette Binoche and Kaori Momoi as Major’s mother figures.
But the casting of “Ghost in The Shell” cannot be brought up without discussing the “whitewashing” controversy surrounding the character of Major.
Mamoru Oshii, director of the original anime, said that he was supportive of the decision to cast Johansson in the lead role, noting that the character’s physical form is entirely fluid as a cyborg.
However, the backlash to the casting of Major was due to Hollywood having the opportunity to give the role to an Asian woman. However, they didn’t and, in this situation, I believe the casting of Johansson was because she was a safe, white choice.
It’s understandable that Paramount Pictures wanted this safe choice for a film that already had a lot working against it, mainly the unfamiliar source material and the strange plot.
But especially in regard to the end of this film, the casting of Johansson was simply inappropriate and will likely serve as a reminder to Hollywood executives going forward – whitewashing is not an option.
In all, “Ghost in the Shell” does offer a lot of philosophical questions and wonderful visual effects for viewers, but flat-lines when it comes to delivering a more intelligent and conscious adaptation of the source material.
Ian Lack is a reporter at The Collegian and can be reached at [email protected]