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Ghost in the Shell
flops at the box office

An awkward Hollywood version of a classic Japanese manga

By Luc Archambault

I’ll never understand what prompts Hollywood to churn up Americanized, watered down versions of foreign stories, films, and now mangas. This latest mash-up is titled Ghost in the Shell, the second movie by Rupert Sanders, who’s first film was Snow White and the Huntsman, in 2012. This director must have good connections in Hollywood to have landed such a contract. But will he remain a hot property after this movie? I’m not so sure.

Ghost in the Shell WestmountMag.ca

Taken from an iconic Japanese manga that started the Cyberpunk rage, Ghost in the Shell tells the story of Major, a human rescued from a terrible accident, who is cyber-enhanced to become a perfect soldier dedicated to hunting down the world’s most dangerous terrorists. The manga, created in 1989, and its anime version of 1995, question the advances of technology within our vision of humanity, including the coexistence of robotics and the physical body, software and computer science, with all the philosophical ramifications of life itself in this post-modern world.

Did we really need this new version? Someone in Hollywood thought so, and the producers began discussions with Margot Robbie to play the role of Major, but she signed to play Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad instead, so they turned to Scarlett Johansson.

The manga… question the advances of technology within our vision of humanity…

Ghost in the Shell WestmountMag.ca

There is a lot of controversy about the whitewashing associated with this movie. I imagine that this contention weighs heavily on the Japanese, but in the context of a cosmopolitan world market, in a near yet far-away future where diverse cultures and nations are deeply mingled, it doesn’t evoke that much deceitfulness. The only reserve I have is the lack of diversity in this universe and the predominance of Caucasians. If this world is so diversified, why do the various characters speak only in English? Why are there no African, Latin, Slavic, Asian and Indigenous dialects? All should speak their own language, as does Takeshi Kitano who dialogues in Japanese in the film.

‘There is a lot of controversy about the whitewashing associated with this movie.’

Ghost in the Shell WestmountMag.ca

Then there’s the Scarlett factor. I understand she’s playing a cyborg, but why is her acting so cold, without any emotion whatsoever? Moreover, according to the anime, the Major is far more slender than the actress who seems somewhat hefty, which doesn’t play well into this universe. As for the rest of the cast, despite the navel-centric Caucasian club feel that emanates from this movie, most of the actors do a good job, especially Takeshi Kitano, of Zatoichi fame, who embodies a strong and complex character. Juliette Binoche, however, seems a bit lost, looking for her place in this mishmash.

One aspect in which this movie is lacking is in its visual environment. There’s a clear lack of creativity to illustrate the Asian megalopolis of the future, which seems botched and quickly done, while in the anime version, one enters into a complex and sophisticated world. Filmed in New Zealand and Hong Kong, this film lacks originality in terms of scenery, especially compared to Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner (not to mention its new incarnation, Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve, which is to be released this fall).

‘I understand she’s playing a cyborg, but why is her acting so cold, without any emotion whatsoever?’

Ghost in the Shell WestmountMag.ca

It seems that this production, approaching a 60 million dollar deficit, came out in theatres with bad reviews and a lack of word-of-mouth promotion. Hopefully this franchise will be quickly disconnected from its artificial life. Sorry Scarlett, but this one is a dud.

Images: courtesy of Dreamworks

Read also: Kleztory and DakhaBrakha in Nuclear Mode


Luc Archambault WestmountMag.ca

Luc Archambault
Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.


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