Ghost in the Shell - Review

The first time I had read the manga and saw the original Ghost in the Shell movie, I was in college. It was part of a curriculum in a class about anime. We had a debate about whether Major was a woman, and at that time, I said no, it is a robot. When I heard that Hollywood is remaking the Ghost in the Shell movie, I was curious, because my interest in anime and manga continues.

I went to watch the remake with the awareness of the controversy around it, about casting Scarlett Johannsen over an Asian American actress. Since I was also from the original fan base interested in anime, I have a mental comparison of this new movie with the original media, the manga and the anime movies. It was barely like the original, because when an animated story turns into live action, storylines get condensed and CGI takes place of the animation.

My general feeling from the movie was it was trying to tackle too many themes at once, so each theme wasn’t given the attention it deserved. The way these ideas were handled were very blunt, without any nuance. SPOILERS!!

If this is supposed to be an Asian country, then why is the robot white? This may be a product of both Westernization and globalization, where lighter colored skin and wider eyes became standards of beauty. In reality, there is the cosmetic surgery industry where people buy double eyelids and receive breast implants. Getting a robot body is also lifesaving surgery, even though she has to take shots to prevent her brain from rejecting her body.

While the movie itself dealt with identity politics, it’s on a different field than most political debates. Major struggles with whether she is still human, since her body is robotic, and doctor visits feel like a car being fixed in a shop while the machinist becomes her therapist. Hollywood tries to argue that a robot body transcends race, and Scarlett Johannsen had comparable roles in Lost in Translation and Under the Skin.

However, it’s still a white robot - it has issues the same way that Barbie only represents blond blue eyed white girls and not girls with any other features or skin color. Hollywood could have tried discovering a Japanese American actress with acting experiences as a soldier or a character from an action horror film, since this movie has elements of both.

I had other issues with the science fiction part of the movie, but this is more due to my background in computer networking and studies in network security. The idea of cerebral hacking as a crime is fascinating, partially because it’s a society so mechanized that people’s brains are networked. A computer cannot be hacked if it’s never connected with other computers, and if it’s never on the internet. Also, if there’s antivirus and firewalls for computers, why wouldn’t these safeguards be created for people’s networked brains?

The movie didn’t like Asian women. There was the original Major, who was an Asian actress, but her part was so small that no one remembers her. There was also Major’s mother, who spoke in accented English. Those scenes with the mother should have been so much more emotional, but Hollywood may say that Major’s currently an android now, and can’t cry. She should still be able to cry coolant and machine oil - her robot eyes still need both cooling and lubrication. The other Asian characters were all Asian men. Why was the handler permitted to speak Japanese through the whole movie, but the mother had to have accented English? The streets of the city also didn’t have a lot of Asian people. Feels like cultural appropriation.

The other android, the prototype, was also modeled after a white guy. Mostly, during the scenes with the prototype, and later, with Theo, the lighting was too dark. I wouldn’t have been able to understand either the action or the dialogue if I didn’t read the original manga and seen the original animated movies. While Hollywood correctly assumed that many people from the original fan base would come see this movie out of curiosity, they didn’t elaborate enough for people who weren’t part of the original fan base. That may be a balancing act that adaptations cannot excel at.

Hollywood tried its best, but I can fully understand the movie losing out. I give it 2 stars out of 5, but would understand someone giving it a 1 star.