“Don’t send a rabbit to kill a fox.” – Wise words uttered by Chief Aramaki before ending a dude with his Long Revolver. Although it appeared to be nothing but a pleasant remark resting on the tip of a leaf, I knew that somewhere, deep in the bushes of his statement, lived a snarky parallel just waiting to be found. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready to reach in and risk losing a hand. So instead, I stared at the bush. Motionless. Without gesture. Sometimes inspired but most times lost and unsure what to think or feel. That was my experience with Ghost in the Shell.
This movie has many issues and it would take a person far more intelligent than I to highlight all the numerous flaws. To its merit, the visuals provide a nice smokescreen for the plot to hide behind so even the staunchest of critics may be compelled to go easy on it. Its cold colour palette personifies the sense of loss and absence of warmth in The Major’s character which is compelling for sure. However, it’s a sweetness that quickly becomes bitter once you realise it’s the only attempt at characterisation that functions in this film. Basically, the entire cast is nigh impossible to care about thanks to their rain puddle of a set up followed by a torrent of forgettable dialogue that no umbrella will save you from.
There’s a good reason why you’ve probably never seen a guy wear a baseball cap, a fedora and a turban at the same time. It doesn’t work in real life and it doesn’t work in storytelling either. Ghost in the Shell commits this crime by taking far too many elements from the source material, cramming it all inside a barrel and then trying to volcano it down your mouth without the decency to even try and use a filter. Not only does it take a bite from the original 1995 animated movie but before chewing the first mouthful, it decides to chow down on some Stand Alone Complex too. If the goal of this narrative was to see how many storylines it can grind between its teeth then good job I guess but how about some execution cheesecake for dessert?
One of my biggest issues with this experience was not understanding who this movie was for. My nostalgia membrane was pleasantly tickled upon seeing certain scenes from the anime brought to life with almost frame perfect accuracy but… what else? I mean, why even do it? What did it achieve? Did they think that the fans who love the franchise would applaud its efforts for being respectful to the material with such volume that the casual audience would swoop down in droves to buy a ticket? Or did they think that those scenes were more visually impressive than anything they could make up and banked on those fireworks to put the butts of both the regular filmgoer and the manga fan in theatre seats?
It’s hard to tell but what I know for sure is that it felt absolutely hollow. My brain almost completely retired from my skull after seeing the fight scene on the water and the ridiculous slowmo after The Major pinned the guy down, like look at me I am so deep and badass! Watch me as I pose for marketing purposes! I could nearly smell the breath of the person who spoke that idea into existence. It was extremely shallow. Ghostless if you will. What?… It’s hard not to use the appropriate lingo given that nearly every line of dialogue spoken was some form of exposition dump about the characters’ opinions on the human condition.
There are other misfires that I’d love to touch on, particularly the unfortunate underuse of Section 9 but there’s something else I wanted to express. I originally didn’t want to get into this topic but my hand was forced thanks to the movie’s third act. Now is a good time to peace out if you haven’t watched the film as spoilers are on the menu.
Now then. I’m of the opinion that the whitewashing of this movie is problematic in a multitude of ways. Is it possible that the experience would have been just as bad had The Major been played by an East Asian actress and accompanied by many more actors of said origin? Of course. But if you insist on spraying your own products in the air then you have to make sure it’s pleasant on the nostrils. Yes, it’s nice to have Takeshi Kitano on board and the man who played Togusa but again, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that they’ve been put there by the filmmakers to “prove” to naysayers that they care about preserving the culture surrounding the material. It’s really hard to articulate this without sounding like a virtue signaler but through the whole viewing experience, I definitely could feel an indescribable sense of falseness that’s too subtle to put into words.
Lastly, continuing down the spoiler brick road, I was very surprised to see the decision to actually have The Major wielding the brain of Motoko Kusanagi – the real character that her character is playing. That choice seemed a little odd to me. They came all this way to cast Scarlett to play the role, clinging to the idea that her ethnicity is irrelevant, only for her to end up being the incarnation of the original Japanese girl? Why not make her into her own character? Wouldn’t it be smarter to leave the source material behind at that point?
But then, a light descends from above and I can almost see the genius in the decision being made. With the concept of ghosts and shells I think the writers were trying to express that in this fantasy world and even in our own world, trivial ideas such as ethnicity should not matter as it’s the soul of the person that carries the most meaning. Which, if true, then one could take a step further and question why you would cast a big movie star like Scarlett Johansson to play the lead in a movie that’s heavily about the substance of the innards and not the surface of the face?
Hmmmm… really makes ya think.