West in Retrospect – Ghost in the Shell

I was 11 years old when I watched Ghost in the Shell (1995) for the first time back in 2000. I didn’t understand a whole lot, so I re-watched it another five times in the spawn of three years. The last time I watched the movie was in 2004 and since then, the movie has been accumulating dirt on my shelf.

To refresh my memory, I decided to watch the original film once again. Armed with more consciousness due my age and knowledge, I thought I would understand more of it. Sadly, not much has changed.

I still have difficulties finding out what the plot is behind some vague dialogues at the heart of the movie. Although I can pick up some ideas better than before, I still don’t understand the intricacies of the world entirely. I still like the film, although is not one of those films I would watch for entertainment purposes, but to study.

If I could tell you what makes Ghost in the Shell special, I would need to take more time trying to figure out what made the film transcendent as there are so many things the film did to be called revolutionary. Aside from “ahead of its time”, role model for other movies that deal with the same issues and an exciting cyber-punk adventure, I don’t know if I my brain can deconstruct more than that, even if I tried.

It is even more difficult as a franchise because there is no adaptation of the original manga that’s completely accurate and if you are looking for a source to understand the material, I don’t think the manga will clear everything up, unless you really take some time to do so.

You see, the manga has even more intricate elements that make the story convoluted, complex and tricky to understand. Some of these factors are: the language barrier, because sometimes, translations can be confusing; Masamune’s tendency to introduce walls of texts with a lot military, diplomatic and world-building lingo; the formal talk, ample vocabulary and grammar can become quite fancy; and, I don’t think people can get over the shocking revelation of how different the tone of the manga is and finding out that Motoko is not a stoic, solitary character… at all. This makes the manga even a more complicated take on the battle about her humanity because those lines are even fuzzier than the film.

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The Anime is so obscure and Motoko couldn’t be more different from the manga.

The 1995 film is a thread sticking out of a canvas compared to what the manga is. Sure, it has a more mature, cold and serious tone; but ultimately, it took a different approach to the material. Since the rumors of Hollywood’s take on Ghost in the Shell, I wondered how it would play out because the culture shock, cinematographic language and narratives are quite different in the West.

If Dragon Ball Evolution was any indication of how ashamed Hollywood was to make a fool out of themselves, integrating the nonsensical elements from Ghost in the Shell would be taken out, watered down, forcing the explanations to align Japanese Sci-fi and Hollywood’s Sci-fi and, at the end of the day, misrepresenting the original material. So, my expectations were none.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) opened up wounds from triggered reviewers to triggered anime fans to triggered weeabos… the film was an undeniable flop.

Nevertheless, I expected Western reviewers to give their take on why the film didn’t work; however, I didn’t expect for them to add their own narratives to complain about elements that didn’t have any bearing to construct their criticism.

I also expected the anime community to have valid constructive criticism to the film. I know we get too close-minded when it comes to Hollywood; however, there is always someone who spins the narrative around to have a new way to see the content not as good, but to see the film with a new perspective (kind of what a Shounen author would do with a villain.) Days, months and years passed, no such thing appeared online.

Reading interviews and reviews, the same narrative was shared by otaku basing their criticism in what the western critics said. By any means, Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a good movie but is definitely not the worst. It is a vague adaptation, for sure, but I can confidently say that the act of adaptation was not the element that failed (as we get pretty much the basis of what the original Ghost in the Shell is about). This time, the issue can be found in the script, the story surrounding Motoko and the relationship Hollywood has with its audience.

So, without further ado, let me dissect my claim.

 ‘Murica’s Otaku Pointless Meltdowns

“What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii told IGN by e-mail. “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.” Mamoru Oshii.

What’s wrong with Ghost in the Shell (2017)?

I have read reviews arguing that the awful part was the whitewashing. Some argued that it’s because it failed to capture the original material’s “feel”.  Others accuse to have “missed chances for thematic exploration and a minefield of political incorrectness”. I found people criticizing the movie for not being philosophically challenging, while adjusting the narrative at convenience to add “She’s not a feminist role-model, a female who equals and surpasses her male counterparts in fair comparison. She’s literally a product manufactured by a rich white man”. Then I have seen Ghost in the Shell be referred to as an incoherent misfire of a remake.

You can’t propose Ghost in the Shell (2017) as whitewashing when it’s the evil corporation making this decision within the context of the film. You can’t accuse the film of saying that it was a missed chance on thematic exploration when it is all about a thematic (and political/ideological) exploration, perhaps not the one the audience wanted, but it’s there.

To go on and say that the film was a minefield of political incorrectness makes me think someone didn’t understand the underlying theme of the film. The line of thought of the “good guys” has nothing close to incorrectness; in fact, through the “good guys” the film challenges this thought as the underlying ideology goes against political incorrectness.

You can’t accuse the movie of failing to capture the feel of the original material, when in fact no existing adaptation has really captured the “feel” of the original film or manga. If we go by that standard, then Ghost in the Shell (1995) has to be taken as a bad adaptation when in reality is a loose adaptation of the Manga.

You can’t accuse the film of not being philosophically challenging because the role of Mira was manufactured by rich evil white man, or because there is not enough “Ego” talk; then, go on to accuse the movie of whitewashing and being misogynistic because the evil white men wanted Mira to be white, because it means beautiful. It does come off as shooting the allies, doesn’t it?

You can’t adjust or water down the narrative of the original Ghost in the Shell and Motoko as a statement or symbol of feminism while it never factored it. Ghost in the Shell is not about feminism, never was and never will be; it doesn’t matter how people want to spin it, Motoko is not a feminist, she is a Cyborg who happens to have a female body because a military corporation decided it would be a she. Where does third wave feminism fit?

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You can find panty shots and the oversexualization of Motoko in the manga. The Anime took a more mature approach to it.

Wanting a movie to capture the vision of the original film plus wanting to have radical ideals of feminism in the adaptation undermines every adaptation’s visions.

The statements found in the reviews regarding the North American film are not only contradictory but also misguided. To me, it comes across as 12 year olds fighting with each other because they wanted Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan to be green.

Out of all of the reviews, I haven’t found one that is fair in their arguments as to why the movie is bad or why the movie works. All of the reviewers had preemptive conceptions of Ghost in the Shell and a negative predisposition from the moment the trailers began to spread. Instead of looking at the film in the larger spectrum, they decided to bash it in the grounds of:

“They took this and put it in the film with another story. Wahhhh!”

And there they go, all of the Netizen Otaku with the same mentality repeating their words, without taking in consideration what Ghost in the Shell (2017) means at a long term for the anime community.

Focusing on constructive criticism regarding what was wrong with the film helps everybody: from Hollywood to the Otaku writing “it sucks” on an Anime Forum at their mother’s home. It is a shame that reviewers (Youtube, column writers and such) clutched onto vague descriptions as to why it sucked, instead of breaking it down a little more as they did with Suicide Squad.

Ahead of Its Time, Yet Already Obsolete

For some people, Ghost in the Shell (1995) is the inferior work compared to the manga and for others it’s viceversa. For me? The movie continues to inspire people 28 years later, whether it’s for the complicated world the characters live in, the talk about AI, the loss of humanity or the visual style, it is a film that proved the test of time. However, there are certain dialogues in the film that feel incredibly old-fashioned, specifically the “complicated” lingo and the AI conundrum which now are part of our day-to-day conversations.

In the movie world, the original film is already outdated. I could see patterns and dialogues that are reminiscent of other films that were called “creative” and “new” 13 years ago. It is not a matter of who did it first or who did it better, the matter is that we have heard that type of philosophical talk repeatedly since the 2000s.

True, Ghost in the Shell (1995) was ahead of its time like how 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was ahead of its time; any attempt to replicate, remake, sequel-ize or adapt it to our world in the late 2010s where we can find a lot of movies based around the same philosophical and technological ideas proposed, would be seen as stating the obvious.

To be honest, I didn’t expect Ghost in the Shell (2017) to be an exact copy of the manga or the 1995 film; from a business perspective, the thought of “it” being an exact replica of its antecessors, is counterproductive in all fronts.

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I have heard that people wanted Rinko Kikuchi on the role. It could’ve been Namie Amuro on the role and the results would’ve been the same. This time people would be raging about: “Perfect means beautiful. Not all Japanese look like that, etc, etc, etc.”

This is where reviewers have issues with the director having too much freedom with the material at hand; however, what kind of philosophical questions, dialogues or elements from the original film could be proposed that feel fresh and worthy of exploring in 2017? Furthermore, how many themes can we actually introduce to Ghost in the Shell without deviating too much from the original plot?

What other questions can we introduce that feel innovative enough for people not to claim it was taken from Ex-Machina, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Bicentennial Man, Her, Minority Report, Mad Max among others?

If your counter-argument is: “They didn’t have to bring anything fresh, they just had to adapt it.” My response would be among the lines of: “So it would be a movie with outdated talk, nothing we haven’t heard before and nothing to look forward to. We would’ve gotten the same bizarre, shot by shot, complicated film starring Scarlett Johansson.”

In, Mamoru Oshii’s words:

“If this is to be a remake of the anime, I don’t think it’s necessary to remain faithful to the way things were expressed in the anime. The director should exercise his directorial freedom as much as possible. If he doesn’t do so, there would be no point in remaking it,” he explained. (Taken from IGN’s e-mail interview with Mamoru Oshii)

Mamoru Oshii, had to make the film more palatable than the manga, even then, he admits that the movie is still complicated to understand. Oshii had one thing at his advantage: in 1995, technological advances were being made still at a slow pace, A.I. was Science Fiction and projected to exist much later in the Twenty First century. What a surprise, and somehow a welcomed one, when in 2014 DeepMind created AlphaGo and we started to have a more open conversation regarding A.I. In other words, Ghost in the Shell (1995) is relevant to our present. So relevant indeed, that we are practically living in that reality (have you heard the claim that we are already Cyborgs?).

Don’t get me wrong, we have still to talk about a lot regarding technology, A.I. and Cyborgs. Human creativity is endless and the stories we can still spawn are many. Not for Ghost in the Shell’s franchise, though. Anything this franchise has to offer is a repetition of what we already know and failed attempts to revolutionize the industry.

Viable Money or Artistic Expression? That is Hollywood’s Question.

Imagine yourself being an executive producer in Hollywood and you have to adapt a bizarre piece of film not only to attract anime fans, but the general public as well. “Maybe don’t do it?” Okay, but what if the studio already paid for the rights and appointed you to get everything the film needs?

As a business decision, having a rigid extremely faithful adaptation, is a thought detached from reality. Needless to say, Ghost in the Shell was not received well by Japan in 1995 due to the film being so bizarre from its lingo to its story. To the untrained and casual audience the film was already incoherent.

More than that, in the West, not everyone loves anime; not everyone knows what anime is about; not everyone understands Ghost in the Shell 100%; not everyone can see how viable it would be to have an exact replica of the original material without feeling obsolete.

If anything, Ghost in the Shell (2017) came to the West two decades too late in terms of content.

Let’s add another factor: Anime fans in the West are a lot, but compared to cinephiles or even Marvel fans we are not that big of a community. What’s more, Anime fans are the portion of the audience that Hollywood will always have difficulty to reach no matter the efforts. The Anime community remains misunderstood and, by extension, is an unexplored audience.

I must admit that most of the fault lies within the anime community itself. We have been burning that bridge since… forever. With this Ghost in the Shell, it seems that Hollywood is willing to try and understand the appeal of Anime. It is starting to recognize our love and dedication to an unsuspecting hobby, as producers are being a little more careful on how they handle the productions. I am not sure if the anime community is ready to open up.

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Scarlett needs to be careful when choosing another role. Perhaps a role that deviates from the cold, lonely, stoic, blank-face character.

Like so, a vicious cycle spawns: anime fans hating Hollywood equals to no important fans in Hollywood, equals to outsiders wanting to pitch to fans and missing the mark, this flames anime fans to hate Hollywood rabidly on the Internet… and there we go again.

Anime fans hating on Western adaptations becomes convoluted for those who like to stretch localization to the point of calling it “Cultural Appropriation.” If I go down that road with clear conscience, I would have to bring Dragon Ball down as well, by saying: “Toriyama is a pig for trying to culturally appropriate a Chinese tale and bring it into an unlikely world. What a tool.” So, this is an added risk.

From “cultural appropriation” there is a thin line to begin to think of whitewashing. This is another cycle Hollywood is unable to escape. Let me break it down.

Behind closed doors, appointing a local celebrity as the lead is a huge risk, especially when we have to take in consideration that anime fans are the last people who will pay to watch those movies. We are not Hollywood’s prime audience… yet. So, who is Hollywood trying to appeal?

It would be simple to say “general public”; however, today’s general public couldn’t be more diverse than a few decades ago. The “general public” is informed about everything. Netizen often meshes with Otaku so intrinsically that even reviewers consume anime more often than they did years ago. Netizen read the reviews online, and as you would expect, they are swayed by the Internet reviewers opinion to watch a movie. So, one could say that Netizen and Otaku are not a secure public to convince them to watch Western Live Action films.

So, again, who is the secure public who will drive themselves to the cinema for that specific movie? Who are the people watching each movie Scarlett Johansson releases? Scarlett Johansson fans.

Which is it? Would you choose a secure route for income or appointing an unknown female lead unsure if anime fans will bite?

More than seeing Hollywood with the mentality of, “How can we be as greedy as possible to get the maximum income” I see it as: “How can we get the money we put into this film back, to pay all the people involved?”

Don’t get my words twisted, studios do take almost or more than a quarter of the gross income of a film. It is sketchy, it is perceived as greed, however it is how it works and we have to deal with it. Let me put it this way:  Taking out the percentage of what the studio takes, is it going to be enough to pay the rates professionals that worked on the film? And, how do you ensure that contractual promised income?

Comes back to the same: big name or big risk?

There is More to “Bad Film” than “It doesn’t resemble the Original”

In the sea of triggered reviewers, perhaps the review that really ruffled my feathers was the one who claimed “it’s incoherent” in its vision. This vision could be misrepresenting the original material, however the film may be a lot of things but, “incoherent” is not one of them. I can it see as being “incoherent” in its storytelling rather than the vision but still doesn’t fully represent what Ghost in the Shell (2017) is.

More than incoherent, my impression boils down to the script being weak in the pivotal moments due to.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) works, but why? One has to take in consideration that Ghost in the Shell (2017) is not about the mission or the world, it’s about the main character. Just like that, many of the “incoherent” impressions are cleared out.

If we go with this thought, the film strives to answer Mira’s questions, through her point of view. That was the premise, the goal and the resolution of the story. So it works. Fin.

Calm down with your keyboard rage. I am not finished.

In this is case, to say “it works” doesn’t equate calling it a “good” film. There are a lot of factors that affected the movie hidden on the script. Namely, it is the logic applied on the dialogues, the structure of the storytelling, casting, the underlying messages, among other factors that failed.

The weak and cheesy dialogues

As a way to establish the more “thoughtful” and “humanizing” essentials to the film we get hit by dialogues that could be more fit in Disney’s creations. The one that stuck with me was, “We made you a new body. A synthetic Shell… but your mind, your soul, your ghost…” However there are other quotes to be found especially with the first confrontation with Project 2571. They are some of the precious gems that the character kept bringing for 10 minutes straight:

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As pretty shot as this shot was, the dialogues are as cringy to listen to.

“I was conscious while they dismembered my body and discarded me like garbage.”

“They thought that we would be a part of their evolution, but they created us to evolve alone, beyond them.”

“They tried to kill me first. It is self-defense. Defense of self!”

“Your shell belongs to them, but not your ghost. Your ghost is yours. Remember that, and maybe you can remember it all.”

They are not only cheesy, they are reminiscent of other films where the protagonist screams at its enemies: “You can take my body, but you can never have my soul!” or something along the lines. Perhaps this is the impression that people have on Anime since these quotes can be found in Shounen frequently.

Adaptation also encompasses adapting the dialogue to not to fall into cringe-worthy territory. One of the techniques (Good) Japanese Live Action uses is replacing those dialogues with visual storytelling or by juxtaposition (they just let the bad guys contradict themselves).

Ghost in the Shell (1995) was an adaptation that took out a lot – and I mean A LOT – of dialogues and replaced them with visuals. The Western adaptation seems to have underestimated the audience by hammering in the meaning behind the plot with the dialogues. I don’t think this was on purpose, I think the writers and the director didn’t know how to represent these dialogues visually without falling into “bizarre” territory once again.

In a way, I don’t think the writers and the director understood Ghost in the Shell entirely and this was the only way they could understand the text themselves.

Obsession with individuality

The North American subconscious of individuality has led pop culture to believe this statement, “If I can’t identify myself in the characters it is not a good film.” This thought has infected the Otaku community for a while, and although some works have the flexibility to insert ourselves into the Anime characters, ultimately what matters to us is the journey.

Perhaps Death Note, more specifically Light, is the perfect example for this. In the Manga and Anime Light is the character we should identify with, and the author made us identify in two ways: an indirect way and a direct one. He was an angsty teen, smart, prideful and treated girls like they had cooties (also downplaying their intelligence among other questionable statements.)  The more indirect way to approach to us was the high stakes of his morality, the search for a clear resolution without hypocrisy and the application of every cynical thought we have had.

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I expected another level identification with the characters.

As we grow old and applying an in depth analysis of his character, we notice how irresponsible, arrogant, hypocrite and dumb-telligent he was. Nevertheless, the manga ends up favoring his decisions although Light’s story was nothing more than a downward spiral into madness. A very engaging train-wreck to watch.

In the Netflix live-action, our point of self-insertion and reference was: social media, his teeny love story and…  Well, I haven’t watched the movie yet but we will cover it down the road.

It is interesting to me how Hollywood think that this the only way to appeal the kids nowadays.

Ghost in the Shell (1995) focused on the mission and because of it Motoko starts to ponder about her nature. That is where we start to think about identifying with Motoko because even if she is a Cyborg, her train of thought aligns with our fatalistic ideas of the future.

Ghost in the Shell (2017), as I mentioned earlier, starts the premise with Mira at the center of everything and this spawns an annoying metaphor that we are going to look over later. Perhaps if the situation around Mira wasn’t so predictable, this obsession with individuality would’ve worked better. Unfortunately…

Failed Logic of the Script

The failed logic can be drawn from Mira’s progression as a character. Let me emphasize that her narrative remains intact throughout. Mira is searching for an answer, period. It is the logical sense of the script that failed (the execution of the narrative, if you will.)

There are two planes in which we can see this failed logic.

The first plane can be drawn from the context of the film. For example, the sole act of wanting to find out who she is, the act to recognize wrong from right, the ability to empathize, the conscious perception of self and her strong sense of Ego, are elements that are inherently human. There can be no such search or satisfying conflict if these human elements are present in the movie since act 1 (and keep reminding us of it over and over again).

If we go one step further, Mira’s Cyborg trait is too subtle to define this contrast and struggle. Aside from the implementation of her “drug” through her neck, everything regarding Mira is human; it doesn’t matter how much her constant pettiness is trying to convince us that she doesn’t feel human anymore.

The second plane can be drawn from within the structure of the storytelling. The fact that she can throw a fit and have an almost mental breakdown after finding out she is the “-nth” project, says more about her humanity than her robotic side. What was missing? Someone telling her that she is human even if her body is not. The problem lies in the fact that this point is revealed within 5 minutes of the film when it should’ve been brought up much later and only after having seen her cynicism as a robot.

The unintentional and annoying metaphor

As a result of the 2 previous planes, what is left for the movie to do is to see Mira moping around like a teenager after finding out she is adopted.

“Nothing I have is real!” (*insert sound effect of a child whaling*)

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Ooohhhh! The evil corporation is disappearing people who rebels against them. Every teen’s dream to lead a movie like it, don’t mind Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc.

If everyone involved stated that the intention of the movie was to create a metaphor regarding American teenagers and their search of self, I would completely believe it. If they were looking for the audience to self-insert into Scarlet Johansson’s role, the obsession of finding her individuality may work for impressionable teens; not so much for the desired audience: Thirty-something’s years old that are fans of the franchise.

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A happy ending for a happy teen.

My suspicion turned into proof when it turns out that Motoko was part of a protestor’s caravan who defied the evil corporation. They order their capture to quiet them down. Much like how Twitter burns every now and then; offended teens (and some young adults) take over their keyboard to rage about insensitive jokes or moves from corporations, influencers or politicians that don’t align with their sense of justice. Motoko is the new teen trying to fight “the man” from their comfortable expensive sofas.

In other words, Motoko represents the visions of what keyboard SJW’s yearn to be.

Disingenuous Ideological Revolution

In Ghost in the Shell (2017), the only thing the director could think of being revolutionary was to make it political, ultimately siding with people who defy the status quo of a capitalist society. Rich people: bad. Protesters: good. Military: unfortunate bystanders who are ordered to take action.

The problem is… any effort to identify with the kids nowadays, knowing what they stand for, can be perceived as an attemps to profit from that movement and can result in a million dollar failed campaign (See Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner 2017 campaign).

Hollywood is inherently hypocritical in this sense: While artists look everything through a hippie, anarchistic lens reflected through their works, the artists have to still comply to the capitalistic take of the studios and CEOs who see everything as a money-making move.

In this sense, the message of revolution and civil disobedience Hollywood tries to portray in their movies will never feel genuine. The new generation knows when someone wants to take advantage of their social justice to make quick bucks and will adamantly protest against it in social media.

Update can’t be found

Just to hammer it home: I mentioned earlier that any effort to update Ghost in the Shell to our present would be impossible. I stand by that claim, rabidly. It was revolutionary for its time, however in a world where hackers, doxxing, uploading illegal confidential content to the Internet, downloads violating FCC regulations, viruses spreading to support scams, having mini computers in our hands or our wrists and a world where A.I. can play NES Mario Bros., Pac Man and Chess better than any human alive has put the A.I. talk as one of our priorities, is an everyday occurrence.

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There is a discussion to be had about A.I. outside of “Will we be a humanity if A.I. takes over.”

To put it in perspective, not a single one of Ghost in the Shell’s sequels have been able to capture the revolutionizing experience the original film was because of the same reason. Technology is advancing at a rapid pace and the future seems uncertain in many ways, excluding what we already know: A.I. will take over if we are not careful. But we already know that.

In this sense, Ghost in the Shell (2017) is definitely an update, but not an innovative one, in today’s standards.

Is not a Cyber-Punk adventure

The city’s layout looks like it was taken from Blade Runner at times, and at others from Matrix Reloaded. Is what the reviewers said. In my opinion, the city set is a reflection on Hollywood’s positive outlook regarding technology.

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I don’t think holograms are outside of the realm of our possibilities. If skeletal mapping is possible anything is possible.Watch a live performance of the Kpop group, Perfume… prepared to be amazed.

At many points in the film, we can see a few shots in which the Cyber and the Punk are successfully merged; however even in the dirtiest place, the city, the shots and the style still feels squeaky clean. Specifically, the lighting is used at many points to create pleasing shots.

I kind of get it, though. On one hand, Ghost in the Shell (1995) is very subtle when trying to implement the Cyber-Punk visuals at many times; it is the lack of moody shots and lack of stylistic lighting that helps us understand the decayed, harsh and boring reality of the civilians even if it’s set in the future.

On the other hand we have Ghost in the Shell (2017), which is a society that has successfully merged with robots; the moody shots serve as fog to hide the ugliness of the set.

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This is Cyber-Punk.

And here is where the distinction lies: Cyber-Punk is known for defying the positive outlook on technology. In film, it relies on the story, the dialogues and the set to bring this home. A film can have all the script and dialogues dedicated to technology in a dystopian future, but if there is no visual references to emphasize the defiant attitude towards it or if the contrast between tech and street is not present, it can’t be considered a Cyber-Punk adventure, it’s just Sci-fi (unless a newcomer genius director comes up with a way to merge all possibilities in one movie.)

This is where Ghost in the Shell (2017) fails entirely and can give the impression of being incoherent in its vision. The scriptwriters, the director and the producers never stopped to question what type of story Ghost in the Shell (1995) wanted to tell or at least what category it was in, to choose a better lore around the adaptation. If only they had watched more Cyber-Punk Anime/Manga… right?

To make a strong statement that really made us think about the ominous future, one had to understand why the photography of the original film wasn’t pretty and why the city lights resembled more of Hong Kong now than New York in the future.

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If there is one thing that Ghost in the Shell (1995) does in the cleanest way possible, is this contrast Cyber-Punk is known for: the statement by juxtaposition. For example, after diving, Motoko gets on top of the boat to chat with Batou. As they talk, Motoko wonders what being human means and the perception she has of herself. In this exchange, basically, she states what it would be if she let her robotic side conquer and how easy it would be to control the world by it.

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This monologue made the audience to ponder about a world where technological advances are made in giant steps and what it could mean to our perception of humanity. It is never said bluntly, but by the juxtaposition of her words, what she represents and with the old-fashioned city lights on the background we can scream: Cyber-Punk!

A clean, futuristic and positive outlook on technology does nothing to compromise our thoughts and perspective about it. Taking the iconic scenes and sets and dumping them onto the film without questioning why it was there to begin with, prompted everyone involved to work with only that: pretty lights, action and continuously depending on the cheesy dialogues to remind us: “Hey! Cyborgs vs Humans, am I right.”

In other words, the film had a lot of Cyber but not a lot of Punk.

Love story, for the ladies

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Or… maybe I am just seeing things already.

It seems that not even being a robot, Scarlet Johansson is able to break away from Hollywood’s perception of women and what women would like to see on the screens. It’s true that both of her romances are vague, but it was used repetitively to make us understand the kind of relationship Mira had with both men. The original film did have some undertones regarding romance (at least I think Batou is interested in Motoko romantically; however, it is an unrequited love), I still think romance was not needed for the film given the callousness of original story.

Scarlett Johansson

I had this debate with a friend who mentioned that she doesn’t like her body of work because of her lack of presence as an actress and preferred to have Charlize Theron on the role. Aside from the negative perception the audience has from Johansson in real life (her rudeness, and diva attitude seems to pop up everywhere on the net), I do respect her as an actress for one sole reason: She is one of the few who gets action roles indiscriminately.

Charlize Theron, Taraji Henson, Mila Jovovich, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Uma Thurman, alongside others in less degree, are the few women in Hollywood who are not afraid to get their hands dirty (or their legs broken) for a few well shot action scenes.

All of them have incredible work ethics and some are more open to make their own stunts than others. So it begs the question, why not anyone else than Scarlett?  Well, Uma Thurman has disappeared from the action movie scene trying to conquest more serious roles; Angelina Jolie has taken Johnny Depp’s steps into making movies for her children; Mila Jovovich has to do a lot of work to distance herself from the Resident Evil franchise; Taraji Henson… I can’t even begin to describe the outrage it would spawn; Charlize Theron was busy shooting her guns in, the also awfully received, Atomic Blonde.

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It has been years since I last saw her in a normal role.

It would seem that Scarlett was young, open, willing and had enough following to convince, at least, her fans, to watch Ghost in the Shell. More than an artistic vision to me, it was a business one.  After having filled the role of a stoic human in Lucy, her pick was a no brainer.

The problem is that she is getting boxed in these types of roles and we are starting to see Scarlett and not the characters. Unless her goal is to have the curse Jim Carrey has (you can’t see the characters he plays, you see Jim Carrey goofing around) she has to step away from them, ASAP! It is also the reason her acting it’s beginning to be perceived as stale.

Ending note

To me, these were the main issues regarding the movie as to why it feels boring even as a standalone film. It is what I wanted to find inside the reviews instead of finding pieces after pieces clutching to the narratives about the lack of feminism, philosophical wonder, whitewashing or reviews that were boxed into comparing it with the original film, almost stretching it to call it: “baffling”.

There are some positives regarding the film. The cinematography of the action scenes are taken out almost shot by shot from the original one. As I mentioned, the photography was stylized. Johansson was good (considering how stoic her character was written.) The cast is diverse and it had a sprinkled touch of “bizarreness” the original film had.

Unfortunately these positives were drowned by everything we have discussed here.

Perpetuating Hollywood’s Curse

“Making your own film”

In my search to know what happened with Ghost in the Shell and how it came out the way it was, I was redirected to an interesting interview with William Wheeler, one of the scriptwriters for the movie.

He mentioned that he was writer number three of (he guessed) eight writers. That means that there were eight additional takes on Ghost in the Shell. When Wheeler was approached, an executive at Dreamworks said that they couldn’t “crack” the final version of the movie yet and were looking for a rewrite. Not an editor, a rewrite.

Wheeler goes on to say he worked in his version for a year and a half, approximately. He mentioned that he went to the rabbit hole that is the manga and throughout the movies of the franchise. However, because he was writer number three, he couldn’t be sure of how much of what he wrote would make it to the film. Until today, we are not sure but he made it to the title cards, so we can assume that most of his ideas were implemented. If you have any interview, post-release, where he discloses how much of his script made it to the film, please link it to me in the comments.

The screenwriter also brought forth an important issue that plagues productions that deal with adaptation:

“You know, the reasoning for the studio and even from the director’s standpoint, is this is such a massive risk, this is a massive investment of money, that we want the best and everything (…) so, I understand where are they coming from but, from, not only the writers’ perspective but from the audience perspective, what you hear people complain about is the lack of, kind of a coherent vision from a lot of these movies and a lot these stories (and this is) because, you know (there are) four writers, ten writers, sixteen writers; and the writers’ job is to corral that overall vision for the movie.”

He continues:

“So if you’ve got 16 different people doing that corralling, and you have the director’s and the studio kind of like curators that are picking their favorite things, you get a ton of cool scenes; a ton of cool sequences and an overall sense like… “Does this make sense or have a coherent reality to it?” and then sometimes, I hope that this would be the case of Ghost in the Shell, you’ll get that rare one, like some of the Chris Nolan pictures, where you have all of it. You have a coherent vision and you have that cool stuff.”

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Cool. And?

In Ghost in the Shell (2017), it is easy to see that this is exactly what happened. To be clear, the director has a lot of influence of what the final product will be, however, in Hollywood, the studio has the last word.  Once again, if they only had parted from the notion of Cyber-Punk, the outcome would’ve a little bit better, in my opinion.

As Rupert Sanders pointed out in an interview:

“Obviously (this film) is one fan’s point of view. There are a million fans. All loved different bits of it. But I think there are a few iconic scenes in there that I feel had to be in the movie. I feel it’s like making a Bond film: you have to have a big fight scene, you have to have martini, you have to have queue showing some things. So, to me, it was the water fight, the machine gun briefcases, Major’s thermoptic, the tank fight; ‘I have to have those in the film’ and fans would need to see those in the film (…) as Oshii said early on, ‘make your own film’,‘Use what you need but make your own film’. I felt really liberated by that.”

Wheeler predicted the vision of the director and what Ghost in the Shell (2017) became: a collection of “cool” visuals. Fans of Cyber-Punk Anime/Manga, know that cool visuals and great action is a big chunk of what makes these type of stories engaging; however, we also know that Cyber-Punk is not the goal nor the focus of these stories.

In other words, these stories are not boxed into what Ghost in the Shell (2017) is about, as they have plots and subplots that have nothing to do with it. Titles like: Akira, Blame!, Battle Angel Alita, Psycho Pass, Clover, Neon Genesis Evangelion…  are all Cyber-Punk stories, yet they focus on different aspects of technology, humanity, love, desertion, philosophy, imbalances of riches and more.

Stanley Kubrick’s copy of Stephen King’s The Shinning book. This is his handwriting. There is something about it that I love about. I can still feel his passion almost 40 years later.

On the other hand, we have Rupert Sanders applying his own vision and taking advantage of the mentality of “making his own film.”

I stand by the claim that the narrative of the film is clearer than its predecessors, it is consistent and it is coherent; that doesn’t mean that the elements that made the story are interesting, or that the director focused on the most interesting parts of the franchise.

Making your own film, from original material, can only be achieved when there is an established personal style or when the message of the story is completely set in stone. I keep bringing up The Shinning by Stanley Kubrick and will continue to do so, for the sole fact that the film is a weak adaptation of the original source, however it is the application of everything Kubrick knew to elevate the text to the point of naming it a classic piece of cinematography.

Kubrick didn’t have the mentality of drawing iconic scenes and glue them together even if they didn’t stick. His mentality came from a place of: how to summarize a wall of text into a practical visual shot. Kubrick wanted to scare his audience and he knew every single one of the techniques to achieve it. People often forget that The Shinning was based on a book, and with good enough reason.

Perhaps the question that Sanders needed to ask himself if he wanted to make “his own movie” wasn’t “How do I get the coolest elements of the original and insert my take on it?”, but was more in line with “What can I do to translate an animated movie about the future and how can I bring it into reality?” Probably he had to get deep with it: “We already have traits that are similar Cyborgs and some claim we already are Cyborgs, so what if we include that debate into the film. What real A.I. looks like now? What it would look like in the future? What is the worst outcome of A.I. starting to hack systems?” so on and so forth.

Even if he didn’t ask the right questions he did have the right thought process: “What would the fans love to see in the film?” The fact that this production had more writers and a long period of trial and error says more about the willingness to make something good, than going with the mentality that: “Meh, it’s Anime and Anime is ridiculous so whatever will do.”

It is truly a shame that the intention of the film got muddled along the way to include or tone down certain elements that needed to be there to wrap the story neatly.

Japan’s Narratives and Hollywood’s Narratives

Japan may be the purest capitalistic, nationalistic and the peak of an individualist society, however, mangakas do have the freedom of expression whatever their stances are. Japan can also be seen as hypocritical when we talk about the artist’s hippie’s ideas and the greedy publishers who only sees numbers; however, there is a huge difference as to why it doesn’t come across that way. This difference depends a lot on the artists’ stances, the editorial picks and the attitude of the audience.

The audiences, in Japan, know that Anime is entertainment whatever the sub-narratives are. They care and depend a lot on the likability of the characters and the immersion of the world-building each story has.

The thought of “deconstruction of narratives” never passes through the Japanese audience’s minds. This is an idea that’s inherently Western. It doesn’t matter how much “deconstruction” we do, in the end, there is a part of the brain we have to turn off to enjoy an Anime/Manga story. This is why it is very difficult to see the sub-narratives of a work in one sitting. One has to take a closer look to see what the text is saying and what the stances and vision of the authors are.

To tell you an example on how we see on the West: Satoshi Gatoh would be perceived to have an alt-right vision of the world and it shows, however the narratives behind Full Metal Panic! can be difficult to point out because his vision of the world is not what’s important… his characters and the story are.

The same can be said for Hiroyuki Takei, he leans towards a pacifist left-wing vision of the world, however, he can also be very cynical and controversial in the narratives he introduces (if Shaman King was released today, people would be pissed with him a lot and pointing out how he culturally stereotypes people.)

lvsr
Left or Right. Black or White. Up and Down and twist it around. Anime fans don’t care if it’s from the right or or from the left, we wanna be entertained, nothing more and nothing less.

A few narratives are heightened in some Manga and can be deemed as a political statement, but in most of those works we find a mix of ideals, narratives and points of view. Hollywood’s audience can’t relate and can’t replicate that without drowning in a glass of water.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) sides with one political statement: the one that has been wildly spread and almost hijacked by left-wing parties. Don’t stop reading, I have a reason to bring this up. Perhaps to make it easier lets divide it into two ideologies: one is from the Studio and one from Hollywood’s artists.

To put out content that is relevant to the political climate of The United States and at the same time defies it, seems more of a risk. As I mentioned earlier, there is a line Hollywood won’t cross and that line includes ideas that are not shared by its artists, but it is a reflection of Hollywood’s capitalistic studio owners or what Hollywood represents in general. At the same time, Ghost in the Shell’s (2017) text, has ideas that are banned from Hollywood capitalistic owners but are embraced by its artists.

Everything Hollywood offered is not what the Anime community bargains for and is not what we want. Hollywood tries so hard to bring reality to the audience, when the anime community wants to be closer to the fantasy world. Anime fans always seek to embrace the fantasy world and the closer we get the better it is.

The more I read reviews, the clearer it is to me, that the land of the free for artistic expression is not Hollywood, but Japan.

What Ghost in the Shell (2017) Means for the Anime Community and Why we Should Listen.

The script passed strict revisions, the visual idea was Hollywood-esque, the studio appointed a renowned cast, an “okay” director, there was time, money and effort put into the movie to make it a reality and it shows. It is a huge leap between Dragon Ball Evolution and Ghost in the Shell. 

The issues of the film can’t be found or blamed onto: “this would look ridiculous if we do it this way.” As it was in Dragon Ball Evolution’s case; yes, there are problems that can be found in the script, however these problems can be applied to other adaptation films from books that Hollywood produces.

Perhaps the only main issue, this time, was the misunderstanding of what the Anime community wants and that, for us, categories and genres are even more nuanced than Hollywood’s productions. But… if only they had one of our own as an insider, right?

A few years ago, I would cringe with the thought of Hollywood’s remake for anime. Ghost in the Shell (2017), may have swayed my opinion a little.

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Visually, the film is a treat. Unfortunately, not many involved knew the meaning of Cyber-Punk in its totality. Once again: if only they had someone from our community to give them feedback.

I can’t stress this enough: the film was not good and it’s okay to criticize the movie for what it was so Hollywood can get better. However, I do not share the same sentiment of discouraging Hollywood at every turn. Artificially creating issues with the Western ideals, that ultimately have no bearing or relevance to what’s at stake, is not appealing to me anymore and I don’t think it’s fair especially when Hollywood is trying hard to understand the community.

Most of the problems with reviewers come from the Otaku mentality: we tend to criticize a work without strings attached and without possible routes or possible solutions on how to attract the anime community; and to be fair, I don’t think that there are any possible solutions as it stands right now.

We have become elitist in this sense and we want our anime and live action coming from Japan, not anywhere else. However, Hollywood is having a different outlook on Anime. Death Note may be also a bad movie, however, a deal with Netflix would have not been possible without a certain openness to share the rights of the original source.

Netflix has gotten so big to the point of releasing Devilman Crybaby and Mob Psycho 100 (an awful live-action as well, but for other reasons that have nothing to do with Hollywood) through their service. With the upcoming Battle Angel Alita, we have James Cameron involved with the screenplay and as a producer, and who knows what we can expect from other rumored upcoming live action films.

Hollywood may have already understood that the anime community is a community worth exploring and exploiting. “Exploiting” is seen with negative connotation very often, but is not the negative connotation I am applying here.

One has to think about Hollywood remakes doing the same thing Live Action does for Japan: they are a form of publicity for the original material. This could mean that over time, and seeing how the West is trying so hard to embrace Weaboos, Otaku and Netizen, Japan could establish better relations with the West if they see these kinds of films as profitable in all senses (people buying the original material because of the films).

Imagine a world where original manga authors are completely involved with the production of a Hollywood film. If we don’t go that far, imagine this openness as a way to the availability of Japanese manga works with affordable prices around the world.

Once again, criticism doesn’t have to stop. Harsh criticism can be transformed into a positive to never take Anime for granted. However, in my opinion, cutting off North American productions from the moment the trailer appears because they are a different take on the works we love, because they don’t have feminism, because they are whitewashing or other artificially created issues, doesn’t help.

Applying our moral codes and narratives to these productions seems the perfect way to cut off an entire dialogue to be had regarding the works produced; at the same time, cementing the idea that Anime fans can’t get away from the elitist, confrontational attitude, hipster, jerk-ish, close-minded stereotype, when inside our community, we know this is not the case (except from some fandoms I refuse to name here. Ha, ha.)

Nowadays, comic book fans are considered cool and trendy. To me, the main reason why is that Comic Book fans don’t care much about continuity, that’s why they don’t have issues watching five or seven versions of their favorite superhero.

Anime fans care about everything. Take everything so seriously and take personal offense sometimes. I suffer from this as well, heck! All of my entries in this blog are all about taking adaptation to heart. However, I know my place and know that a live action coming from Japan and a live action coming from North America have different codifications because our conscious is different, our moral and ethical codes are different, our views of the world are different and what attracts people in the West is different.

Perhaps this view of holding these Live Action remakes to the same standards the Japanese Live Action remakes have, is erroneous.

What do I propose? Give the movie and other upcoming movies a chance, be respectful towards the people involved, criticize the film online with viable arguments and try not to fix, label or blame a narrative that is not relevant to the material.


So, what did you think about Ghost in The Shell (2017)? Have you not seen it? Did you hate it? Do you think more openness can help the community in any sense? Do you think is a good idea to get mangakas involved in Hollywood productions? Do you think we should have the same standards of the Japanese Live actions and the Western ones? Comment below!

 

2 Replies to “West in Retrospect – Ghost in the Shell”

  1. Back in the 80s-90s, is when anime/manga started to appear here on the west as an actual thing. In latin America we had the chance of watching anime dubbed in Spanish, while in States…. In States was in English, but something else happened too, we have the culture factor, people who grew up watching Pokemon remembers Ash as Ash, not as Satoshi, theres were the problem lies, dubbing companies and censoring made changes due to the fact States WONT understand a different culture, or so they thought/think/keep thinking sometimes… was it adaptation or what it could be really called an actual whitewashing. Anyway…
    I could say people got very angry at GITS 2017 since this movie as Akira, were from the first movies they were introduce to the genre of animation for adults, from a different country, Japan to be precise, they might treasure the culture shock and how the product (animation and its content) had an impact on them, and this is the main reason why they whine about this movie to be bad.
    Now, personally I didn’t liked GITS 2017 cuz if they are using the idea of saying this is GITS at all (95, or course), better make a related story than changing specific details that Oshii or Masamune did, and cuz of those, GITS is GITS in the movie or the manga or the trillion animated sequels.
    Masamune Shirou is no more than a guy that loves to draw sexy girls with little or “no” clothes on them (tell that to the people that thought this Motoko in 2017 should have been as “feminist” as the one from 95), you could even say its an eternal fanservice in the manga and yes, people who complained about GITS 2017 probably didn’t even heard from the manga cuz of that reasoning of this movie was not like the original… They should complain to Oshii, instead. As an extra, Id say Oshii already did way before a movie you could say is the live action of GITS back on 2001 on his movie Avalon… all western actors and still using his easter egg with the dog, a lot of things you could think as GITS… give it a try.
    I still keep the idea that Scarlett, is not meant to be to this role, shes too young and honestly, don’t like her acting, Id rather have seen Charlize Theron, she has a longer and more experienced career and shes more versatile for this type of castings (look at her go in Mad Max Fury Road).

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    1. I believe that the first problem you encountered can be pinned onto “localization.” Names can be changed to avoid confusion or mockery (the Latin American localized name of Chichi from DBZ is Milk, which sounds similar to the slang for breast in some latin countries) in other cases is to fully translate the Japanese name that is a pun into English (Ace Attorney for example: every character’s name is a pun). To me, changing names doesn’t have any malicious intent like people not understanding a different culture is just to fully understand the text. It was more present back in the day, but it seems that today translators don’t bother with it anymore, because you know, it kind of strips down something from the original text.
      To be honest, I think a side-story would’ve been fitter if they planned to remake GITS. I don’t have a problem with the adaptation, I think the writers did what they could with what they understood and that is fine with me. My main issue was “why make the story and the lore around it so boring” and “why focus too much on Motoko instead of other things that could’ve been brought up” and “why give it an angsty cliched tone like, say, Hunger Games.” It was the script that needed more time and more revisions and probably a focus group with avid fans of the franchise before wrapping it up and calling it a day because the studio was tired of rewrites.
      I agree everything you said about Shirou. I will definitely put Avalon in my list… if I find it.
      Regarding Scarlett… this is what I was talking about. I don’t think what she does now can be considered “acting” anymore. She has been in that stoic role since Avengers… the girl with huge potential as an actress is starting to disappear because she keeps coming back to the same type of characters: The beautiful, angelic, serious, blank face character. Her shine as an actress was short-lived if you ask me.
      Charlize Theron could’ve taken the role if the schedule for release didn’t clash with Atomic Blonde. Even then, with this type of product… she would’ve been involved in two box office flops, so I think (if this role was offered to her and she refused) it was a good idea to just take one.

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