As a fan of anime that goes back decades to when I was a child and Macross was on Saturday morning cartoons as Robotech and moving with anime through the decades to so many other great series and films, I was very much looking forward to this film. In anticipation for it, I watched the original 1996 version. After watching the new live action version I have great appreciation for both version and found quite a lot to enjoy, unlike so many other reviewers.
[SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS ABOUND] Though the 1996 version has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (46 total reviews), there was a lot to not like. Like many anime, 1996 Ghost suffered from an issue that wasn’t very clear to Western viewers (why did it matter if the Master uploaded himself into the net and moved on from humanity in the end?) and from a conclusion that didn’t resolve much (so Kusanagi is now merged or something with the Puppet Master? Wait, what?) Even with the lack of clarity, it was a visual feast. The animation was outstanding and holds up well even today. (Most of the positive reviews focus on the animation and difficulty of the film, rather than the story.) Major’s story is compelling – is she human or AI? – and support characters like Bateau and Aramaki are interesting. What the story lacked in final conclusion, it did a good job of setting up several other films in the series with the Major and Bateau working for Section Nine and saving 2029 Tokyo.
The current version, which I will call 2017 Ghost to differentiate, has a lowly 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 218 reviewers. There seems to be somewhat of a switch in review criteria from the 1996 to 2017 versions as most reviewers recognize the amazing complexity of shots, animation or CGI and outstanding visual effects in both, but 2017 reviews no longer count that as positive or view worthy. Also, both films find the Major struggling with who she is and how human she is vs construct (especially when her memories can be deleted at will.) The ultimate questions and the look of both films are the same. (In fact, there were several scenes that were almost shot for shot exactly the same, which for fans like me were awesome to see.)
[SPOILERS] 2017 Ghost takes the story of the Major and expounds on her lack of knowing herself, highlights and focuses on how she got that way – government testing – and explains the Puppet Master as a previous test subject. I don’t like the easy road of making the two test subjects know each other, but the fact that the private company that built the Major’s body was taking children and young people for testing explains more the animosity between Section Nine and Section Six/ Industrial Complex (which isn’t explained well in either movie – is this the government or a company or a hybrid). [END SPOILERS]
If this were a movie without source material like the original anime or manga, then I think this would be more in line with Johansson’s Lucy (67% RT), where Johansson works with CGI and in a science fictionalized world in the future and dealing (lightly) with the complex issue of what it means to be human and the score may have been higher (especially considering Lucy was a significantly worse film than 2017 Ghost, but is currently 22% higher.) But this movie isn’t being judged by how good it really is on it’s own. I think it is being reviewed through the lens of the so-called “white-washing” controversy of casting Johansson in the role of the Major.
I say so-called because that’s exactly what it is. Scarlette Johansson looks exactly like the Major in the anime. So does Bateau (Pilou Asbæk). Exactly like them. Just like the setting, this film is incredibly faithful to the look of the characters and 1996 Ghost. And if anything there is more diversity in 2017 Ghost with several other races and skin colors showing up in supporting characters while everyone speaks English and Japanese interchangeably. I don’t know why expectations exist for films being adapted from stories in one culture should only employ actors of that culture. It isn’t how any culture has done it previously. The Magnificent Seven films (1960 and 2016) are based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and none feature Asian characters as in the original film. This works for movies adapted in either direction. Is it because it is set in future Tokyo or that the original body of Kusinagi was Japanese? Those shouldn’t matter either, as cyborg bodies can be whatever race the creators want them to be and Tokyo 2029 is a melting pot of cultures (like Blade Runner) and shouldn’t be expected to have only one culture or race. All this to say that there should be no controversy just as the original director of 1996 Ghost, Mamoru Oshii, said himself.
Ghost in the Shell (2017) was a dazzling trip down memory lane for me as a fan of the original. It was eye candy with a little existential questioning and a lot of action. I found it very enjoyable.
4/5 stars. Some language. Nudity on the cyborg bodies, but not sexualized. Some sensuality but no sex scenes. Drugs and drinking in several scenes. Lots of violence and gun fighting.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.