I Don’t Understand the Hate for Ghost in the Shell

Over this past weekend, I finally dragged myself out of the cave I’ve been hiding in since November and saw Ghost in the Shell. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the anime (which is a shame, I know), but I generally liked what I saw of the anime and I also love Cyberpunk. You’d think this would be a perfect movie for me, right? Well, I lagged a bit in seeing it because of the insane amount of hate it’s been getting online as well as by critics.

Currently, Rotten Tomatoes has an accumulated critic score of just 46%, with consensus surrounding that “the end result lacks the magic of the movie’s classic source material.” Huh, okay. Here’s another quote from the Tribune’s Katie Walsh:

“It gets bogged down in aesthetics that are stimulating only for the sake of stimulation, seemingly without a flicker of thought behind them. Shell indeed, but there’s no ghost at home.”

Ouch. How about James Berardinelli from Reelviews who says: “Ghost in the Shell is visually compelling but tone deaf.” Oof, again. How about Peter Rainer from the Christian Science Monitor (the best source of pop-culture review, of course) who says:

“It’s unfortunate, if predictable, that Hollywood found it necessary to almost entirely eliminate deep think in favor of deep action.”

The rest of the critic reviews go along the same lines. Shallow, action-packed, blockbuster that avoids the hard questions and focuses on a storyline that focuses too much on a sentimental storyline that focuses on ScarJo’s character.

And of course, I’m also sidestepping the controversy surrounding ScarJo’s casting in a movie based on a Japanese Anime. Because I always thought that was a dumb controversy and now that I’ve seen the movie, I think those who protested this movie for that reason are even more dumb. I’ll talk about that a bit later.

But when I walked out of that theatre, I think I saw a very different movie from everyone else. Because I saw a movie that was well written, well-paced, well-directed, and actually really well acted.

Alright, got your jaw off the floor. Good. Let’s get into this.

Whitewashing

See, I’m just as much of a bleeding heart liberal as the next early millennial. I appreciate the efforts and philosophy of so-called Social Justice Warriors. But those complaining about this movie and “Whitewashing” are straight up wrong.

WRONG = FACTUALLY INACCURATE

Just in case you were unaware. This movie is not whitewashing. At all. Don’t believe me? Watch the movie. Because if you watched the movie, you’d know it’s not whitewashing. But before I get into that, let me show you something.

Does the above person look Japanese to you? Because she sure doesn’t look Japanese to me. Outside of Akira, I’ve rarely ever seen a Japanese anime that actually portrays Japanese people in the role. Every now and then, sure, but only side characters or red shirts. Lead characters are always all white people with weird hair colors that happen to have Japanese names.

But the thing is, Japanese anime started out drawing white people on purpose, because they were mocking white people. Just as J-Pop music tends to use English lyrics when saying cheesy stupid things, white people were classically portrayed in anime instead of Japanese people for satire. Nowadays, artists just draw white people because that’s what the style is, and everyone kinda forgot that was a thing. But the point is, anime has been getting whitewashed by Japan for a long time, and if Hollywood wants to do anime justice, they need to cast white people. Sure, there are some characters in anime that are definitively more “Japanese” than others, and that needs to be addressed, but the idea that a white person is cast in the lead role shouldn’t cause any concern, because white people have been “cast/drawn” in the role of the lead in anime for time immemorial.

I won’t waste a lot of time on examples of this, but if there were ever a movie rendition of Bleach, and people started bitching about the casting of a white dude in the role of Ichigo and a white girl in the role or Orihime, I will seriously lose my shit.

But, even if you disagree with what I said above, the movie is STILL not whitewashing. If you actually watched the movie (or the show, for that matter), you’d know that Major is a human brain that’s been imbedded within a cybernetic shell. The body she wields is not her own. Furthermore, the company that created her body is run by an evil white dude. By the way, the organization that Major is a part of who defends her and hates the company that created her body is run by Takashi freaking Kitano.

The fact that Major is in a human/white body that is not her own, and all other cybernetic people of that sort, for that matter, is a major (pun-sorta-intended) part of the psychological development that underpins this story, AND the anime. Major and other cybers like her suffer from a dramatic loss of memory, personality, self, and identity by being shoved into a white body. For this reason, ScarJo’s acting may seem confused, robotic, and even uncomfortable. But that’s the damn point, guys.

Now, I understand that some could take this as being an excuse for yellow-facing ScarJo.  If this were an original IP, I would agree.  I do sympathize with the idea that Asian actresses never get lead roles and that Asian actors/actresses are generally passed up all the time.  I understand the hate in regard to Tom Cruise or Matt Damon playing the lead in a story about an Asian war movie.  I wouldn’t have written this damn section if they just cast ScarJo in the role and didn’t even address that fact.

But they do.  The identity of a physical appearance is a major theme of the movie, and her being white only adds to the identity disassociation that is portrayed by ScarJo through the character. Arguably, it’s ironic that they are criticizing “yellow-face” at the same time as they are using it.

However, this is not a new IP. This is the revision of a beloved anime movie (and prequel series) that does the same thing with the character. You just can’t tell because everyone is whitewashed in an anime. But let’s forget about that, right? And let’s forget about the fact that Major is completely naked throughout the anime movie and they actually give ScarJo a sensible body that makes sense for the job she’s doing.  Let’s forget about the fact that the anime movie ends with Major being transferred into a body that is inexplicably, a cute schoolgirl Lolita. Are you kidding me? Nobody’s bitching about that?

The lens of nostalgia is blurry indeed.

It’s Not Like the Original

The “this ruined my childhood” argument is getting pretty stale, guys. Sure, Hollywood has run out of ideas, I get it. But if you loved the original GitS movie and hate that Hollywood created their own version, don’t watch it. You vote with your wallet.

Seriously. Hollywood makes lots of trash and dribble on a daily basis. Nobody watches that crap, because it’s crap. If you don’t want to watch a thing, don’t watch it. Nobody is making you watch it.

But if you watch this movie and feel like you’re now dirty somehow, go watch the original. It’s okay. It’s still there. Nobody has burned your copy of GitS. I promise. Just go watch the original and enjoy yourself. It’ll be okay.

The thing is, every genre of every creative endeavor will inevitably recycle and reuse concepts. Sometimes they’ll improve them. Sometimes it’s not as good as the original. But sometimes there can be two versions of the same story that are equally valid on their own right, but in different ways. Like Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Both stories have little to do with each other, but they’re both great in their own right.

People also need to get over the fact that when you convert one thing from one medium to another, things will change. When Peter Jackson translated LotR into movies, he had to cut stuff. For some people, that’ll mean the books are always better. For some people, that’ll mean the movies will let them finally understand what the hell J.R.R. Tolkien is talking about. That’s okay. Different mediums offer different strategies for storytelling.

By the way, if you’ve ever read a novel that was originally written in a different language, or a movie that is subtitled, you’re getting a different rendition of the content from another. If you don’t speak that language, you’ll never know the difference. But what if there is one? Spoiler, there always is a difference.

It’s okay that stories have different versions and interpretations. That’s how human storytelling works. One person tells it, and it gets modified and updated for new audiences, and then moves to another person who emphasizes different details, and eventually you have 17 different stories. But the fact that all our storytelling is recorded, saved, and can be translated from format to format means that nothing is ever lost.

The Original is Better

This is entirely up to interpretation. Both movies have problems. I happen to feel that the original GitS has many more storyline holes, pacing problems, and character development lacks than this Hollywood version.

People say the original GitS anime movie is “a thinking person’s movie” and that the new version is too linear. Leaving entire plot points unexplained and jumping from scene to scene and from plot to plot without any explanation does not make it a more “thinky” movie, it means it’s written poorly.

Not to mention, anime tends to include a lot of scenes with two characters in a car and explaining plot. That happens faaarrrr too often in the anime movie and kill the pacing. If two characters are talking in a car, there better be some character development going on. Explaining shit by having characters speak it is a great way of turning me off.  The movie tightened up the pacing, which is something I prefer.

All of the characters in the Hollywood rendition have considerably more depth and are much more interesting. Major, the leader of Section 9, her sidekick dude, the villain, even side characters are given space to develop.

Not to mention, the directing. The new movie’s directing is masterful, beautiful, and actually tells a story without having two characters in a car narrating facts to you.

But look at me, shitting on an anime movie that many thousands absolutely love. Despite these problems, I do think that anime movie is important and there is an interesting and valid story being told there. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t look at the Hollywood movie and see where it improved some things. I also see where the anime movie does some things better. That’s the way these things work. Storytellers have to make choices.

No Depth/Too Sentimental

This is also up to interpretation, I guess. I feel that actually giving Major some emotional depth and character development is an improvement from the original GitS, personally. In the original anime movie, you don’t know her motivations from the beginning, and you sorta know her motivations at the end. She’s a static character. GitS:SAC explains her origin story, but the anime movie does not. In my opinion, that’s a job the Hollywood movie needed to do, and it does well. We know where she stands in the beginning, and we know where she stands at the end.

For that matter, all of the characters do. The leader of Section 9 is much more interesting in this movie, especially since he’s played by Takashi Kitano. The villain actually has motivations, emotions, a purpose for doing what he’s doing. That’s not the case in the original.

But yes, I understand this comment regards the idea that Hollywood skipped over the idea of “The Singularity.” To this argument, I refer you to my second section. This is an adaptation, or an interpretation, not a shot for shot remake of the original movie. American audiences are going to appreciate a storyline about finding individuality amongst the machine, and considering the budget it was given, it wasn’t going to hit the box office numbers it needed without interesting American audiences.

But I dispute the idea that this story has less depth than the original. The original tells a story about an instance in which machine spontaneously develops sentience, or when a robot “manifests” a ghost. Except the original anime movie does a poor job of even talking about that theme. What really happens is that major and an AI merge and become one weirdly creepy Lolita. And that’s it. The movie doesn’t even say what the means or what the implications are. And the sequel to the GitS movie is so piss poor that I won’t even claim to say it pushes these ideas forward.

However, the new movie actually does introduce a struggle for the main character, heightens that struggle, and resolves it in an interesting and fairly satisfying way. Although it’s a different story, the new movie elevates the original content, which is something we should admire.

Conclusion

Let’s not pretend that you’ve actually made it to this point. Come on, you stopped reading as soon as you saw I wasn’t hating on the thing. You want to feed on that negativity and hatred. But instead, I’m praising something with ScarJo you decided to hate.

If you made it this far, congrats, you win. What do you win? A fresh perspective and that fact that you actually enjoy your entertainment. Cheers!