Monday, April 3, 2017

I Think I’m Turning Japanese (I really think so), Or Thoughts on Ghost in The Shell

Alternate Title: More Like Ghost in the Green Screen, amirite? (Or Thoughts on Ghost in The Shell)

Ghost in The Shell (2017) was released in March, which is always a bad sign because if the studios had any faith in it they would have released it during summer or early May.  The movie has been eclipsed by the casting decisions and larger questions on race and culture which believe me, we will get into, but let’s not lose track here, we’re talking about a movie, something that’s supposed to entertain us.
In a near future where cybernetic implants are as ubiquitous as cell phones, Scarlett Johannsen is Major Mira Killian, a cybernetic anti-terrorist agent for Section 9, and boy do I sound like a movie trailer right now.  First of all, Lost in Translation (2003) is one of my favorite movies and for that movie alone Scarlett  gets a free pass.  That being said she is a very one note actor, she has shown no range or comic timing so far, which is convenient because this movie, like this current decade, takes itself oh so seriously.   There are questions of the nature of the soul and the blending of man and machine in between the Matrix-y gunfights and the beautifully rendered holographic billboards that need to be posed.
Reminiscent of The Fifth Element (1997) but without any of the light-heartedness and sense of fun, the film’s greatest strength is the Blade Runner (1982) levels of world building but unfortunately modern audiences are accustomed to these panoramic green screens and subsequently are less impressed.  In fact you could argue that audiences have come to expect this level of detail, because like the Major and her cybernetic implants, it’s all part of our media now.
And speaking of green screens, because this movie based on an animated film, I’m more tolerant of the digital animation and the recreation of an essentially live action anime.  There’s no way they could have made the Major’s adaptive camouflage skin suit without CGI, and that was one of the coolest visuals of the original anime.  And the technology has improved, unlike Beowulf (2007) or Polar Express (2004), animators in this film have slipped past the uncanny valley by digitizing everything but the human face.
And let’s talk about Scarlett for a minute, she looks like an anime character, and she’s far more attractive than say, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), still the gold standard in Asian Whitewashing (with David Carradine in Kung Fu running a close second), if she’s indeed even supposed to be Asian.  Only her brain is human, she’s more like a sexy T-800, and I always envisioned the anime as a world where Japan had become the dominant culture and the city Major was working in wasn’t necessarily Tokyo.  It could have easily been New York or London, which would easily explain what all these white people are doing there.
The original Japanese animators had a Western aesthetic for beauty and created a dynamic synthesis of East and West; huge round eyes in angular faces, a blend of Eastern and Western architecture and fashion with an emphasis on Japanese tech and fighting styles.  This movie is based on a Japanese source but it was never meant to be a Bunraku play.  Are we supposed to blame the Ancient Greeks or the Italian Renaissance for creating Western Beauty standards?
The movie is a visual feast, and Scarlett lights up the screen, if, and that’s a big if, you’re able to check your politics at the door and allow yourself to be entertained.  The movie is respectful of the original source and recreates many of the iconic scenes; the water battle and the giant spider tank come immediately to mind.  It’s a better William Gibson movie than any William Gibson adaptation so far.  But I didn’t feel any emotional connection or inspiration from it.  Those hologram billboards are cool, but that Geisha airship in Blade Runner (1982)?  That was a 4-foot model, made by human hands, it had weight and substance, and it showed onscreen; it created a sense of wonder and awe.  All you get from this movie is controversy and uncomfortable conversations.


my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).