For some reason, on this blustery cold Melbourne day, I feel the urge to write about the recent movie Ghost in the Shell. I have no idea why but am learning not to question these impulses. And seeing as I am writing this for no other reason than my own edification… here goes…
The thing is, I really enjoyed the film. And I am a massive fan of the original anime. So I expected a degree of fangirl righteousness and indignation to colour my experience.
Then again, I never laid eyes on the manga on which it was based. And I was reliably informed by a friend who lived and worked in Japan for many years, that the difference between the two was considerable. So, for her, it followed that the Hollywood interpretation would be different again.
I actually recall when I first saw the trailer for the Ghost in the Shell anime. I was sitting in a grand old crumbling theatre known at the time as The Valhalla. The haunting Bulgarian choir-style strains of Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack made my heart miss a beat. I was then totally intrigued with the existential themes it raised, though have to confess it took repeated viewings before I got much of a handle on them. And even then, I wonder if a lot was lost in translation, linguistically and stylistically.
But that didn’t deter me from buying the sequel and the subsequent spin-off series, Stand Alone Complex. Both of them. I did wear the special edition t-shirt for a while too. But after a while I feared that the large logo on the back, pictured above, might be considered disrespectful. (It’s actually a quote from Catcher in the Rye which is referenced heavily in the first series. But taken out of context, it just felt cruel and inappropriate.)
Anyway, I decided to go in to the 2017 film with an open mind. I could totally understand the concerns about casting a non-Japanese actor in the lead role, particularly given the limited opportunities for people of colour in Hollywood. This issue — i.e. why did The Major not look Japanese? — was handled quite subtly and (I thought) elegantly in the film. I also read that casting one of Hollywood’s most talented and “bankable” actors was one of the only ways to ensure the film received the financial support it required. But from a social and political standpoint, it did feel like a missed opportunity not to have cast a Japanese actor. (That said: the only Australian character was a handsome rugged cop in Section Nine who was boasting that his newly implanted artifical liver meant that he’d be able to drink as much as he wanted without repercussion!!!)
But in the end, I did not find it hard to enjoy the film on its own merits. It was well made. The characters were believable and their plight sympathetic. The action were so effective I jumped out of my seat on a couple of occasions.
The existential themes were simpler than the anime and this felt important. They were fresh and contemporary and easier to grasp. That thing about what makes us human. How do we acknowledge and honour our humanity? This something we are all thinking about, right? And if we aren’t (looking at you, POTUS), shouldn’t we be?
I was especially touched to see some of the most iconic scenes from the anime recreated with such reverence and loving attention to detail. The dystopian Japan of the near future became a character in her own right, and this felt important too.
The only thing missing was Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack. Reserving Making of Cyborg for the closing credits was a bit of a travesty.
But that’s probably the only negative thing this fangirl has to say.