I grew up as a huge fan of Masamune Shirow (that is his pen name, his real name is Masanori Ota). He is the creator behind Ghost in the Shell, so I was anxiously waiting to see this movie ever since they said they were moving forward with it.
After several decades of following his work, there was nothing that was going to stop me from seeing the live action, well unless it looked like the pile of whitewashed crap that is Dragonball Evolution. I did fear that initially, but knowing that they had such a big name onboard (ScarJo), I knew they had some money on the line. Also I wasn’t completely outraged knowing that Major Motoko Kusanagi was now a Guinness or Killian’s drinking lass named Mira Killian….it meant they had skin in the game (white skin).
If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the first five mins, plus the movie trailer.
Cool design is what sets Masamune Shirow apart in manga.
The thing I like about Masamune Shirow is his futurist vision and eye for design. From the cityscapes, the counter-rotating choppers, tactical gear, to his bi-pedal (land mates), and multi-legged tank designs because his work is what fueled my interest into pursuing an industrial design education. That’s why when I saw this movie after having anticipated it for well over several months, I just had to see how much if any of his design aesthetic was carried on over to the live action.
Unfortunately after seeing the movie, not a lot of it, if much of Shirow’s style made it in. The most obvious are the “spider tank,” but beyond that, it was a disappointment as a fan to see that his design aesthetic wasn’t more prominent with the vehicles and equipment in the movie. Although I’m sure, I’m a small minority of the audience who gives a crap about this aspect of the production, and I think more people were more focused on seeing ScarJo in the role or Mamoru Oshii’s substantial mark on the franchise.
Who’s stealing whose identity?
I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of the scene where the dialogue is something along the lines that Hanka had stolen their lives and their identity. In my head, I thought how Hollywood had taken their identity from the source material, to only rob them of their roots by giving them a brand spanking new white girl shell. A shell that was supposedly meant to appeal to all those pre-pubescent nerds who were expected to flock to the movie since Scarlett Johansson is in it… well the box office numbers didn’t reflect that, and I could only partially blame it on the nippleless opening intro because the original had plenty of nipple #freethenipple.
Yea, that’s not the point at all.
I just saw a couple of YouTube reviews, and they cite that they think people strictly have an issue primarily with the race of the major not being held to the source material. Well, that’s not the reason for the outrage. The issue is about opportunity for Asians in Hollywood in the good ole U.S. of A. So citing what Japanese in Japan think is irrelevant you focks. That’s because this was another possible chance of having a Japanese/Asian actress to play the role, but that was taketh away, sorry no soup for you.
For the record, I am also going to comment on the whitewashing which is “yes, I am disappointed” every time an Asian is passed over at a possible chance at being cast in a film. This lack of opportunity isn’t new to me because I’ve experienced this first hand in the working world, and we all know it’s not new to Hollywood either. To spell out a few examples, a while back it happened with the movie Starship Troopers where the lead character, Juan Rico, a Filipino wasn’t cast as according to the source material, and they chose to cast Casper Van Dien who’s obviously not Filipino. There’s also the recent and ridiculous casting choices from Dr. Strange, Dragonball, to the Martian. The Martian which stars Matt Damon had originally two additional Asian characters unfortunately, Vincent Kapoor and Mindy Park were roles given instead to non-Asian actors Mackenzie Davis and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I find these instances to be a huge loss for this country, and you might find that far-fetched, but this country has been a melting pot. That benefits from diversity which is most apparent in the arts, and I know if it weren’t for that diversity (imagine a world with only Jpop), my experience growing up would have sucked. Movies like the Karate Kid do matter because it was a small boost of its good to be Asian” whereas on the flipside we have the dipshittery of “16 Candles” and the nerdy, Chinese/Japanese character Long Duk Dong played by Gedde Watanabe.
Don’t Just Blame Whitey
Pssss….. here’s some other people you can blame.
Instead of focusing all your emo anger solely at ScarJo, how about turning some of that angst at the Japanese company that owns the creative license because they could have specified that the studio sticks strictly to the source material when casting. I mean, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have that sort of control over their dubbing, but that’s not going to happen because a majority of Asians/Japanese are unaware of the importance of the casting to the Asian American community. Not only is this a Japanese IP, but a percentage of the backers were Chinese, the Shanghai Film Group and HuaHua. So if this were an issue to the Chinese, they could have said something, but I’m sure they didn’t because China is another ethnically homogenous country where they’re oblivious to the issues surrounding Asian Americans.
The 80’s, Design, and Manga
This is why I pursued an education in Industrial Design.
I don’t remember the order, but in my pile of comics I have Black Magic M-66 (83′, 87′), Appleseed (1985-89), Dominion (1988 and 1993) and later Ghost in the Shell (1989-90). Not all of these titles were in English so I would peruse through them solely for the art and the love of his design.
Being the fan I am, I also cannot help but go through the movie to nitpick every single issue that I felt were bastardized or poorly executed for a guestimated $110+ million dollar movie.
Just to give you an idea of the Masamune Shirow design aesthetic, I put together some of his artwork from Appleseed.
- The visuals: I liked a lot of the cinematography and a little of the design (section 9 building) and the environments although the streets were desolate with no people or cars. The cars that were on the road moved at a snail’s pace that looked like people were ghost riding their whip.
- Iconic shots/scenes: the inclusion of a lot of the original/iconic shots and scenes from the anime were cool to see as a live action such as the winged chopper that flies overhead the apartment complex to the entire scene where the major tracks down the dude in the Supreme camo pancho (ok, it wasn’t by the brand “Supreme”, but they would do a cool AF camo pancho).
- The acting. From ScarJo, Pilou Asbæk (Batou), Michael Pitt (Kuze), to Kaori Momoi who I think killed it with her scene, or maybe it just reminded me of my mom. Yea, they don’t necessarily look anything like each other although her acting just made the scene where the Major and her meet, and I started to get the feels there although it could have been my allergies.
- The gun ballistics: remember that scene in the Matrix that takes place in the front lobby? Where Neo and posse shoot up and pulverize the cement pillars was inspired by GITS spider tank scene. I love those types of scenes because most movies can’t get the ballistics right, but Mamoru Oishii took his crew to go shoot guns at different materials just so that they could get the animation right. Aside from him, only Michael Mann cares about these details (Miami Vice, the 50 cal Barrett snipers is one such scene).
- The guns: It’s so typical that the majority of all American prop artists add a bunch of nonsensical bulk to an existing firearm platform. Doing that is corny AF and especially with this movie. One example is the HK looking MP5 that looked like it had an erector set folding stock and a bunch of added bits (yea, you want to add weight just for the hell of it, what a hack).
- The “motor” sound effect for Batou’s eyes. Yea, the audience is so stupid that you have to put in a mechanical whir of the eyes which is the cheap route vs. an up close practical or CGI effect of a mechanical retina. Yea, I know American movies love the sound of joints and robotics that make noises and sounds just to remind you that they’re mechanical.
- The 80’s cars: 1980’s Lotus for the cars, but this took me out of the movie being set in the future because seeing that window pane and 80’s interior, door panels, etc., it was so distracting being a car guy to see all that…I was expecting the Majors head to get caught in an automatic seat belt sliding across the door frame in a scene. If they had only used a 2017 something that was heavily gussied up, it wouldn’t have been so bad although a vehicle that would have been in line with Masamune Shirow would have been something along the lines of the Toyota i-Road. That would have been one of the more forward thinking vehicles vs. the janky wind screen seen on the Honda motorcycle that was used in the Hanka get away scene.
- The opening sequence: it pales in comparison to the original although I did like the organic tendrils that connected the brain to the body – if anything, the fan made opening sequence stills/3D rendering headed by Ash Thorp deserves some notoriety and a shout out because he doesn’t fear the nipple (check out the link, plenty of nipple).
- Russian: That old school MI-24 looking chopper that drops off Section 9 in one scene.
- Hong Kong (the casting beyond ScarJo): yea, I get having Brits, but the casting of the Hanka security agent, section 6, and the doctors are all white and natively French, British and Romanian. So a company located supposedly in Hong Kong has almost no native Hong Kongers? Well, what do I expect from Hollywood when you see every movie from Les Misérables, Red October to Gladiator having actors with an English and Scottish accent vs. a French, Russian, or Latin/Greek accent.
- The marketing of the movie with their “#IamMajor” campaign which is a half-ass foolish attempt at engaging and utilizing social media – I say that since I had no solid idea on what direction they were taking with the movie, so I felt the marketing wasn’t aligned with what I had known about the story. It also doesn’t contribute to any thought or conjecture for people not familiar with the IP which revolves around what is the human soul, or what is it to be human? That is more engaging since science is getting to the point where we will be able to synthetically replicate and augment the human form and body.
- Why all the geisha?: I give the opening scene a pass because they’re in a meeting which could be a Japanese related hostess bar/restaurant although throughout the movie they have a geisha walking down the street, holograms, etc. throughout the city, yet this supposed to be Hong Kong (is their art dept or the audience the dumb ones?).
- The pacing: yea I don’t know if enough of the terminology in film, but I feel the pacing was slow in areas and I felt it was kind of flat in some places.
- The original music score: not only did they not use the iconic music score by Kenji Kawai, but the one that was remixed by Steve Aoki is used only for the end credits.
- Art/design elements: The 1995 anime by Mamoru Oshii’s that influenced the Matrix with the green scrolling code is relegated to the anime only.
I have more, but I’ll keep it at that for now.
In the End…
In the end, they went big with a big name actress, a big budget, and a script that was tweaked from the original to accommodate their casting decision. All done in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience although I believe they should have went smaller. If they had, they would had less money on the line to be able to gamble on an unknown or an Asian/Japanese actress to appeal to the IP’s core fans (District 9 is proof that could work). If they had done this, it could have been a break out hit, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the studio is now enjoying their dismal box office numbers which as of April 9th, is at $31 million domestically and a total of $124 worldwide. With a potential cost over $110 million, that means the likelihood of a sequel with a Motoko Kusanagi and her brand spank’n new Asa Akira Asian shell isn’t likely.
This D+ student gives this movie a B+.
I’ll leave you with something good, the original opening for
Also this is Ash Thorp’s Project 2501 (fan made)