In more ways than one, the cinematic, live-action adaptation of the seminal Japanese anime, Ghost in the Shell has attracted its fair share of attention.
The controversy surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson is deserved. Yes the character of Major, like many Japanese anime characters, looks Caucasian. Japan’s own troublesome (to say the least) history with racism is a complex one worthy of a substantial critical analysis all on its own and is best served by people far more qualified than some dim, English yeoman from North Manchester.
Nevertheless, considering her Japanese identity is such an important part of the character, the casting of Johannsson marks the worst kind of corporate, Hollywood whitewashing.
Excuses such as “her identity isn’t based on race” or needing a “star” to make money no longer cut ice. The likes of Gods of Egypt – an entertaining failure at least – and Ridley Scott’s Exodus Gods and Kings were commercial catastrophes. Doctor Strange, or Inception for Idiots as it should also be known, booked the trend to an extent but earned money off the Marvel name more than anything.
Ghost in the Shell is set to be another commercial failure, barely scraping over half of its budget in the opening week. After now seeing it myself, I don’t imagine any repeat viewings will be in order to top up Paramount’s coffers anytime soon.
For such compelling source material, this live action feature, is life-threateningly dull.
The runtime only goes 106 minutes but it feels three times as long. A simpering, morkish screenplay is the root of its problems, assisted by director Rupert Sanders, who helmed the equally as dull Snow White and The Huntsman. At no point does it ever manage to grapple with the hefty themes of the story, representing Japan’s symbiotic relationship with technology. An obsession which replaced its military one after being beaten and emasculated by the Americans.
The dialogue, particularly in Johansson’s Major, feels forced and lacks authenticity. It is trying to represent her struggle between her artificial self and her human side. Instead, its dialogue seemingly written for human’s by a rudimentary software program from the 1980’s. Its stodgy stupidly robotic and not doing any favours for the film’s apex star, who has proved to be more than capable in these more inhuman roles before such as the excellent Under the Skin (Dir: Jonathan Glazer) and the utterly bonkers Lucy (Dir: Luc Besson).
Very obvious comparisons to vastly superior films do not help. The likes of Bladerunner, Dredd, Robocop, Ex Machina and another Besson feature, The Fifth Element are similarly authentic and more relatable imaginings of our future. Beautiful, vast cities but with their fair share of filth, degradation and deprivation. Japan of the near future feels like a weightless exercise in simulated city building. A setting to match the rather threadbare plot.
There are positives to the film for all its problems. The finale with ED-209’s eight legged cousin is pretty entertaining and the ever excellent Clint Mansell produces what will probably be the best musical score for any film this year, blending classical with rising, pounding electro.
Moreover, the support cast delivers strong performances. Pilou Asbæk gives the film much-needed heart and Takeshi Kitano utterly dominates the screen as section chief Aramaki. Proof that some of the casting was bang on and Michael Pitt as Kuze provides a far more watchable counterpoint to Johansson’s one-paced display.
It isn’t that Ghost in the Shell is a bad film, it isn’t. Unfortunately it isn’t any bloody good either and considering the wealth of source material to work with, it is a desperate disappointment.