Picoreview: Ghost in the Shell

Picoreview: Ghost in the Shell: I think it’s probably the kind if thing you’re going to like if you’re going to like it and the kind of thing you’re not going to like if you’re not going to like it.

I apparently decided the hill to die on was “female-led films need to do well at the box office” rather than “whitewashing is evil” and went to see it last night. Having only seen the anime once, and not having particularly cared for it and remembering almost nothing about it except a handful of iconic images, I thought it…wasn’t bad. It didn’t seem good, either, but then, I didn’t like the original, so.

The visuals were good. Excellent, even. Scarlett Johansson’s bodysuit/shell, in contrast to my recollection of the anime, is the least sexy thing I’ve ever seen. I suppose really enthusiastic teenage boys might be titilated by it, but seriously, it utterly lacks in titilation. I loved Johansson’s body language: she moved like a tank, stiff and unconnected to her shell, which was exactly right for the process that created her. I thought she went through a reasonable emotional story arc, although I kind of felt that Pilou Asbæk really did a fair amount of heavy lifting for the film’s emotional arc, without having all that much time on screen. He was good.

I don’t really know how to feel about the casting. From my perspective, as a white American lady, it was a problem. My vague understanding is that while many people in Japanese fandom (which is to say people who are fans in Japan, not of Japan) would have *liked* an Asian actress in the role, they didn’t expect one and figure Johansson’s at least got star power. On the third hand, the Major isn’t drawn as particularly Japanese in the anime, and there’s story stuff related to that. So I just don’t know. I personally would have liked an Asian actress in the role, but at the same time I didn’t feel that Johansson was badly cast.

A couple of very minor spoilers, more or less regarding the casting, behind the cut.

I knew going in that the Major’s original self was Japanese, and I expected her first words–perhaps all her words!–to be in Japanese, and felt they’d really screwed up by giving her English as her primary language. Given that her mother, when introduced, speaks English with an accent, there’s no reason for the Major to sound like a Nowhere In Particular American, and I was never convinced that her “code” would have been rewritten/able to have been rewritten to the degree that she believed English was her first language.

In fact, only one character (Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano, who was terrific) consistently spoke Japanese. He was a member of the Japanese government rather than an employee of the Hanka corporation, which is presumably why he defaulted to Japanese and nobody else did, but I really thought the Major should speak Japanese. And, arguably, that everybody else should have too, since they were, you know, operating in Japan.

The film seemed so *thoroughly* set in Japan that there appeared to be no particular reason for everybody to be white, but oddly enough, I actually thought the Major (and the terrorist) were the two that, with one sentence of explanation, could have been most logically in a non-Japanese (or, more broadly, non-Asian) shell: they’d had their memories wiped and had been lied to about their origins. I could have plausibly accepted that the decision to give them _completely different_ outward physical appearances was intended to help _totally break_ their mental associations from who they’d been to who they now were. So I spent the whole movie waiting for that one line of explanation and it never came.

So, y’know, I don’t know. I thought it was okay, which is what I thought about the original, so…*spreads hands*