Hollywood and the history of remakes go way back. As other genres and formats, such as animation, began to enter the scene, things got even more intriguing. Remakes have been a part of the industry for a long time and have ranged in quality and critical success, from outstanding to downright terrible. In 2017, another addition was made to Hollywood’s extensive catalogue of remakes when Mamoru Oshii’s cult anime film from 1995, Ghost In The Shell (which was based on Masamune Shirow‘s manga), became the latest contender.
One could argue that Rupert Sanders’ version is not precisely a remake but rather a live-action adaptation, and that would be a valid point. When watching the film, it’s easy to mistake the English filmmaker’s approach as a safe and faithful recreation of the original material.
In any Hollywood adaptation, it is essential to have a recognizable name that can attract audiences to the cinemas. In this case, Rupert Sanders (known for directing Snow White and the Huntsman) made a smart choice by casting Scarlett Johansson. By the time the film was released, Johansson had already gained attention through her performances in Lucy, Her, Under the Skin, and her role as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Her involvement in the MCU likely played a significant role in securing her for the film, considering the marketing advantages it brought. However, it was around this time that problems started to arise.
Before any of the footage or film was released, accusations of “white-washing,” especially with Johansson’s role as the Major, emerged. Many critics argued that the role should have gone to an Asian actress. I’m not going to agree or disagree with that argument. If an Asian actress were to be chosen, who would be perfect for that role?
Actresses like Rinko Kikuchi, Li Bingbing, Zhang Ziyi, and Tao Okamoto were all previously mentioned as potential candidates for the role. These actors have all appeared in Hollywood films, but would they draw audiences worldwide? It’s challenging to say for certain. At the time, Johansson‘s star power certainly contributed to the film’s appeal. However, if an alternative Asian actress who hadn’t yet made a breakthrough in Hollywood were chosen, the biggest selling point would likely be the fact that it is an adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
For anyone unaware of the synopsis of Ghost in the Shell, the story takes place in the near future (specifically, 2029). Humanity and technology have become closely intertwined, particularly through advancements in cybernetics. There is a prevailing belief that these technological enhancements can greatly improve human strength, vision, and intelligence. In this context, Hanka Robotics has been operating covertly, developing the perfect soldier to combat the threats posed by the dangerous criminal underworld.
Mira Killian, a woman who survived a cyber-terrorism attack, becomes Hanka’s “test subject” or shell. Renamed as The Major (Johansson), she discovers that the terrorism has escalated to a new level where hackers can infiltrate people’s minds and control them. As The Major delves into her investigation of this terrorism, she begins to unravel the truth about her own existence, realizing that what she has been told may be a lie.
Sanders‘ world-building in Ghost in the Shell is impressive, as he creates a nightmarish metropolis that perfectly captures the essence of a neo-noir backdrop. While the film may leave an impression in many aspects, it still has its flaws. One might even argue that it is “another attempt by Hollywood to prove that they can turn any great film into a cash cow.” However, as any sensible person knows, not every film needs to be remade. Instead, we should embrace and appreciate the original film.
The 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell does pay homage to Mamoru Oshii‘s animated classic. It includes many familiar scenes, which is ironic considering that the Japanese animator was involved in this adaptation. However, there have been questions raised about Oshii‘s involvement, as he was not a fan of the script. Despite all the controversy surrounding the film, Oshii remains one of the very few defenders of this version.
Ghost in the Shell, despite its blandness, plays it too safe, making one wonder who the film’s actual target audience is. It may feel a little lost in translation, particularly in the final third when it delves into the Major’s origins. While it attempts to explore themes of identity, it leans more towards style over substance. Whatever Ghost in the Shell attempted to achieve, it faced an uphill battle due to the politics it was entangled in even before the first reel played.
Sci-fi, Thriller | UK, 2017 | 15 | Paramount Pictures | Dir.Rupert Sanders | Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Juliet Binoche