Ghost in the Shell has been one of the most divisive films of at least the last decade, if not further. It’s been a modern-day masterpiece of cyberpunk marketing and vision. Partnerships with bionics companies, and hacking competitions. Tech demos of much of the “concept” tech used in the film, that is actually being developed in our reality. It’s been an incredible ride, that has been completely overshadowed by a continuing plague across Hollywood: whitewashing.
Ever since the initial casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, known simply as the Major in this film, occurred, the people of the world have been up in arms. Another case of Hollywood taking a Japanese property, with what many believe to be Japanese characters, and replacing them with white actors. Truthfully, I grew up with Ghost in the Shell. Watching the film on HBO at 2am when I was 13 years old felt dangerous, and that world was so new to me, it was breathtaking. So, when the casting news dropped, I was disappointed. But then I began to think, and I re-watched the original film, and it occurred to me that many of the characters that are predominantly Japanese are portrayed that way in the film.
Hit the fold to see my spoiler-filled review of the film, and my thoughts on the casting, characters, and updates to the story for the film.
First, let’s do a run-down of the characters. The Major, who is given the name Mira Killian at the beginning of the film to explain her white-ness, is a pitch-perfect rendition of Motoko Kusanagi. She’s emotionless, but exploratory, with a body that she is able to control with extreme precision, but still feels unnatural to her.
Batou is basically one of the best damn characters in the film, as his snark and charisma plays perfectly on screen. Pilou Asbaek does a great job bringing the muscle to life, and still really caring about the Major, along her journey.
Chief Aramaki is portrayed by “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, and is essentially the most badass player in the film. Aramaki is portrayed as more fearless in this film than ever before, even opting to get his hands dirty. Kitano plays the role as smooth as ever, and in a strong world-building beat, speaks Japanese through the entire film, with incredibly stylized subtitles, that work to keep you enthralled.
The rest of Section 9 seems just as good, with Chin Han portraying Togusa just as human as he needs to be, and Saito, though only given a single line, makes full use of it as Section 9’s resident enhanced-sniper. I’m hoping if the film receives a sequel, we see more of the rest of Section 9.
The villains of the film are arguably the weakest point, with Kuze giving up on his villainous ways what seems like a quarter of the way into the film. It’s not long before you discover the Hanka Robotics CEO, Mr. Cutter, is the true antagonist. After creating Kuze in a failed attempt to “shell” a human brain in a full synthetic body. Soon after disposing of Kuze, they successfully create the Major. Kuze immediately becomes a sympathetic figure after the changes to the original start to take place, with the Major and Kuze both being runaways kidnapped by Hanka Robotics for their shelling experiments. This point sets up the revelation that the Major’s real name is Motoko Kusanagi, and before she was kidnapped by a white-owned company, and turned into a white girl, she was once an Asian girl.
Truthfully, I’m not sure how I feel about that adjustment, either. On one hand, it doesn’t seem the most tasteful course to explain away why the Major was cast as a white actor. However, on the other, it makes sense from a story perspective, that a predominantly white company would create a white synthetic body to experiment with. It’s still very disappointing to see it in practice, but I understood right away the implications of the story that they were trying to tell, essentially painting the white man itself as the villain of the film.
There’s a moment late in the story, where the Major tracks down her past, and finds her mother. Motoko Kusanagi’s mother. She talks with her, and learns about her past. Fighting with her mother, and running away from home, only to be caught by Hanka. Her mother was never told what happened, and was simply sent her daughters ashes. It’s an emotional moment that drives home the true antagonists of the film, and does well to set up the final battle that most Ghost in the Shell fans will have been waiting for.
The final battle between the Major and the Spider-Tank is a visual masterpiece, if only for the single shot in which the Major defeats the tank. Jumping onto its back, in an attempt to rip out the brain of the massive tank, she grabs the handles, and pulls. Her muscles strain, and rip. Her back expands, and starts to shred, and using the force of her own body, she rips her synthetic arm off, and successfully destroys the brain, disabling the tank. I legitimately became giddy at that scene, and just how beautifully, and perfectly portrayed it was. That is one of the most iconic, and pivotal scenes in the film, and it was done beautifully.
All in all, I was extremely satisfied with the film. The visuals are incredible, the performances were great, and did well to understand the scope of what they were doing. Turning in many of their best performances in an attempt to do justice to a classic franchise. The whitewashing controversy has certainly overshadowed an otherwise incredible film, but I urge fans of the classic anime/manga to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.