It may seem strange to some of you out there that I watched the live-action American movie rather than the original anime movie when I have access to it but I have a rare opportunity here, to see the live-action remake as intended–to an audience who hadn’t seen the anime or even read the manga the movies are base on–and judge it accordingly. Well, rare for me at least. Americans have a strained relationship with animation, writing the whole format off as “kiddie cartoons” or “subversive animation”. In Japan animation is just another way to tell stories to audiences of any age group. There are still people who don’t watch animated works like there are here. We get so much Japanese animation and so few live-action works that aren’t science fiction (except for game shows and soap opera type dramas I think that’s all we get) that we have a skewed view of anime but it doesn’t have the same stigma it does over here in the US.
Of course Hollywood buys into that because “regular” actors have a hissy fit when an animated movie gets a nomination for a big movie award, hence the “best animated movie” category. To be fair Japan makes live-action versions of their anime and manga as well, but there’s more care to the source material from what little I’ve seen when compared to how US studios adapt comics, video games, and cartoons. That’s a topic for another time but today I want to focus on how well this movie works for those ignorant of the series…or try to. I have seen both seasons of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and very much enjoyed it so I’m not completely in the dark about this franchise. I just feel I can judge it more fairly if I watch this before the anime, which I plan to do tomorrow, with a look at the “2.0” version of the anime on Friday. With that, the obligatory trailer.
RELEASE DATE: 2017
RELEASED BY: Paramount Pictures, Dreamworks, and dear God how many companies and associated companies were involved with this?
RUNTIME: 1 hours, 47 minutes (2 hours for the SyFy TV edit I watched)
DIRECTOR: Rupert Sanders
(yes, they wrote “comic” and not “manga”–SAME THING, PEOPLE!)
GROSS INCOME: $169,801,921 from an estimated budget of $110,000,000
The Plot: Major Mira Killian (Johansson) is one of the best agents Section 9 has in the war on terror and cyber-crimes in a future where technology is literally part of us. Cybernetics is huge to the point that prosthetics are not just for the amputee, they’re a status symbol. Section 9’s current case is Kuze (Pitt), a person who can hack a cyborg’s mind, who is searching for answers as well as revenge on Hanka Robotics, a leader in cybernetic enhancements and the company responsible for saving Mira and giving her a full prosthetic body. However, what Mira thinks is her past really isn’t putting her and her entire team at risk of a dangerous enemy, or revealing the truth about Mira Killian.
Why did I want to see it?: I first watched Stand Alone Complex mostly out of curiosity. The movie is still on the list of anime fans of anime use to introduce others to anime. Anime, anime, anime. Anime. I ended up really enjoying the series but never got to see the movies until this week. I was also curious about one other factor I’ll get into in the next section.
What did I think?: Let’s address the elephant in the room because he’s eyeing my peanut butter sandwich. The main problem fans had with this was a concern that Johansson and most of the cast really aren’t Japanese. It’s not like this is anything new. From horror remakes like The Ring to schlock like Fist Of The North Star or The Guyver it’s not like this was anything new. At this point doing the story right would be amazing. I do understand the concerns about whitewashing because it’s been done so often, but this was designed for an American audience, like those other movies, and even actual Japanese people thinks it makes sense.
Or at least it would if Japanese visuals weren’t all over this movie. Blade Runner came out at a time when people thought Japan was trying to take over because they…I don’t know, perfected the Walkman and had branches in America or something. The Japanese imagery was mixed with Western aesthetics very well. Another example would be Big Hero 6, a previous Finally Watched member, as San Fransokyo is a mix of San Francisco and Tokyo. This might as well be in Japan given advertising holograms are often in Japanese and Aramaki (Kitano), the head of Section 9, speaks only in Japanese. Even Togusa (Chin Han) is played by a Japanese actor, and despite Killian being Irish we learn (SPOILERS) Mira actually did originally have her Japanese name of Mokoto Kusanagi. Granted making her look Caucasian could further hide her Japanese origins but it does feel like they didn’t commit to making the movie fully American. If it was out of respect to the source material, then keep everyone Japanese who was in the manga. If it’s to have a unique visual style, Blade Runner this is not. It feel disjointed. Big Hero 6 does it better. And what is with the giant holograms of people who just seem to be standing there doing nothing or the large fish holograms floating around the city? They look silly.
One other adaptation error I can bring up here (I’m betting I’ll have more when I watch the anime tomorrow) is the concept of the “ghost”, the soul and memories of a person. The movie really fails to address this. From what I know that’s the underlying theme of the franchise, the question of whether a person’s “ghost” is still there if moved to a fully robotic shell. It’s where the name comes from. Here, it’s not really a topic. Dr. Oulette (Juliette Binoche) brings it up and Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), the head of Hanka, blames it for his failures, but that’s it. The question of whether our soul moves with our “cyberbrain” and the nature of humanity is never really addressed, focusing instead on the secret project, and I guess letting the immorality speak for itself. I’ve heard the anime goes a bit long in its philosophical discussions of a “ghost”, which is better paced in Stand Alone Complex as it has the benefit of a two season TV series, but this is too far the other way. The concept is only mentioned just to explain the title of the movie and does nothing with it. Unless SyFy just edited that part out; following the trailer I know they cut short the scene with the Major and the prostitute, which is Mira trying to understand if she’s still human so maybe all the ghost talk was removed as well?
Enough adaptation for a bit, let’s talk about the movie itself. The movie is pretty good. The effects are certain darn good, or they look that way on our TV at least. Those giant holograms still look dumb, but otherwise there are great shots of the city. The spider-tank in the finale is often covered in shadow but it still seems cool. The story itself has decent action and mystery, except we already know Cutter is a jerk so the more we learn about him the less surprised I was. We also don’t get a lot of the POV HUD shot we had in Stand Alone Complex but the effects we get are good. My favorite is when the Major is fighting the gunman in the lake or whatever while cloaked. The stuntman has to be on wires but makes it look like he got smacked around despite not having a Scarlett Johansson standing there pretending to beat the tar out of him.
As for Johansson’s performance it does work. It might come off as cold to the uninitiated but that’s kind of the point. The Major really isn’t in touch with her emotions because of the amnesia and the nature of her prosthetic body as well as her job/”function”. It does match her character in other works. Same for Asbæk’s Batou, as he’s a rather hard shelled guy (though we learn he has affection for stray dogs), but he’s no Richard Epcar, the usual voice of Batou in the anime. Kitano does a good job as Arakami, and proves to be a badass for an old man. I don’t know anything about his movie voice actors but he works compared to his English VA from SAG. Speaking of Stand Alone Complex I’m personally sorry Togusa doesn’t get more to do. While I don’t think the character could carry a full series I loved his stand alone cases. He’s a family man who is fully human (though I assume he at least has some kind of implant to be able to do the “mind-com” thing the others use), but while the fully human part is mentioned and that Togusa doesn’t want cybernetic enhancements but again they don’t do anything with that, which is a shame given the theme of this franchise. I do like Han’s performance, I just wish they had more of it.
Also, no Tachikomas. I am very disappointed in this.
As for the villains of our piece, Kuze is not very threatening. He can turn robots into killer hackers, takes control of a couple of guys (which doesn’t make sense since “cyberbrains”, a computer with a brain stem replacing the rest of the human brain, isn’t a thing in this universe as far as I can tell) and demands information on what was done to him. Compared to the Laughing Man he’s practically tame. Cutter is the usual evil corporation CEO/owner character. Dr. Oulette has a conscience but she doesn’t really contribute a whole lot outside of a moment or two. I’m hoping the anime makes their counterparts more interesting or that SyFy took out way too much in the name of run time…although then I’d have a problem with SyFy.
Was it worth the wait?: Eh. It’s not a bad movie and I wouldn’t talk anyone out of seeing it, but it feels lacking in ways. I don’t care about the lost of nudity, gore, or lesbian kissing but it feels more like the motions than the full experience. I’m only going on the TV show for that but while not a bad movie (I did like how the sunlight only shows up for the happy ending–it works better here than in Man Of Steel) I don’t think it really lives up to what it could have been. The camera shots are there, the story beats are there, but I feel like the…”ghost” I guess works…is missing. Tomorrow I’ll look at the actual anime to see if it lives up to the hype but this isn’t a terrible option. I enjoyed it. It’s just not a great one.