Anime to live action? Is that something that can be done, right?
This is the age old question that, to die-hard anime fans, will never be a reality. Then again, there are some fans like myself who believe that anime to live action can be done justice if given the right circumstances, which most of the time hasn’t been the case.
I have known and been a fan of Ghost in the Shell for many years now, and I've become a more passionate fan in the past couple of years since I did research on the director of the 1995 anime film who is Mamoru Oshii. To give a brief history of Ghost in the Shell, you should probably go read what I already posted about it late last year so it saves time re-explaining everything. But to sum up, it’s a future where cybernetics are everywhere and for everyone, and it focuses on an organization combating cybernetic crimes.
Ghost in the Shell follows Major Motoko Kusanagi, a fully cybernetic being that must take down a hacker threatening powerful people in the government, and she must stop them. The 1995 film adds in elements of action and philosophical ideology on what defines humanity and looking into the future of where technology has taken us today. To older anime fans, Ghost in the Shell is still a staple of a fantastic film, and to newer fans, it is a must-see if they’re to dive deeper into their roots as anime fans. Now 20 years later, it was finally time for this film to be adapted to live action, regardless if people wanted it to be or not.
With the new Ghost in the Shell movie being released, this issue comes up once again about the fandom and moral conflicts of making a highly praised anime film and turning it into live action box office bomb. There seems to be one major issue that is over-arcing all the other issues in the live action film: Twitter won't shut up about Hollywood Whitewashing.
When I first heard that Scarlet Johansson was cast to play the Major in this film, I certainly didn’t see a problem with it. Heck, I thought she would be good for the role. In my mind, she proved herself as a strong female actress that can play the tough girl in action movies. Based on how I saw her handle her character in the Avengers films as Black Widow, I thought she would be a great fit for Major Motoko Kusanagi.
I NEVER saw Johansson for her skin tone as any issue when she was cast for Ghost in the Shell as the main character. My first thought was whether as an actress would she be able to pull the role off or not. I even thought of how her personality and demeanor as a strong female lead would blend with Major Kusanagi, and I thought Johansson would fit the role rather nicely. The criticisms at the time that I remember hearing about was the usual fare of “Why does there has to be a live action Ghost in the Shell?”
I feel that people need to complain about their thoughts on an anime to live action adaptation were warranted because that is the usual fare from the anime community. However, I don’t particularly remember the term “whitewashing” ever being a main issue, or anything related to skin tone. Thanks to the world of Twitter, who take pride in knowing this film is bombing hard, they seem to be up at arms to end racism, by of course bringing up race firsthand.
I can go and say with my head held high, that this isn’t a good movie. It is far from a good film and far from the best adaptation. However, I think the film did its best in what I was expecting from it, which I was content with. I would give this film strong praise if it exceeded my already low expectations going into it as nothing more than a mediocre popcorn action flick, which I knew it was going to meet those expectations.
But to say this is “The Worst Anime to Live Action Adaptation” (or better yet WORST FILM EVER!) is a complete and utter worthless statement. I have seen bad films, and bad anime to live action adaptations, and this to me is far and away from being the worst out there. If you want to talk about worst, come talk to me about my thoughts on Aeon Flux, or better yet, Dragonball Evolution. Oh, did you forget that pile of putrid shit? Well, I’ll be more than glad to remind you of how that went down.
The one thing I will give this film full praise on will be its visuals. The people who worked on the designs for this film wanted to do their best in recreating iconic scenes from the 1995 film, which I felt was fantastic on the work they put into it. The city landscape was a busy, futuristic environment while still trying to maintain the ally’s and streets from the original film, which showcased a futuristic utopia with gritty Hong Kong back ally’s from the original film. The visuals are what I was looking forward too, and I felt that the recreation of those in this film is the strongest points of the live action movie.
The issues I had with the film was already things I wasn’t going to get upset over, and that was bringing in some of the best philosophical ethos of humanity and how cybernetics would impact mankind. Although that is one of the strongest points in the original film, it is also rather confusing when someone was to first watch the original. It was for me when I first saw it at 16, and it will be the same from the average moviegoer seeing this film.
The original film is impressive since you can gain more about what the underlying message is trying to say the more you watch it, whereas in this live action film, the film's ethos is straight forward, and not a lot of mental diving is involved. As much as I wanted the original film's themes to be transitioned to live action, it wasn’t going to happen or be retold accurately, but it’s able to get some viewpoints out there that work on a simple scale.
Not to avoid the 10,000-pound elephant in the room, let's get into that whole issue of whitewashing. The film doesn’t even try and hide that the Major is a white female, but explains why she is, which is pretty much why there is so much fury over this movie. The Ghost in the Shell humanistic message about what truly defines a person is about a person's mind and spirit inside a body that defines them being a human and not so much on what people see them as on the outside.
In the original film, the body (or shell) is defined as a host for the ghost, but one of the moral elements defined by the antagonist in the film is that with the net being vast and infinite, a person can exist on there without a body, and if need be transplanted themselves into another body. Based on that ideology, we can even look at our own bodies as the hosts of our minds and souls, that just so happen to be in whatever color skin you are born into. So if you’re able to leave your body to go into another one, while maintaining your own self in mind and spirit, what value does your current body really hold?
If people agree with that idea, then why is race such an issue? Isn’t a person's self-value defined by their own individual worldview, beliefs, and ideas rather than the color of skin? Wouldn’t it be more important for a person’s existence to be known by others and not by one's skin pigmentation, but by their worth to the world in what they did to make it a better place? These were the ideas I’ve interpreted from the original film in what Mamoru Oshii was trying to question, which I believe a person's lifestyle and actions are what determines their worth, not the color of skin. And if this is a solid belief to follow, then why go after this film for “whitewashing”? If anything, if people really saw the original film, they would know that the characters weren’t Asian looking at all; they all had some very tan and white skin.
I can’t do a whole lot in changing the already perceived mindset on why this film isn’t doing that well, but all I can say is I have no issue defending the criticisms this film is receiving for all the wrong reasons. There are issues with this film that makes this not a great film, but the media doesn’t really care all that much about that. It’s about how white people are evil. Period. If you wanna know what really went wrong, I was talking with a friend of mine who pointed out a solid point that seems NO ONE is addressing, and that is marketing. My friend felt that this film was poorly marketed to the general audience, because how would the general audience know of the source material from something that came out 20 years ago (that was already adapted from another source) that only anime fans knew of?
Ghost in the Shell was a hit in some ways, but not to the general populous at that time. Even bad movies do well at the box office if they are marketed well, just look at those Transformers films. The difference from Transformers and Ghost in the Shell is that Transformers was well marketed at the time it came out (talking about the 1980’s cartoon), which everyone knew more about than Ghost in the Shell. That to me is one of its major flaws.
This is what I wanted to say about Ghost in the Shell. If you’re going to hate the film, hate it for the right reasons, and not based on color.