Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Ghost in the Shell (3 Stars)

This film is based on a Japanese comic with the same name. Animated films based on the comic were released in 1995 and 2004. This is the first live action version of the story.

During the development of the film there was severe criticism of the choice of Scarlett Johansson as the lead actress. This is criticism that I agree with. The main character, referred to as Major Mira Killian or simply Major for most of the film, is a Japanese woman called Motoko. Why, why, why wasn't a Japanese actress picked for the role? A much better choice for the role would have been Rila Fukushima, who actually appears in the film in a minor role. Critics have accused Hollywood of white-washing, the practise of casting white actors as non-white characters. which has been done ever since "Birth of a Nation" in 1914. White-washing is a form of racism, but I don't consider the Hollywood studios acted out of racism. They picked Scarlett Johansson because she's a popular actress and they thought adding her name to the cast would make the film a hit. I don't accept that as an excuse. Whatever the reason, white-washing is despicable as a practise and should be banned.

I consider the converse act of black-washing, i.e. choosing black actors to play white characters, to be equally bad, even though less people complain about it. There's a certain level of hypocrisy in modern liberal thinking. If someone complains about Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi it's okay, but if someone complains about Idris Elba playing a Norwegian God he's called racist. So-called liberals need to look at themselves in the mirror before making one-sided complaints.

The film takes place in a fictional Japanese city in the middle of the 21st Century. Technology has advanced to the state that humans can be enhanced by having body parts replaced with synthetic alternatives. This might be a necessary medical procedure, such as receiving new eyes after being blinded. It might also be vanity, such as getting longer legs if you want to be taller. A company called Hanka Robotics takes it one step further. A human brain is placed into a completely synthetic body. After a series of experiments Motoko aka Mira Killian is the first success. Sometimes the body and the face look like a jigsaw puzzle, as in the picture above. At other times the cracks disappear and she almost looks like a real woman. Almost but not quite. She looks like a Barbie Doll with all the naughty bits removed, i.e. the breasts and the genitals are completely smooth. It must be terrible for a living, feeling woman to be neutered in this way, but this is a topic not raised in the film. If it were done to me as a man I wouldn't want to live any more.

Mira is recruited by an anti-terrorism police force. Her perfect body makes her a valuable asset in law enforcement. She's a loyal agent, until she has to track down a terrorist killing the scientists responsible for her creation. When she meets him she begins to doubt whether she's fighting on the right side of the law.

The film's biggest weakness is its setting. It takes place in a high tech world with glittery flashing lights and building sized holograms. Rather than enhance the background they're a visual annoyance, distracting from what's happening in the foreground. Just as annoying are scenes that pixellate to represent glitches in Mira's vision. With the exception of Mira herself the characters are poorly developed. The film's bad guy, Dr. Cutter, the head of Hanka Robotics, is as bland and anonymous as the company he represents.

The film makes a brave attempt to tell a good story, but in the end it fails. "Ghost in the Shell" should have remained on the pages of the comic book, where it belongs.

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