Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Looking Back at Ghost in the Shell 2017 (Part 2): The Technical Stuff

This was all meant to be one post originally but I had too much to say about the plot so I decided to break it up to spare you, the reader, your precious energy.

The Review

Art Direction

This has to be the best part of the film. Not since blade-runner have I seen a live-action film that so totally owns and revels in 1980's cyberpunk aesthetic. It's perfect and it resembles the GITS world far more than it has any right to. Each scene was filled with colour, wild suppositions of future fashion and holograms, so many holograms (too many if you ask me, but that's nit-picking). Even the cars are largely comprised of retrofitted chassis from 1980's sports cars. Add the shot-for-shot recreations of select scenes from the animation and what you have is something so reminiscent of Masamune Shirow's and Momoru Oshii's aesthetic that it's almost awe inspiring. I was impressed.


Slick cover bro.

Like the visuals, the soundtrack is equally appropriate. I'm not familiar with all the sub-genres of electronic music but the soundtrack features music that you would expect from a film that is selling itself as cyberpunk. Bass-heavy ambient synth and remixed tracks from Oshii's original film make for a compelling atmosphere that suits the visuals to a T. Excellent effort. Again it totally feels like GITS.

Characterisation and Casting (Spoilers Abound)

I think it's important to mention that I've started giving the original GITS manga a serious read-through prior to watching the film. Before now all I had really experienced of the GITS universe was the Oshii animation, it's sequel, and a few episodes of Stand Alone Complex (a more recent anime spin-off). I'm loving the manga. It's amazing and it's stupid I haven't gotten around to reading it until now. That being said, the character of Motoko Kusanagi in the manga is pretty cool. She's cocky, sarcastic, and full of quips for her teammates but she's also an excellent operative and genuinely cares about her people. She's a complex, colourful and multi-faceted character. In Momoru Oshii's animation she's quite a bit more subdued and spends much of her time pondering the human condition and having philosophical conversations with her partners Batou and Togusa. The two likewise being converted from hard boiled comic relief, pictured in the manga, to more brooding and introspective strong, silent types. It's an Oshii thing. If the main cast is subdued in the Oshii film, they are virtually, excuse the term, "white-washed" in the Sanders film. 

This is the only time in the manga that Batou utters the words "GOLLY GEE!", he's using the exclamation sarcastically (not "ironically" since that wouldn't make any sense -- stop the misuse). Hard to imagine Oshii's or Sander's incarnation joking around with the major like this.  
This Major, renamed Mira Killian (I assume to smooth over the race swap -- more on that later) bears little resemblance to either the Masamune or Oshii incarnations (aside from her look which is spot on) and Scarlett Johansson goes into action movie mode reprising her role as Black Widow/Lucy, only less interesting than either of these characters. What we get is a character whose all brooding and no philosophy, who comes across more as a wooden, angsty teenager than a confident and vibrant section 9 operative. However, I believe this has more to do with lack-luster writing than Scarjo's acting ability (more on that later) which is a shame because I really felt like she could have done the character justice if she had better material to work with.

Like much of the rest of the film, she certainly looks the part.
Far more interesting than this iteration of the Major was Batou, played by Pilou Asbæk who, despite having one of the most inconsistent ascents I've ever heard in a film (which might have been intentional) managed to really capture the spirit of the character as he appeared in the Oshii film. Again it's a shame the Major was not given at least the same level of nuance. Some people were claiming that he had been white-washed too but while his name sounds vaguely Japanese, it's actually written in katakana (the Japanese alphabet typically reserved for foreign words) and in the Manga he was formerly a U.S. Army ranger so he could totally be a white guy.

I thought Pilou Asbæk was a pretty good choice at the end of the day, though I must admit, I had no idea who he was until I saw this film. He was in Lucy though, so he's worked with Scarjo before. That's a thing.
Togusa, played by Chin Han, spends some time in the field but has mostly been relegated to a background, suit-wearing HQ desk-jocky-type character who shows up at briefings and says important mission stuff. It's worth mentioning that in the Oshii film and the manga he was the only fully human field operative in section 9, which made for some pretty interesting team dynamics. He's one of two ethnically East Asian characters on the team. The second is Aramaki Daisuke, section 9's chief, played by Takeshi Kitano who is probably one of my favourite directors ever and who I generally like to see in movies. But I must say I'm not sure he was the best choice here. 

The still on the right is actually from GITS Stand Alone Complex which has a different art-style than the Oshii film -- the basis for the Sanders film, which explains why the characters look nothing alike. 
Kitano's style is dead-pan which is something he quite excels at. It's his thing. He sits around for a while and says funny and/or absurd things then eventually gets up and kicks someone's ass. Aramaki, in the source material, is an animated, gutsy, take-no-guff pragmatist, who is "in the shit" almost as much as he calls it. In the film Aramaki spends most of his time behind a desk speaking exclusively in Japanese and gets a fleeting moment of action-oriented badassery near the end. Not the worst and I love me some Kitano, but I'm just not sure if he was the best choice, I feel like he was there mostly to add a Japanese connection to the whole thing to sell it overseas (GITS 1995 was a lot more successful in the west after-all). Still it's fun to see him. Period.

As much as I love Kitano I just don't feel like he's very Aramaki-ish.
There's various other supporting section 9ners who are kind of interesting and resemble some of the supporting characters from the Manga which is neat. They don't get much screen time though.

The section 9ners. I assume this is from a screen test or something because I barely remember the two dudes on the left and there was totally an additional female member in the film. Unless I'm losing it. 
There's also the antagonist, Kuze, a.k.a. Hideo Kuze who, curiously was not featured in the Oshii film or the manga but was lifted from the anime spin-off, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Here he is played by Michael Pitt who does an excellent job of capturing the GITS vibe (his performance is pretty awesome when he finally reveals himself, again, more on this later). You could easily argue he has also been white-washed except that they didn't have the courtesy to change his name (but he's a ghost in a shell too so race doesn't matter, yadda yadda). 

He looks like a lot of things; not sure if a dude named "Kuze" is one of them. Still he was probably the most intriguing character, especially when first unmasked.
Finally to address the elephant in the room to some degree, Rila Fukushima, who had a substantial role in 2013's The Wolverine, and one of two actual Japanese women in the GITS cast is unrecognisable as a robo-geisha. She gets one line in and promptly get's shot by Scarjo's major. It's a pretty perfect metaphor for the problem people have with the casting in this movie, but I won't linger on it as there are way more gaping examples of this problematic in the actual narrative of the film (more on that in the "plot section").

Rila Fukushima as Katana in the Arrow TV series. They probably should have just given her the lead. I know she has a tiny fraction of the star power that Scarjo has but, seeing as how no one saw the film anyway and Scarjo played the role with all the emotion of a toaster, why not? Ah, the power of hindsight. 
Rila Fukushima as a geisha-bot in GITS 2017, featuring a design that no one in their right mind could ever find problematic. (I could write a whopping essay about why the appearance of this character is problematic, especially in the discursive space of American media, but for now I will say this: orientalism pisses people off and ethnically Asian peoples residing in America often get mocked for their facial features -- ergo when people see something like this in a film that's already being accused of white washing, shit's gonna get worse, real fast -- I reiterate, this is an American problem, in this particular case).  
The other Japanese woman in the film is Kaori Mamoi who plays Motoko Kusanagi's mother . . . 

Kaori Mamoi, pictured here in the 2007 movie Sukiyaki Western: Django, a totally-nuts movie which . . . might be better than GITS(?) (depending on what you're into). I just love this picture. 
. . . wait . . . hold on a sec. You mean Mira Killian right? They changed her name in the movie to avoid further controversy right? Since Scarlett Johansson is white and stuff? Like it would be pretty inappropriate to have a white person running around calling themselves Motoko Kusanagi and trying to pass themselves off as Japanese person in film made in 2017 am I right? Like, it could bring back uncomfortable memories of "less-enlightened" by-gone eras in American film . . . Right guys? . . . Guys?


 *Ahem* Alright! Let's look at the plot! . . . in part 3 -- the review comes to a head. 

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