Thursday, June 15, 2017

Looking Back at Ghost in the Shell 2017 (Part 3): The Plot and My Conclusion

The Plot (biiiig spoilers)


Most of this is from my memory. I watched the film a couple of weeks ago by this point so not everything might be in the right order or exactly correct . . . still, I assure you this is more-or-less how it went down. 

Off to do section 9 stuff. This is Batou before he gets his eye mods.
First off the story presents ghost/shell technology as being something new and totally revolutionary in this world. This means that the Major is the only ghost in a shell in the film, or so we are lead to believe. In Oshii's animation and Masamune's manga just about everyone is section 9 is a ghost in a shell except Togusa and (I believe) Aramaki. 

Making the major exclusive to ghost/shell technology sucks in a few ways. Firstly the hard sci-fi stuff that permeates the manga and anime concerning complex details and questions surrounding the then commonplace ghost/shell technology, which made Ghost in the Shell and Oshii's animation such a unique (for the time) fan favourite is mostly gutted. This renders most of the cyberpunk elements purely aesthetic -- it's cyberpunk because there's robots and future cars and holograms and stuff, but the larger themes (corporate power and overreach, A.I. ethics, SCIENCE! etc.) are mostly glossed over. I get that not everyone gives a crap about cyberpunk and the film biz is a numbers game but it's what makes GITS, GITS. 

The only ghost.
Second, this means that, as the Major is the only ghost in a shell, the focus opts to shift from a deeply introspective story about what it means to be human and in ever-technologically advancing world, to her own personal search for self identity which, unfortunately for this film, is an overdone cliche at this point, and has been done better elsewhere (many critics have compared it to the Bourne Identity). What you get is the Major wondering around looking confused and complaining, for much of the first half of the film, that she is lonely because she is the only one of her kind -- "no one understands me!". It doesn't help that Scarjo delivers most of her lines in deadpan.

The film starts in a scene that is reminiscent of the first scene of Oshii's animation, wherein the major and other section 9ners are staking out an important meeting of shady business/government types at an exclusive club/restaurant/lounge populated with robot geisha -- presumably, at least partially designed after model and actress Rila Fukushima. There's some deal going on when the geisha-bots start going nuts and attack the diners. One of them is a big-wig at Hanka Robotics, a conglomerate that has a hand it most of the things happening in the film. The geisha-bot plugs into his brain and starts stealing company secrets (maybe). The major, in stealth camouflage, bursts into the restaurant through a window and starts taking down geisha-bots. The rest of section 9 takes the stairs. Geisha-bots are dispatched (exit Fukushima) and it is revealed that some sinister hooded hacker-man is responsible. Who is he?!    

It ain't cyberpunk without shady corporations. Check.
Next we see a bit of the Major's construction and inception into section 9. It is made clear that she is a technological marvel, the first fully functional synthetic body or "shell" with a human brain or "ghost" at the helm. Her past is foggy. She, along with her parents, were supposedly killed in an explosion deemed an act of terrorism, but her brain survived and was used for this project. She takes medicine to ensure her brain does not reject the new body she's been given (this is important later). She's also having weird visions from time to time of what looks to be a traditional Japanese shrine on fire. Could they be from her past life? Perhaps, but who knows for sure?! The Major wants answers.

The Major scans the brain of the one of the geisha-bots and finds that it has been tampered with, in the backroom of a shady yakuza-run establishment! Heavens! Queue the obligatory beatin'-up-the-yakuza-in-a-bar scene. They find the hooded-man but alas, he is but a hologram.

Who is that sinister minister?!
More existential crisis and scenes of the major being sad, confused, lonely, emotionless. Exposition about her back-story. A section 9 science person is attacked and vital information is stolen! It was the hacker-man, probably. Some, garbage men are doing garbage man stuff, but also one of them is hacking phones cause he wants to spy on his wife whom he suspects is cheating. Section 9 is on their trail and the garbage men suddenly get "ghost hacked" (they don't actually call it ghost hacking in the film but in the Anime and manga it's a thing that is highly illegal -- wait . . . how can they get "ghost hacked" if the Major is the only "ghost" . . . ?). The major chases one of the garbage men. They have a fight that is a shot-for-shot recreation of a scene from Oshii's film -- quite visually impressive I might add.

The garbage man is captured! Section 9 interrogates him. Turns out he has no wife! The memories were implanted by the mysterious hacker-man so the garbage man would hack into stuff as a sort of surrogate. Once again . . . how is this possible if the Major is the only "ghost"? How can they hack peoples brains?! They don't explain this. I suppose we are expected to believe that since people have various bodily augmentations (including neural) it simply stands to reason that these augmentations have interfaces that can be hacked. Still, implanting memories is a pretty big jump. They explained stuff like this in the manga and anime but in the movie it's just a thing we are expected to swallow -- suspension of disbelief and all that -- "Okay so they can hack people's brains. Cool."  

The garbage man fight live vs. animation. It's pretty cool that they recreated the scene so faithfully, but I have to question the point of doing so. I mean I can always just watch the original animation, which is more impressive in many ways since everything is hand drawn and expertly animated.
So now they have a trail to follow. They figure out where the hacker-man might be hiding, "let's get him!" they say, and section 9 is dispatched to find the bad guy. He's hiding in a spooky warehouse. During the raid the Major goes off on her own cause she see's something shiny and gets tasered or something. She wakes up restrained in some rig. The hacker-man is there and finally lifts his hood. He resembles a beat-up android, and his name is Kuze and he explains through much exposition that he was a prototype of the ghost/shell program that resulted in the Major and that he also has visions of a burning shrine-like structure. *gasp* So there is another! Turns out Hanka robotics has not been on-the-level and had been acquiring people's brains from somewhere to try to figure out this ghost/shell thing and Kuze is just one of the many failed prototypes.

This is actually a really cool scene. Kuze is awesomely unsettling since he's a basically a failed experiment that doesn't "work" quite right. He speaks in monotone and his voice skips and stalls periodically, like a buffering video or a CD skipping. His appearance is pretty interesting too as his shell has not been properly maintained by registered Hanka technicians and bits of him are missing or have been jerry rigged. Very Oshii-esque.

Kuze might be the best part of the film. He's also, curiously, a white guy named Kuze.
So where do these brains come from? Kuze can't remember exactly since he doesn't remember who he was before he became "ghosted" (not a dating term in this case, obviously), but he does remember a shrine-like building and that his name was Hideo Kuze and that Motoko Kusangi (whut!?) is an important name. He also recommends that the Major stop taking the drug that is supposed to help her synchronise with her "shell" because it actually suppresses memories.

The Major stops taking her medicine and starts digging up info about her past-life. Turns out maybe her parents weren't killed in an explosive terrorist plot after-all. Her investigation leads her to a mysterious apartment, with a mysterious Japanese woman. Who is she?! She is . . . get ready for it . . . the mother of Motoko Kusanagi!

Wait . . . huh? Motoko Kusanagi, is the name of the Major in the original film and manga, I thought they changed it in this version to Mira Killian cause whiteness and things.

Yeah . . . that's what I thought too.

I couldn't find an actual still of Kaori Mamoi from the film . . . but someone made this which is kind of funny. The resemblance is uncanny . . . no, not it is not.
SO. The Major -- played by Scarjo, talks to this mysterious Japanese woman, Mrs. Kusanagi, who tells her she had this daughter named Motoko, who most certainly was a young Japanese girl -- her meticulously preserved room is full of Japanese dolls and traditional chotchkies and the like -- who was spirited and artsy, and ran away from home one time and never came back. Mrs. Kusanagi believes she's still alive somewhere and suddenly pauses and says, looking strait at Scarjo, "You remind me of her . . ." Scarjo thanks her and leaves, "Won't you come visit me again?" she says. . . . OH MY GOD! THE MAJOR IS ACTUALLY MOTOKO KUSANAGI AND HANKA ROBOTICS JUST CHANGED HER NAME WHEN THEY GHOSTED HER!!! (apologies for the all-caps -- very plebeian *ahem ahem* -- this is what was happening in my mind as I was watching).

After that, the Major confronts the doctor who created her who up until then was sort of like a mother figure to her and her and Kuze team up. They figure out the shrine-thing was a place they used to hang out in, in their past lives in the slums with other street kids. It was on fire cause it got raided by Hanka goons who kidnapped Kusnagi, Kuze and the others for ghost/shell experiments. They eventually take on a shady Hanka CEO and his spider tank in a scene that resembles the climax of the Oshii film. Kuze is killed by the bad guy and the final scene has her brooding in front Motoko Kusanagi's grave stone before she goes rogue and takes off. But by then I didn't really care all that much because I couldn't stop thinking about how the script essentially took the elephant in the room and kicked it square in it's elephant-nuts so it started rampaging around and wrecking the place -- as elephants do when they get angry.      

The inclusion of tachikomas would have made this movie better.
So let's rewind a bit. The Major, Mira Killian, is actually Motoko Kusanagi. Hanka robotics kidnapped her and used her brain and reprogrammed her as Mira Killian, and gave her a new body in the process. Okay. So you remember the original controversy surrounding this film was that people were complaining that the Major's character was supposedly white-washed. Well in the film they literally white-washed her! You'd think the writers, producers, directors would, ya know, want to try to smooth over the controversy so more people would watch the film, but instead they frickin' wrote it into the script! Kuze, Hideo Kuze's shell is also modelled after a Caucasian man, so we can assume that he was also white-washed, literally, by Hanka Robotics!

So they made this meme generator type thing to promote the film and people kind of went nuts with it. Like, holy crap, there was so much of this all over twitter. I can't say I agree with all of these 100% and a lot of them target Johansson specifically, which I think is kind of unfair. I mean expect my actors to act, not be champions of social justice. Incidentally she didn't do much of that either as far as the film is concerned -- I chalk it up to the writing.  

This makes for some pretty gaping plot holes as well as greatly exacerbates the problem most people had with this film in the first place, which, from a narrative and marketing point of view is ridiculous and pretty stupid. There isn't even justification for this "stylistic choice" offered in the narrative and since Kuze and Mira Motoko Killian Kusanagi are the only examples of the ghost/shell project we have to go on, we are forced to assume that this is just what they do. The ghost/shell technology is also totally new in this story, so the whole "race doesn't matter in this context cause consciousnesses aren't fixed to a physical form (or whatever)" defence doesn't even hold up.

On paper you have this movie about a robotics company who is essentially kidnapping random Japanese street-kids and turning them into synthetic white people via some brand new project for no discernible reason. At least if there was a narrative explanation offered it would offer fans of this film some ammo with which to combat it's critics, but it doesn't. To make matters worse, the original subject matter didn't even have this. These elements were part of the original screen play!

They, seemingly, inadvertently made a film about white-washing in the most literal sense! It's hilarious! It's awful! It's insulting! It's racist! IT HURTS MY BRAIN! I was expecting to be like "well the controversy sucked, but the film was kinda cool and stuff" -- like, watching it would have made everything better or at least a bit more bearable, but instead it just made everything worse! The controversy is just smacking you in the face through the whole ending like wet rubber glove (or some other cruder appendage) so you can't even ignore it if you tried. (I understand this is likely not the mental experience everyone had watching this film but I can't get over it).  

So In Conclusion:

The producers wanted Scarjo, she's a big draw after-all, so they had her written into the script. People didn't like it cause she's white and they figured Motoko Kusanagi should be played by a Japanese woman and Hollywood has an uncomfortable history of dodging minorities when it comes to casting. The studio (supposedly) said, "it's cool, we're gonna give her make up so she looks kinda Asian (so, uh, yellow face? Seriously? Good lord . . .) and we're changing her name to Mira Killian, so no worries." Then they literally made a film about a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi being turned into a white woman named Mira Killian. "Yeah! That'll shut em up! Not controversial at all! What's all this fuss about?" (NRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrg.) Tone-def is an under statement. You would have to be woefully ignorant of the current zeitgeist to fopaux this hard. It's mind boggling and I think I might have given myself a concussion and a broken orbital from all the face palms. So very, very stupid and unnecessary.        

You'd think that if you were making movie for tonnes of money, money that you needed to recoup, and people were causing a ruckus about it you'd, ya know, maybe look into it and try to understand why people were so pissed off? So you could get as many people to see this thing as possible? Maybe try to placate some of the angry mobs? But no . . . no attempt whatsoever. After the film bombed the producers were quoted as saying that "maybe the controversy had something to do with it" (paraphrased). Yeah maybe, that and the fact the story was as recycled as a hipster's grocery bag. In any case I'm convinced that this controversy could have been avoided by an afternoon of internet browsing. But "Hollywood don't care, Hollywood got things ta do, Hollywood got focus groups to monitor." For an industry that relies on the masses for income, they seem to be pretty good at ignoring sizeable and noisy segments of them. Social conundrums aside, it's extremely frustrating to watch from a logical stand-point. This is bad business.                  

And that's all folks! I really just wrote this review so I could rant about the ending (seriously; I also like writing). Despite the ridiculousness of this film, it's worth mentioning that its fairly entertaining in its own right. The action, the cinematography, the costumes, were all pretty neat. The film likely wouldn't have done very well even if a Japanese woman was cast in the lead, but honestly they probably would have made a bit more money back, cause quite a few people boycotted this film cause of the casting choice (face palm again) -- and Scarjo really didn't add much to in the end. Tragic really. So I mean, if you're wanting to watch this film out of pure curiosity and you don't really care about the controversy and stuff, then yeah, I guess you could do a lot worse to fill a rainy afternoon. The film, is mediocre, but the way the studio handled the controversy was abysmal. Also if you haven't seen any other GITS stuff, watch that instead. It's better.

Join me next time, when I talk/rant about something else that is in no way related to Ghost in the Shell.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Read the manga, it's good, and it's not ridiculously long like most manga.

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