This weekend, Hollywood’s live-action remake of the classic Ghost in the Shell anime opened in theatres nationwide. The film has been the subject of intense scrutiny including charges of White-washing related to the filmmakers’ highly-questionable decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the leading role of Major Motoko Kusanagi. (In the Hollywood remake, the character is renamed Major Mira Killian to suit Johansson’s clearly non-Japanese appearance.)
Ghost in the Shell (2017) deserves all the harsh criticism it has received from movie critics and the Asian American community. Supporters of the film object, saying that the White-washing debate is a distraction. In fact, the White-washing controversy is totally relevant; moreover, it is symptomatic of the film’s essential problem: Ghost in the Shell (2017) fundamentally misunderstands its source material.
Whether due to ignorance or apathy, Ghost in the Shell (2017) fails to recognize the key thematic elements of the 1995 anime — Ghost in the Shell (1995) — from which it derives its inspiration. While Ghost in the Shell (2017) faithfully recreates many of Ghost in the Shell (1995)‘s most iconic scenes in breathtaking live-action CGI, Ghost in the Shell (2017) lacks any of Ghost in the Shell (1995)’s philosophical or theological essence. What results is an awful, wooden, lacklustre, and overtly racist live-action remake: a stilted, soulless artifice wrapped in the visually stunning iconography of the Ghost in the Shell anime franchise.
In other words, Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a shell without a ghost. All the good things about Ghost in the Shell (2017) come from the original anime, and all the terrible things are both uninspired and racist.
This review contains spoilers of both Ghost in the Shell (2017) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), as well as a brief spoiler of Ex Machina (2014). Please read on with care.