The 400-Word Review: Ghost in the Shell
By Sean Collier
April 6, 2017
Few tentpole releases are as singularly defined by their controversy as Ghost in the Shell, the long-awaited, live-action adaptation of the popular Japanese franchise. The original manga series by Masamune Shirow has been adapted into a well-regarded animated film and further converted into television series, video games and more features; now that technology has caught up with the imagination of the property, a live adaptation is long overdue.
Yet all that seems to have been said of the film, both on social media and in the industry press, is that it is the latest example of Hollywood’s addiction to whitewashing — and perhaps one of the most egregious. The long-simmering injustice of white actors playing Asian characters dates to the early days of Hollywood and was thrown into sharp relief by Cameron Crowe’s little-seen Aloha and Marvel’s Doctor Strange; as soon as Scarlett Johansson was announced in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell, the film became exhibit A of the continued presence of the unfortunate trend.
So yes — Ghost in the Shell shouldn’t have been made with a white actress in the lead, no matter how strong the performer may be (and, undeniably, Johansson does fine work). What’s more, the film avoids opportunities to apologize for its crime; it would’ve been simple to at least write the character as another race (particularly in a futuristic setting where racial divides seem to have no geographic border, as depicted here), but that’s not the case. In fact, Ghost in the Shell goes out of its way to re-establish the protagonist as Asian, effectively putting a microscope on the offense.
After all of that, is there room to discuss the film’s merits?
Whether or not it’s acceptable to acknowledge Ghost in the Shell as an offender but still try to enjoy it is up to the individual viewer. Should one attempt to enjoy it in spite of the whitewashing, a film of absolutely breathtaking visuals is the reward; in the tradition of Blade Runner and The Matrix, the visual effects applied in Ghost in the Shell are incredible, the superior to anything in recent memory and as potentially groundbreaking as Avatar.
The story is stock stuff and not quite as remarkable, but the look of the film is unforgettable. It deserves to be seen; it would be hard to criticize anyone, however, who chose to ignore Ghost in the Shell.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark