By Luke Hutton (England)
When it comes to Hollywood’s attempt to westernize Asian media – It’s not been a smooth journey.
Some have been pretty bad such as the disaster which was 2009’s Dragonball Evolution based off the Anime and Manga of the same name (I say based…) or 2013’s remake of the South Korean movie Oldboy staring Josh Brolin which was panned across the board by both critics and movie goers alike.
Whereas some have been pretty good like Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill formed the backbone of the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt led action film Edge of Tomorrow and the concept of the Power Rangers would not exist if it was not for the Super Sentai series.
However this mixed bag and some infamous box office flops means that Hollywood hasn’t been too keen on attempting to adapt Asian material. The live action Akira movie has been in development hell since the early 2000’s to say the least and a live action Cowboy Beepop starring Keanu Reeves (yes please) has unfortunately followed suite.
But 2017 appears to be the beginning of some sort of resurgence in Hollywood’s interest in making live action movies on some of Japan’s most popular series:
– Akira appears to be coming to the end of its hell and looks like it might get somewhere soon
– The recent successes of Voltron on Netflix and Saban’s Power Rangers has sped up attempts to make a live action version of Voltron.
– Robert Rodriguez is currently completing an all-star adaptation of Alita: Battle Angel.
– Sword Art Online recently announced a live action TV series is in the works.
– Netflix will be releasing a live action movie of Death Note later this year staring Willem Dafoe as Ryouk (great right?)
– And a live action movie of Robotech is looking to be entering production sooner rather than later.
And to begin this mini trend of western live action movies is 2017 Scarlett Johansson led Ghost in the Shell which in all in all, is a pretty solid adaptation of the source material and a good time at the cinema… but unfortunately not a great one.
Set in the Near Future, the world has accepted cyber enhancements into everyday life. However the Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind, the first human with a full cyborg body. She is then recruited into Section 9, an antiterrorist team of elite individuals who fight cybercrimes, which have also become a norm in this world. But when a new threat arises in the shape of a hacker named Kuze. It’s leads the major down a path to discover her past and that everything is not what it seems…
To say that I was excited for this movie is an understatement. The month before this was released was filled with me binge watching the entirety of the Ghost in the Shell franchise from 1995 film to the 2015 film and everything in between – the most effort I have put into a movie (bar the 12 hour Star Wars marathon for The Force Awakens but that’s something completely different). And as I was watching this movie one thought kept going through my mind – this is faithful. I could easily put it in line with the other iterations of the Ghost in the Shell series as a solid entry, and despite all the controversy surrounding this movie (trust me – there’s a lot) I came out of it unfazed as a fan on the original material.
The main take from this movie is that director Rupert Saunders does an incredible job at capturing the aesthetic of the Ghost in the Shell universe. The futuristic world looks like it was taken directly from the 1995 anime and transferred here. The world painted here draws similarities to that of Blade Runner, a dirty, overcrowded city with large advertisements in the form of Holograms (called Solograms in this movie, fun fact) which looks like an interpretation of what the near future would look like from the eyes of someone living in the 80’s.
The set pieces are also shot gorgeously. Whether it be the iconic scene of the Major jumping off a sky scrapper to infiltrate a hostage situation or fighting a hacked garbage man in some water which looks like it was recreated shot for shot from the original movie (you know what scene I’m talking about) and even the climax of this movie involving a fight against a tank spider which, despite some questionable CGI regarding a jumping scene (which looks worse than the opening for the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), does enough to serve as a satisfying homage to the original material.
The cast, despite some controversy to say the least, do a pretty good job with what they have. Scarlett Johansson does well with the Major portrayed here, someone coming to grips with their own mortality and learning their capabilities in a new body. Pilou Asbæk’s Batou is also pretty good and is a solid support to the Major on her warpath despite not rocking the ponytail from Stand Alone Complex.
The villains also ship in some good shifts. Michael Pitt’s Kuze does quite well and his reasoning behind his plan makes sense, however his character here seems more of a tribute to villains of the past (hints of the Puppet Master from the 1995 film and both The Laughing Man and Kuze from Stand Alone Complex seem to make up his character).
Peter Ferdinando’s Cutter, head of Hanaka, a dodgy organisation (who doesn’t love them, right?) is also a tribute to Stand Alone Complex’s Goda and doesn’t really do anything of value until the final part and feels like a wasted opportunity overall.
Despite these positives however, there are some faults with this movie. The story is a tad plain and the pace slows quite drastically in the middle and despite some casting for Section 9 being pretty spot on, you just don’t get to see them do anything of value as the story focuses on the Major and the politics behind this world too much. I would’ve loved to have seen Saito do a bit more and I can’t actually remember if Ishikawa was actually in this movie, even Togusa, who is regarded as one of the main characters of the series with Batou and the Major, feels wasted. And a plot device introduced to explain the reasoning into why Scarlett Johansson was cast as Major Matoko Kusanagi (you see why there’s controversy now?) is very unnecessary and gives more firepower to the claims of Hollywood whitewashing roles.
The whitewashing controversy around this movie did end up putting a downer on my excitement for this movie. However I understand why it needed to be Scarlett Johansson and the basic reason is, movies are a business. If an average movie goer goes to the cinema and sees a poster with Scarlett Johansson, the highest grossing actress in Hollywood, on it, there’s a larger chance that they will see that movie. At the end of the day – movie studios try to make their money back and whilst I understand the outcry that Asian actresses should be leading these movies, the harsh reality is simply there isn’t any of any notability in Hollywood. When some asks who should’ve played the Major, and their response is, “The girl from Pacific Rim” (Rinko Kikuchi), that basically confirms the point. Despite being arguably a better fit for the role, no one will take that much of an interest in a character who is simply known for a role in a movie which some people really enjoyed (me included), rather by name. And I’m not saying there isn’t a problem – trust me… there is. I’m just saying that a movie which is about to launch a new trend in live action anime adaptations needed the star power to get people to care.
So all in all, this movie is ok. I enjoyed myself more watching this than other movies this year (I’m looking at you Kong: Skull Island) and, despite the controversy surrounding it, I can happily say as a fan of the original material, I was happy with what I saw here and look forward to the upcoming resurgence in Live Action Anime Movies to come…
… Hurry up with Akira goddammit.
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