Eclectic Voices

Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More

The Ghost in the Adaptation Controversy

Thoughts by Sean M. Kozma

Unless you live under a rock that doesn’t have wifi, or are otherwise completely disconnected from current pop culture, you’re probably aware of the recently released adaptation of Ghost in the Shell that hit theaters earlier this month, and the attendant controversies it has generated. For you rock-dwellers, Ghost in the Shell is a live-action remake of a Japanese high-concept science fiction anime, starring Scarlett Johansson as a cyborg police officer pursuing an elusive hacker/assassin in a futuristic city. The movie generated controversy almost from the moment it was announced, both for being yet another in the now endless stream of Hollywood remakes, but also for Johansson’s casting in yet another recent high profile case of Hollywood whitewashing (or worse, yellow-facing) of an Asian character (to say nothing of denying a lead role to an Asian actor). So much controversy was generated, in fact, that if you haven’t seen it in theaters by the time this piece is published, it might be too late.

All of that being said, my dad, who is a fan of science fiction but is not particularly invested in the various minutiae of pop culture, had managed to survive blissfully unaware of any of that. He had no idea the movie was a remake, and he had no idea that the movie was at all controversial. All he knew was that he had seen the trailers, thought it looked really interesting and exciting, and he wanted to see it. And since this sort of film is not typically my step-mom’s cup of tea, this meant he wanted to see it with me. Which is how I wound up seeing a film almost everybody else I know was deliberately avoiding.

Since I knew my father was in the dark about all these issues, and he was genuinely interested in and excited by the film, I saw no reason poison that for him. I decided I would talk to him about the controversies if he discovered them on his own, but wouldn’t inform him of them myself. A couple of different times before our viewing, he asked me if I knew anything about the movie, and both times I gave a rather non-committal non-answer, which he never pursued. My dad managed to walk into Ghost in the Shell as possibly the only fresh set of eyeballs on the piece in the entire world, and that alone was worth the price of admission.

And you know what? He liked it. A lot.

And I kinda did too.

Visually, it reminded my father of one of his other favorite films, Blade Runner, which is only natural given that both the original anime and the live-action remake were consciously modeling Blade Runner‘s look. Thematically, Ghost in the Shell shares much in common with Ridley Scott’s masterpiece as well. Both stories delve heavily into the meaning of humanity, consciousness, and the man/machine interface.

But what about those controversies?

I also re-watched the anime in preparation for writing this piece. Yes, in a lot of ways, the Hollywood remake was considerably “dumbed-down” for American audiences, but to be perfectly honest, the dialogue (in the dubbed version, at least) is quite dry and on the nose. And the story is a little hard to follow. It’s filled with long stretches of nothing but slow-moving visuals and eerie music. Other parts are just characters sitting static and pontificating about the story. Even back when I first saw it, as much as I liked it, I also thought it was kind of boring in parts.

As for the whitewashing?

Yeah, that’s a problem. Scarlett Johansson’s role could have and probably should have gone to a Japanese actress. But at the same time, Major Kusanagi’s body in the anime looks kinda white. Seriously, watch it again. More than any other member of her combat team, Major Kusanagi’s body is entirely synthetic. The only original organic part of her is her brain, and even that’s augmented. All of this is something Johansson herself tried to point out in press interviews for the film. Even though the character she plays is named Motoko Kusanagi, she’s still an entirely synthetic body.

I finally told my dad about the various issues with the movie as we talked about it afterward, and he found it interesting. When I described the original to him, and what it was about, he said that was more or less what he got from the remake, so as far as he was concerned, it succeeded. I told him the original is available streaming (currently on Hulu), and that he should check it out some time, but I’m not sure he’ll like it as much. Like a lot of anime films, it can be a little harder to relate to. Many anime by nature are just so culturally Japanese that they are less accessible to American audiences. Anime fans don’t have a problem with this, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the movie-going public has similar tastes.

So while I probably would have otherwise been among the rest of my friends who more or less refused to see Ghost in the Shell, thanks to my dad’s excitement, I gave the film a shot. And while I don’t want to downplay the problems with the movie, I have to say that I enjoyed it. Both writing a good original screenplay and adapting someone else’s material are a lot harder than they look. I too wish they had cast a Japanese actress, but at the same time I like ScarJo as an actor, and I can’t say I’m happy to see a film she leads bomb so heavily. It gives producers who are already skeptical of women-led films that much more ammunition when looking for excuses to not make the next one.

Sean Kozma has spent the last decade working in theater and live sound in Los Angeles. He has been developing his voice as a writer for several years with the Eclectic Voices writer’s group, and he has written several short fiction pieces for the Eclectic Voices online magazine. He is working on a handful of short stories for publication, as well as his first novel.

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2017 by in Blog and tagged , , , , , .
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