By CJ Bamert
Back in the 1961 classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the character most people wish they could forget is a character named Mr. Yunioshi played by Mickey Rooney. For those unaware, Mickey Rooney is a white actor who was given big buck teeth, slanted eyes and a bad hair piece. It would best be described as “yellow face.” Today, whitewashing is still happening daily. It is one of the many factors that hurt “Ghost in the Shell,, the adaption of the 1995 anime of the same name. Yet, this film has more problems that can’t be solved just by casting an Asian actress.
The current “Ghost in the Shell” takes place in a world where the line between humanity and technology is blurred. It is normal for a person to get cybernetic enhancements. Some of which have their entire brain transferred into a robotic body, called a shell. This is the case for Major (Scarlett Johansson) who woke up to find herself in a shell after a terrible accident. She is told this was the only way to save her life. With her new body, she becomes a soldier that works within an agency to stop criminals. But as a mysterious figure has her digging into her past and she learns that she may have been given her new body under false pretenses.
The 1995 adaption of “Ghost in the Shell” is a near masterpiece, it tells an interesting suspenseful story and has beautiful visuals with a unique vision. The new version does not share much in common with the original film; the original didn’t focus nearly as much on who she was before. This film borrows some of its most iconic moment from the original anime, and with that they do it very well. If one is a fan of the anime, they will probably get a smile out of recreations of some very famous shots.
The film takes several liberties with “Ghost in the Shell,” which is filled with skyscraper tall holograms advertising products intruding on people’s lives. For the most part they are beautiful, but at other times, they feel like overkill. Along with that, near the beginning of the film, there are geisha robots that can open their faces and change their bodies into spider looking creatures. This is far and above the coolest effect.
The story gets very boring and badly written. Juliette Binoche plays a scientist who helped create Major and almost everything she says in the movie just sounds dumb, no matter how hard she tries. The film never truly escapes what it is. A big budget studio film adapting an anime property, a description that never leaves the film. Every scene feels like the filmmaker trying to adapt this anime and failing to really lock down a world and/or consciousness. Because of this, it never stops feeling like a movie. A good movie makes you forget this fact.
Now regarding Johansson, she does not do a bad job per say, but she really plays the robot angle very heavy and is much harder to feel for. She gets a couple moments of emotion, but is mainly bogged down by coming off wooden. It’s technically the character, but there is so much more Johansson could do to make her more interesting and compelling. This is beyond whitewashing. An Asian actor wouldn’t have done necessarily better, but there is just bad direction.
To compare, Michael Pitt plays Kuze, a more damaged shell. He is far more robotic than Major, but the way he takes that crutch, he gives the character a soul beyond the wooden nature of being a robot. It’s actually a really good performance and belongs in a better movie.
“Ghost in the Shell” has many nice visuals and fun ideas. As a whole, it’s just a mediocre movie with bad dialogue. Simply not worth your time, whitewashed or not.