7 April 2017

Under The Shell

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Like most people I was completely disgusted when I saw Scarlett Johansson playing the character of Major in this live-action remake of Ghost In The Shell. Of course most people were annoyed because they saw her casting as being yet another example of Hollywood 'white-washing' however what pissed me off was that in the original anime you saw Major's tits. Arguably the outrage over race is probably somewhat more justified than my simple desire to see a famous lady's chest-melons however I'd argue that both complaints contain some validity. Sure I would quite literally kill a man to be allowed within the vicinity of Johansson, who is quite probably the number one person on my list of people I'm allowed to have sex with without my partner getting mad. This is despite both my awareness that this list of celebrities wouldn't piss on me if I was on fire, and also the fact that I don't have a current partner anyway. However the lack of titties is in fact indicative of a greater issue with the film which I will now attempt to use to justify my own pervertedness.

So in the original 1995 anime, you do indeed see Major performing a lot of her action whilst el bollocko with many of these scenes having been recreated by the now sadly clothed Johansson. In the original, the reason that she's naked is because she's essentially a robot with a human brain and so who really gives a shit about the body? In a world in which you can have any aspect of your physical being enhanced, then why would you distinguish it as being different to clothes, and why would you feel any shame in hiding it away for the sake of it? On the surface, you might assume that Major is naked because sometimes Japanese animation is just pervy and weird, and in the case of those cartoons that involve squids and characters that look uncomfortably young, I'd say that was probably true. However in the original Ghost In The Shell, Major doesn't expose herself with the regularity of an old man at the gym for titillation, but to emphasise the theme of the movie i.e. the distinction between the body, the mind, and what exactly it is that makes us human. Of course there are plenty of ways in which you can highlight an issue like that in which nudity isn't required but at the end of the day, these are the same animators that probably make their money from the squid porn and so perhaps muscle memory just kicked in when they started doodling.

However the lack of nudity in this remake of Ghost In The Shell doesn't in any way add to the theme of the movie and it is in no way done for the sake of taste. Johansson keeps her clothes on because the studio has a shit tonne of money invested into this movie and so they want to keep its age rating down in order to get more people through the door and paying to see it. If we lived in a world in which age-ratings didn't exist then they'd definitely have Johansson jumping guff first through a window to get more people buying tickets. This is therefore a problem that runs through the rest of the movie in that the original film was brimming with ideas, philosophical musings, and existential angst. The live-action remake recreates scenes almost identically from the original in an attempt to appease the fans, however it then dumbs down all of the ideas that made the original so special in order to have it appeal to a wider audience. Essentially the film is trying to have its cake and eat it, whilst in reality it only has something that looks like a cake and now it has the shits.

For example, in the original we have a scene in which Major contemplates who she is by sitting quietly and staring into space. The audience is required to empathise and read the scene in order to understand what's happening and what Major is thinking. In this remake we have a moment which is visually identical and yet here we have an extra character explaining everything to her and therefore us instead. In the way that we have subtitles for the hard of hearing, this movie spells almost everything out for those in the audience that are hard of fucking thinking. Therefore my basic argument as to why we should have seen Johansson naked is not because I want to see her tits.. that's just a coincidence. But actually by hiding Johansson's boobs from the public, this film is essentially pandering to the assumption that society is as thick as two short planks that have been welded together by pig shit. If more films found ways of expressing deep philosophical discussions by showing Johansson's tits would we now be living in a world with President Trump, I wonder? I don't know for sure. But even if we did at least it would be a world in which we'd also seen Johansson's tits a bit more often too.

As for the white-washing however, the director of the original film has gone on record to state that the character of Major doesn't have to be Japanese, however we should of course always trust the tale rather than the teller. Let's not forget that George Lucas also thought it'd be okay to have the Galactic Empire brought to its knees by a gang of teddy bears that look as though their mothers were on an experimental drug throughout pregnancy. The issue with this live-action Ghost In The Shell wasn't exactly helped either when it was revealed that the studio had paid a special effects team to perform some tests in which they changed Johansson's race in what can only be considered the digital equivalent of 'blacking up'. I have no idea what this process would have involved but I'm imagining that sequence in which Bond is made to look Chinese in You Only Live Twice in which a complicated operation led to the reveal of a yellow painted Sean Connery with his eyes pinned back.

Regardless, I personally don't think that Johansson being white is the real problem with the character. In fact, there's even a bit of back story that is pivotal to the plot in which the race issue is touched upon. The problem is that in the original anime, that character is constantly looking towards the future, whereas here the character is constantly looking towards the past. I appreciate that you're going to get a larger budget for your sci-fi film if you cast Johansson over a lesser known Japanese actress, I therefore admire the way in which the story has tried to hide the blatant racism of Hollywood by writing the character's race into the story. However a character that is focused more on an upcoming ascent is a lot more interesting than another fucking amnesiac. Wolverine couldn't remember who he was, Jason Bourne couldn't remember who he was, the Winter Soldier couldn't remember who he was. After his daily second bottle of wine, my own Dad hasn't got a clue who he fucking is either. So essentially the film probably has cast Johansson in an example of white-washing, and so in an attempt to hide and justify this, it has altered what made the original character so interesting by resorting to cliché. It's also another example of how what was originally a deep and interesting story has been moulded for public consumption. Essentially the studio has been given the recipe for a gourmet steak and somehow they've managed to turn it into whatever the fuck piece of mutant cow it is that McDonalds has conned the world into eating.

On the flip side to that though, I am occasionally hungry for a bit of mutant cow so long as it's covered in something resembling cheese, and so despite all of its obvious flaws I'd be lying if I said I hadn't enjoyed this live action Ghost In The Shell. I did like the central performances and interpretations of the characters, even if Scarlett Johansson is too racist a person to have considered starting life as the baby of a Japanese couple. It's also worth noting that the filmmakers have clearly invested themselves within the property, having borrowed story elements from the anime sequel to the original movie, the TV series spin-off, and even the original Manga. To completely misquote Woody Allen, "Ghost In the Shell is a hollow experience but of all the hollow experiences it's not without some enjoyment." This film is also a visual slice of gold with every frame brimming with something worth looking at.. I suppose it's the least they could do seems as Johansson's baps aren't on display. However the original film was inspired by the look of Blade Runner whereas according to Mark Kermode in his review of this film, this version feels more inspired by The Fifth Element. One of my closest friends loves The Fifth Element and so to annoy him I constantly refer to it as a 'dumb man's Blade Runner'... And if that doesn't summarise this movie in a nutshell, I don't know what else will? Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time.