Ghost In The Shell Really Bummed Us Out

Last night, Kotaku's intrepid anime and snack reporters, me and Mike Fahey, saw the anticipated and controversial live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, an anime we both love. It was, to say the least, an utter disappointment. We spent some time this morning sharing our thoughts on the film, and now we're sharing them with you.

Cecilia D'Anastasio: All right. We've seen Ghost in the Shell. We've made our judgements. But before we detail those judgements, answer this: What were you expecting going into it?

Mike Fahey: A couple of hours sitting in a dark room looking vaguely concerned and/or upset. I like to set easy-to-hit expectations.

Cecilia: Low bar, Fahey! Especially for a franchise I assume you enjoy. You didn't have any expectations based on the [apparently infinite parade of] trailers or other live-action anime adaptations you'd seen? Just a vague foreboding?

Fahey: Any excitement I may have had has been severely dampened by the casting controversy surrounding the film. I had no problem with Scarlett Johansson being cast as the Major. A lot of other people did, so every cool visual or just-like-the-anime scene in the trailers was accompanied by a flood of angry voices. It was hard to stay excited.

Cecilia: I also did not have a big problem with that, but definitely understand why others did.

Fahey: Let me clarify — I had no problem with it before seeing the movie.

Cecilia: Let's start from the beginning, then. What was the first thing about her playing Major that bothered you?

Fahey: Well, for starters, how uncomfortable that particular ghost was in her shell from the get-go.

Cecilia: Are you referring to how many trite questions she asked in the beginning of the movie? "What happened? Why can't I feel my body? Who am I?"

Fahey: Not so much that, more shortly after that, when we see her in action the first time. She speaks of herself as nothing more than a machine, complains about her lack of memories, and just generally seems pretty uncomfortable being who she is. Maybe it was just Johansson's acting range, but I expected a stronger presence.

Cecilia: That was totally an issue throughout Ghost in the Shell. Compared to the anime movie, in which the Major is alive with confidence and purpose, this movie's fixation on her self-doubt definitely took me out of it. But I don't think that was Johansson's fault. I blame 90 per cent of that — and I'm going to get shit for this — on the script, which was irredeemably bad. I actually think Johansson understood the Major completely, and acted her true to how she appeared in the anime movie, but to a degree that conflicted with the movie's horrible screenwriting, which portrayed Major as more uncomfortable.

Even her facial movements, I think, reflected Major's in the anime. It's just that there weren't many.

Fahey: Bad script? You're nuts! It was perfect, the way it got the title of the movie laid out within the first five minutes or so. To paraphrase: "But you've still got your spirit... your ghost... in this shell." Now that everybody knows what the name of the movie means, let's strap on the awkward skin suit and kick some arse.

Cecilia: Hahaha, are you serious? I actually can't tell if you're serious.

Fahey: I am not serious. It was a horrible, horrible thing. I literally facepalmed.

Cecilia: Every time she said the movie's title, I buried my head in my friend's lap and whimpered. But do you agree with me that the movie's worst asset was its script? Or do you really think Johansson sucked all on her own?

Fahey: If I had to pick a single thing it would likely be the script, but it's a stew of bad ideas with only the briefest of shining moments. I liked the fighting. I liked pre-horrible cyber eye prosthetic Batou. I loved Beat Takeshi as Aramaki.

Cecilia: The fighting was very good. I also liked everyone's costume and makeup designs. Really killer stuff. What did you think about the world? Evan said, "The kaleidoscopic visual cacophony and futureshock design porn quickly emerge as Ghost in the Shell's biggest strength." He put that really well, in my opinion.

Fahey: OK. Here we go. I loved the world design. The giant holographic billboards featuring skyscraper-high models, the random holo-carp floating through the street. Evan does put it well. I just feel like the movie leaned on it a bit too hard. It felt like every other scene began with an extended pan across the CG-crafted skyline. I get it. It's impressive. Can we go back to the movie now? Maybe trim some of this and develop us some characters?

Plus, it was a very Japan-centric design, so much so that while I went into the movie fine with Johansson being the Major, by the time I left it seemed stupid that she wasn't Japanese. Aramaki is talking to her in Japanese, she's responding in English. It's rude. It's even worse when you take the big plot secret into account.

Cecilia: What do you mean, "get back to the movie?" I'm curious because the original Ghost in the Shell told its story through its world-building — the gritty streets flooded by some environmental disaster, the animals scurrying around it — and sprawling pans of its setting. I think it was designed with a ton of care. You could really feel the different economic statuses of different parts of the city and how they bled into each other. And, for me, that conveyed at least a third of the story, with no shitty dialogue necessary.

With the live-action movie, the world design felt so disjointed. Here we are in this "futureshock design porn" Shinjuku-esque digital signage farm! Here we are in this grungy apartment complex! And here's some insanely trite, haphazardly-inserted, two-sentence exposition! Here's the ocean! We're here! Look at the shiny lights!

Fahey: The original Ghost in the Shell used its time more wisely and was smarter about what it showed and when. This movie felt like it was cutting to scenery when it didn't have anything to say, which was pretty often.

Cecilia: Totally!

Fahey: And speaking of that dingy apartment complex... One of the film's clumsiest scenes takes place there. The meeting between Major Jane Smith (or whatever) and a Japanese woman whose daughter mysteriously disappeared a year prior... around the same time the Major was created.

Cecilia: What made it feel clumsy?

Fahey: Johansson wanders about the apartment looking bewildered, which seems appropriate for the situation. The woman describes her daughter as "wild" and "free". Then she says, "You remind me of her." HOW?! How does this mostly expressionless American woman remind you of your wild and free Japanese daughter? Luckily there weren't many people in the theatre at my 7PM showing, because I actually semi-shouted "How?"

Cecilia: Hahaha. I almost shouted that too! There was the weirdest dissonance there. It was so disorienting.

So, we hit the setting, the acting, the script and the fighting. What are we missing?

Fahey: The really sad spider tank.

Cecilia: That was a moment that suffered from the movie's unrestrained desire to tell and not show. "Release the spider tank!" did they say? In the anime, you just fucking see the spider tank. They say a few things and then it's dealt with.

Fahey: The spider tank we control with a virtual joystick, because the villain needs a chance to look really evil while doing something. Never mind the fact that a tank is probably one of the least effective ways to deal with two humanoid targets. It felt like a video game boss fight here, and not a good one. Like, a boss fight that's mainly dodging and quick time events.

Cecilia: Before I saw Ghost in the Shell last night, I was getting Korean food with my best friend in a restaurant that was playing the anime movie. She's never seen it. I pointed out to her scenes I knew would appear in the movie: Jumping off the building, the water fight, you know. I told her, take note, because the movie will mar those scenes. It didn't, though, or not entirely.

When scenes adhered entirely to the anime, it got along OK. But we had eaten and left before the anime got to the ending scene, where Major's tearing off her own arm sinew by sinew. It's one of the most brilliantly animated scenes in anime history. That is just not something CGI can do. I guess I'm saying that some more faithful moments got the "gist" of things or deviated in cool ways, but when it comes to hitting the anime's high notes, the movie felt flat.

Fahey: I think a lot of people in the West don't give anime enough credit as an art form. Hand-drawn animation can impart emotion in movement and action that CGI can never replicate.

Cecilia: What did you think of the villain? And by villain, I don't mean Kuze who was actually low-key very attractive and charming.

Fahey: You mean the evil warmongering stereotype who just wants to turn people into killing machines?

Cecilia: Yeah.

Fahey: He was evil. And wanted to turn people into killing machines. It was like he was lifted off of a manga page in two dimensional black and white.

The real villain of the film was whoever wrote the ending.

Cecilia: Haha.

Fahey: Here we have a movie based on a beloved Japanese property. A movie that caused quite an uproar by casting an American actress in a role that many felt should have gone to a Japanese actress.

As it turns out, this is a movie about a Japanese girl kidnapped against her will and transformed into an American actress.

Cecilia: I thought Ghost in the Shell was a movie about super clutch co-workers who hang out in the ocean and help each other out with spider robots, but maybe we were watching different things.

Fahey: The best shot of the movie comes right before the obligatory pre-credits hero-crouching-on-rooftop-while narrating scene. Johansson stands in front of a tombstone. Seeing her standing in front of a grave marked "Motoko Kusangi" felt the perfect ending to this bad idea of a film.

"Fuck you guys, we're out!"

Cecilia: Somebody misjudged how poorly American superhero movie tropes would map onto Ghost in the Shell. That final scene tried to do that "satisfying our need for closure" thing American directors think is kind, but is actually condescending.

Ghost in the Shell's genre of anime does not give a fuck how you feel at the end. I think this is a good ending to a sad conversation. I'm glad we had it.


    I didn't have high hopes for it, even before finding out Ehren Kruger did the script, yet I'm still kinda disappointed it's this bad.

      I'm happy it's this bad, because now it won't overshadow the original :-)

    Just remember the original anime had a terrible try-to-inject-deep-meaning-through-pointless-simile end.
    "Where shall the newborn go from here..." I don't care because you just destroyed the movie for me. Well that and the bloody gnostic tree-of-life rubbish every anime at the time was leveraging into the script wherever they could..

    I saw it yesterday as someone who has never seen (or cared about) the anime - thought it was alright, a lot of the design looked great but overall the movie wasn't anything special. Flashy lights and pretty colours but that was about it... Not horrible, far from the worst film I've seen this year (Assassin's Creed... so much wasted potential) but just not overly exciting.

    So its bad, but is it Dragonball Evolution Bad?

      Dragonball Evolution has to be the worst movie I've ever seen. I slept through 20 minutes of that film and when I work up I still knew what was going on plot wise...Like, wtf was the point of that 20 minutes of footage? Then, there was an actual fight in the cinema before the movie started because some dudebro wouldnt take his feet off this other guy's seat. There were a whole 3 punches thrown before they got ejected. It was a better fight than anything I saw in the movie tbh.

      Last edited 01/04/17 12:49 pm

        I have no idea why somebody would down vote you...

        Unless they liked the film or was one of the ejected dudebros.

          Probably misunderstood my point. Just explaining how bad Dragonball was. Eitherway, people will downvote anything. Doesnt bother me really.

      It's not as bad as these two make it out to be. You have to push your brain past the white wash casting outrage you've been bombarded with in the lead up and actually have to view it with an open mind and then reflect on the message the film has to offer once you've left the cinema. This isn't a bad movie if you're willing to view it in the terms of it doing its own thing.

        If you watch it with no knowledge of the original, that I would agree that it isn't a bad film, but I would disagree about the message, as I feel like this film doesn't really have one.

        As I do have knowledge of the original, this new version left me disappointed.
        By making it an semi adaption of the original, as opposed to a separate story, I felt that they were obliged to try an replicate the messages around self identity and the definition of "life".
        Instead the philosophy was dumbed down, and replaced with more action with a little ham fisted exposition was thrown in.

        This was a great opportunity to maybe deliver the originals message in a more western palatable manner, with a little extra action to keep people in there seats.

        The movie Arrival showed that people do have an appetite for cerebral stories, but this acted as a reminder that western studio's are too afraid to let the audience think, and/or leave them asking questions.

          "western studios"

          Hey, the West is not just the Commonwealth, there's Europe too ☺ Many European movie studios are not afraid to let the audience think.

          Last edited 07/04/17 12:18 pm

        FYI, I wasnt criticising GOTS, since I havent seen it yet. I was just following up on the comment by over30yearsofsharing by saying that Dragonball Evolution was super bad.

        Thanks for the rundown though. I am still pretty keen to see the movie.

        then, dont call it ghost in a shell cos you would set those expectations on ppls mind.

    Saw it last night, I enjoyed it. It was exactly what I expected from it; nice visuals, solid action & a generic but serviceable plot. Also revisited then anime last week & was not as enamoured by it like I originally was years ago. Yes it's still a gorgeously animated film, but other than that I thought it wasn't all that interesting. Both films in my opinion are fine entertainment, nothing more.

    I found myself waiting for it to end because the plot was incredibly predictable. The twists were telegraphed and it all seemed so bland. The best part was the cool holographic city scape but it felt like they kept having these long drawn out shots of it like it was just as exciting the 4th, 5th and 7th time

    I enjoyed it, if anything though they stuck too close to the anime so the movie was literally a scene by scene reenactment of the anime.

    Seems the reception of the movie is very mixed.

      43% on Rotten Tomatoes (but 64% of the audience liked it).

      I guess it means that if you have taste and discernment (or like the original) then this film is probably not going to be your cup of tea.

    As someone who is meh about Ghost in the Shell, I thought it was alright. But just like in the anime, I found Major boring. I always find the supporting characters more interesting than Major. And on the whitewashing controversy, I always thought in Ghost in the Shell, race didn't really matter. Like in the next film, Major could be played by Will Smith because it doesn't matter. Anyway, I enjoyed the film as much as anime but I completely understand if people who like the anime hated this film.

      I'd pay good money to see a 'Prince in the Shell' movie about a boy who was born and raised in West Philadelphia, then disappears one day, coincidentally the very day when a trendy robot is discovered who waxes fresh lyrics and makes smart-alec quips in a fish-out-of-water journey of discovery.

    I quite enjoyed it. It's a different but similar story. The original was done in an age where we were looking to the future and the possibilities that AI could bring. This introduced the question of "what if a program gained sentience enough to want to experience humanity". This story is more about the disconnect between humans and human emotion that comes from technology advancement in the internet age.

    The visual style of the film is almost dead perfect to the original. Outside of people who get their panties in a twist over political correct topics, these visuals have been very favoured. It's amazing to see some of the key scenes replicated in live action.

    This review/conversation reads like a bad Stantler and Waldorf sketch from The Muppet Show. Each side seems to be looking to one up each other on point out bad things with the movie and laughing/joking if they found anything positive. Not a good look to the readers. (This is feedback, and not against Kotaku Community Guidelines unlike my earlier version)

    [This comment has been edited to fit with Kotaku's Community Guidelines]

    Last edited 01/04/17 7:56 pm

    I still feel that the anime series Stand Alone Complex is the thing that manages to extend the setting and find stories to tell that work as a blockbuster. Making the story about the Major's backstory, making the plot about Kusanagi, kind of misses the point; the Major's about five minutes away from transhumanity and that tension is what makes her interesting. Humanising her undoes most of that.

      Come on, you can hardly consider Scarlet Johansson a human, with her dead-fish mouth and vapid stare :-)

    I just finished watching the movie. I have to say. My initial thoughts were that this was a trainwreck and that it was taking a massive dump on the original anime film.

    I still feel that way as an adaption. But Trying to think about it objectively, if I hadn't seen the original film and the TV series I might have actually enjoyed the movie a bit more.

    The main issue I have with it, putting aside the extra stuff they throw in, is the exposition and explanation of everything. These are things that the original leaves vague and allows the audience to figure out for themselves as intelligent human beings. This movie just felt like it was assuming I was an idiot and was only half paying attention to it and needing every last thing explained to me. Things that the original was able to explain through visuals and ambience. Not words.

    In the end. Not a terrible Hollywood movie. But a terrible, terrible adaption of the original anime film.

      I think you're giving too much credit to general movie-going audiences. If everyone were that open-minded and willing to think for themselves to fill in the blanks, the original anime would have been a blockbuster movie instead of an underground/niche cult hit.

      This is the same movie-going public I sat in theatres with during TITANIC and heard gasps of shock that "the ship's actually going to sink???" and, when FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING ended, the pissed-off exclamations of "That's end? THAT'S where you're ending the story??"

      I don't think this film believe YOU'RE an idiot, but rather the collective movie-going audience.

      And that's not exactly wrong, either.

    i saw it today, it was bad, but it wasn't dragonball bad. I think DBZ has set the bar so low you can't go much further.

    terrible plot aside, visually it just didn't work for me and that's purely for a personal reason. I grew up in Hong Kong, I worked there for 3 years and i still go back to it every year because of family. just about every set piece to me was basically HK with holograms stuck to it.

    It was never about the whitewashing noise for me.

    I like Scarlett Johansson, I just think she is being over cast without much range being required role to role.
    I struggle to seperate her from her other roles and the characters end up becoming the actress.

    So when the announcement dropped I didn't see a white actress or Kusanagi, I just saw the instantly recognisable SJ in a wig.

      I found her okay. It's the dumbing down of the original existential themes into a generic 'government conspiracy' that gets to me.

        Ah great, I had a feeling that little narrative would work its way in there.

    I don't know what all the hate is about myself. It's no award winner, but it wasn't terrible. It's more of a popcorn flick than a thought provoking adaptation. If you take it for what it is it's still a fun ride.

      That was part of the problem. Ghost in the Shell has themes that are a bit heavy for a 'popcorn flick'. These guys treated it almost like a Marvel film.

    So it got the 'Judge Dredd Movie Treatment' then ?

    OK Casting, all the right looks, but the story/plot so horribly hollywooded to death, that makes it a burning pile of crap to the original fans ?

    About what I was expecting. Hollywood seems to really have a problem with adapting something from overseas properly (Re: the first Judge Dredd movie, Godzilla, Ghost in the Shell)

      No, more like Dredd than Judge Dredd. It's not the best movie in the world but it's only real fault is that it draws from more than just the 90's movie. Ghost in the Shell is far bigger than the movie most English speaking fans know it for and that seems to be a real problem for them. If a bunch of Tachikomas or Laughing Man showed up they'd be seen as horrible inventions of the new movie by most of the English speaking fan base.
      It's not as 'deep' as some of the other Ghost in the Shell stuff, but go watch GITS again, it's teenager deep at best.

      You'll probably hate it judging by your post, but don't jump on the band wagon until you've seen it because there is a chance that you'll think it's good.

    Ms Cecilia and Mrs Fahey, sorry but your discussion actually felt more like you were trying to find bait material for Kotaku. How to start, first, the animation of 1995 is not “the original”, it does not make sense to call it that, because first, the live-action movie never intended to be a remake, as it always pointed clear, it is a original work within the GITS universe, which includes A LOT more material than the 1995 animation. And second, the obvious original material is the manga, which is quite different from what OShii’s two animations (GITS and GITS 2 innocence) . The 1995 movie is atmospheric, that is the proper adjective, rather than philosophic. The anime stand alone complex is more philosophic, without the need to appeal to abstract and atmosphere, in fact, the episodes where the Tachikomas discuss their view on IA and councioness have more philosophy than the whole 1995 animation.

    Both the manga and the OVA arise, are more focused in other matters than philosophy (technology, and action respectively) hence, the movie doing so is nothing new to the GITS universe. I am forced to question if you two have seem anything other than the 1995 animation. The plot in the movie was also influenced by both Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig and the Arise OVA’s. From the major not being the one who actually owns her cybernetic body and having to work for the actual owners, to Kuze, his relation with refugees and the plan to create a server in which to upload the minds of the people he felt deserved to continue existing in a new plan of existence.

    Your critics are not even logical, Mrs Fahey complaining about the film for giving many shots of the city when the 1995 animation did the same (as pointed by Cecilia), and 2 innocence did to a even higher degree with that parade on the second act. Or sending a tank to kill 2 humanoids is inefficient? Well, in the 1995 animation they did it the same. Cecilia your critic of the scene in the movie where they managed to pull off the major lifting the Tank’s seal, felt nothing more than an attempt to pretend to be a reviewer.

    You both even managed to twist the film origin to the major. The film confirmed what other people who actually know the franchise said, when shallow critics about not having a Japanese actress to play the major. Her cyberbrain could be in any body, of any race. In fact, in stand alone complex, and even the closing animation solid state society, the major has several different bodies, even male ones. In the movie she was an asian girl who went through a full cybertization process, that is, they kept this core point of the Major origin exactly as it is. Not even Japanese people think anime characters reminds Japanese themselves, the major cybernectic body always looked more western. In fact, Scarlert looks extremely close the look of the major in the Arise OVA, more than any Japanese actress could be. The live action of Attack on titan, had Japanese actors to play roles of arguably german descendent characters, and yet no one made an argue about it.
    And they also kept key points like the major having a relation with Kuze (Hideo) on their childhood.

    The inability to see the movie as an original work on the GITS universe with its liberties, exactly like what Oshii’s films, The Stand Alone series and the Arise series did to the manga, is baffling. So basically, you both just took an opportunity to bring again the controversy topic of live action adaptation to earn more clicks, tipical from Kotaku.

    Now for the readers, if you want to know how the movie is, it is an adaptaion more or less in the same level of the somewhat recent adaption trilogy of Rurouni kenshin made in Japan, there is, some plot changes and liberties, a few not very well characterized chars, and some awkward points due to the inherent problem of adapting from one type of media to another, but other than that a very solid movie quite worth the time.

      I found it strange too that they never mentioned the manga (which is quite different from the first animated movie). If they've never read the manga I understand how they may have been disappointed by this adaptation: Mamoru Oshii is known for building dreamlike atmospheres in his movies, quite a contrast with the usual loud and loud-mouthed American movie (however, the manga is heavily NSFW, it contains a couple of scenes straight out of porn mangas, somehow I doubt that they are present in this movie ☺).

      Having said that, I still think that they are right, I couldn't bear the usual telegraphed hollywood plot and the idiot-oriented explanations.

      Last edited 07/04/17 12:20 pm

      You don't even need to have read the manga to know that these reviewers have probably only just watched the 1995 movie. They don't even seem to be aware of other anime adaptations or anything else for that matter. Seems like they have just got on board the shit talking bandwagon.

      I can't argue that there aren't flaws with the movie, mainly uneven pacing and undeveloped characters and villians. Based on they way it was cut and the number of excluded characters I bet there is about 30 mins cut out after test screenings to make the movie shorter.

    This review is really shallow and safe. It seems like they didn't have the balls to even consider giving this movie a chance. They knew they'd have to pick at it so they did. They know they have to prove their street cred by loving the 90's movie and playing spot the difference. I get it, the movie is beneath you, I'm very happy for you but your too cool for school attitude doesn't help anyone.

      Maybe they just didn't like it...

        I don't really care if they don't like it, but they made it very clear that they made up their mind before they went in. This is just bashing it for the sake of it.

    Thanks Kotaku. This makes my decision to avoid the film much more bearable, even giving me some schadenfreude into the bargain :-)

    Tl;dr version : I didn't like it because I've seen the original.

    Hey, here's a crazy idea! Try to enjoy the movie on it's own without comparing every single detail to the anime. It requires some mental gymnastics but it would make your day a lot better. Then again it would make it hard to be a grumpy otaku which I guess is the modus operandi around here.

    In terms of white washing, it has no argument. There was so many pos who were in the film. And in the original animation, Major could have passed off as Caucasian or Asian, it really didn't matter.

    Scarjo was a pretty great actress, her facial expressions portrayed what Major felt quite well which is not a whole lot, but a human face just seemed better than the animation, where in terms of her face, it seemed like they forgot to give her facial muscles. Ironic isn't it? You cannot replace that essence of humanity (yet).

    However, they were right, Major didn't have the confidence from the original animation, she seemed hesitant. But I quite liked how they showed the trickle of memories and her fears of being inhuman.

    What the movie did terribly was feeding too much information, especially with too many explanations of the title. It did make the movie easier to follow but it might have been nicer if we could have our own interpretations. The beautiful scenery helped direct attention away from such narrations.

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