“Can you offer me proof of your existence? How can you, when neither science nor philosophy can explain what life is?”
When you think anime, most people will refer to the more mainstream franchises of Naruto and Dragon Ball. But many anime fans will also claim familiarity with one particular franchise.
Ghost in the Shell was one of those animes that became a classic in places outside of Japan – Japan itself considered it average and nothing unheard of. The West, though, exploded in excitement. It was one of the earlier examples of serious, artistic animation, one that was not above screwing with your mind, morality and personal philosophies.
The film – a 1995 production – was far more well-known than the manga by Masamune Shirow that was its source material, in addition to being quite a bit more serious in tone. The film also condensed the plot, focussing entirely on the ‘Puppet Master’ arc.
Briefly put, the film’s story takes place in a post-cyberpunk future where cybernetic bodies have become the norm and society conceptualizes a person’s mind/soul as their “ghost”. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a female cyborg and the leader of a covert government task-force specializing in cyber-crime, leads her team on the hunt for a notorious hacker known only as “Puppet Master”. The Puppet Master “cyber-hacks” the brains of innocent people and implants memories to turn them into his unwitting accomplices in various crimes.
The film’s visuals, action sequences, and large amount of philsophical musings and techno-speak codified the Western perception of anime for the better part of a decade. Hell, the Wachowski brothers consider Ghost in the Shell to be the spiritual predecessor of the Matrix.
No doubt about it, Ghost in the Shell is a classic.
Kicking ass, questioning existence.
And then, suddenly, bam! Hollywood is going to adapt it into a live-action film.
Now we have a whole line of anime fans, some of them in cosplay, standing in a line, wincing and hissing in unison. A sudden empathic pain at the thought of what might happen. It’s hard to blame them, honestly.
Anime to live-action adaptations are hardly the smoothest of transitions.
Now, one could argue that the Marvel and DC cinematic universes show that the adaptation is more than possible – it’s been done, and done well. Well, the slew of complaints about both universes have to be quietly swept under the rug for that to be completely true.
Despite many people’s misgivings about the notion, there’s still a lot of excitement about the movie. Then came the reveal of who was offered the role of playing the heroine, Major Motoko Kusanagi:
Apparently none other than current Hollywood superstar actress, Scarlett Johansson. The internet exploded at the announcement, and we at Troll Magazine are still pulling bits of shrapnel out of our asses. To read it the way the news has it – Scarlett Johannson is just one of those few actors in Hollywood right now who can have a project greenlit with just her name on the credits.
Stop smouldering, lady. Dammit, I said stop!
This, naturally, makes it sound like it’s just about the bottom line – something that doesn’t sit well with the majority of Ghost in the Shell fans. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ is about as Japanese a name as you can get, and many feel that there are several actresses of, if not Japanese, then at least Asian descent, who would be more than up to the task.
Now, don’t get us wrong. Troll Magazine LOVES Scarlett Johansson. She’s an exceptional actress with a hell of a career, and we love her even more for taking a lesser Avenger character and making her awesome. But it’s not hard to see where the fans are coming from.
Many fans feel that a race-lift, while not a complete disaster, would be a gateway to many more changes as Hollywood execs adapt and appeal to ‘demographics‘.
Oh how we hate that term. It’s like “casual gamer”. *shudder*.
See, a pragmatic adaptation can go two ways. I’m sure we all remember the original Wolv- erm, X-Men movies. I like to think of them as amusing but poorly constructed fan-fictions.
Then we have adaptations like the Avengers, which makes us think that, dammit it can be done!
The value of the adaptation, is, unfortunately about as reliable as the flip of a coin – and I think it’s an assurance that a lot of anime-fans need right now. They want to know that their beloved classic is gonna be treated right – and despite what a lot of people might think, it’s not going to be as easy as adapting the DC and Marvel universes.
Scarlett Johansson’s casting is symptomatic of that fear, and is hardly the most relevant point to be made. It’s the proverbial tip of the iceberg. And as everyone knows, the tip is the most sensitive part of the iceberg.
No matter what, there will always be detractors, and many of them will have extremely valid points. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a profound difference between Western perception and Eastern convention – something that often doesn’t translate well. Anime fans who, in the course of understanding their hobby, come to understand a little bit of Eastern culture in the process, and will not be entirely pleased to see the ‘Westernizing’ that will inevitably occur in the adaptation.
See, for the producers, it is about that bottom line, and a lot will be changed for the more casual market to understand – i.e. the so-called ‘cool’ (read: average) people who don’t read manga/watch anime and know nothing about Troll Magazine.
Many fear – and perhaps rightly so – that the spirit of Ghost in the Shell will be lost to the money-making machine of Hollywood, even as it muses on the veracity of life and human experience. An appropriate irony, perhaps, but not one that many fans will appreciate.
Time will tell if the movie will show the kind of soul that the original did.
“And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite.”