I’m going to review this film and well as talk on the “whitewashing” that comes along with the release of this film. I don’t know even know where to go…or where to begin. So where do I start? I guess I’m going on a diatribe first.

Okay – Ghost in the Shell is a fairly well known manga that was made into an animated film in 1995. I did try to watch Ghost in the Shell once and made it about half way through. I’m going to admit that the film…really wasn’t for me.

My favorite anime is a film called Akira. When I saw this film for the first time on a bootleg someone gave me sometime around 1993 I was floored. I had grown up watching different American TV show adaptations of Japanese anime like Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Robotech, and many more. Anime was very niche here until the nineties and I really feel personally that Akira helped break through to an American audience. I remember liking Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in the eighties…but it is really just one of a couple I remember. Really Akira was that big film that “awoke” me. After that I got pretty into some great stuff…especially Ranma 1/2.

Now for years Warner Bros. has talked about putting together an Akira live action movie. Just a couple years ago they had talked about casting actors Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Ken Watanabe, and Helena Bonham Carter in the film. It made me wonder…would they film it in the states and be Neo-NYC instead of Neo-Tokyo? Did it matter? Would it matter? People were up in arms learning that Twilight’s Stewart would be in the film. The film is supposed to be Japanese! They should all cast Japanese people!

It makes me wonder if people are aware that Japanese people actually make films. Like if they know that the Japanese have film studios and make their own Japanese films. The Japanese are very capable of making live action versions of their films. They did it for Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers). They did it for Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets). They did it for Casshern. And on. And on. And on.

So it is just weird for me to have someone say, “Well they HAVE TO have a full Japanese cast in Akira!” Why? If it is an American film why does it have to be a faithful adaptation? The film studio is the one spending the money on making the film. If you don’t want to see it you can NOT go see the movie and talk with your wallet. But film studios spending the money should be able to make the films they want. Those who sit around bitching certainly aren’t raising the capital to make a $100 million picture.

Why isn’t there a live action Japanese version of Ghost in the Shell? I’m not sure. Maybe the rights were sold to America and it couldn’t be made. Maybe they just didn’t want to . Whatever the reason is the fact of the matter is, at some point, someone could have put the money in and made a Japanese live action Ghost in the Shell film. And that film can STILL happen.

So the term “whitewashing” has come about. This is where a white person is cast where a person of color was originally portrayed. From The Last Airbender live action film to the recent Doctor Strange movie there has been talks of whitewashing all over the place.

Now it may work both ways. When Michael B. Jordan was cast as the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four movie EVERYONE bitched. How can Johnny Storm be black? How can his sister Sue (Kate Mara) be white? OH MY GOD WHO CARES JUST TELL THE STORY. They told the story. It was pretty horrible. No one went to see the movie. And it wasn’t just because Jordan is a black man. It’s because the movie blew chunks.

America is supposed to be diverse. We are a melting pot. So most minorities will point out they are fucking tired of seeing the same white hero over and over again. And you know what. POINT TAKEN. But you know what is another point? If you are a film studio spending $100 million on a film you should be able to cast who you think will make the film successful. Will that translate into actual success? Will their casting a white person in the role that was Japanese make the film successful or will there be a backlash? Either way people will bitch. And either way people may or may not see the film.

Let’s take a look at Ghost in the Shell. Paramount made a $110 million dollar film. Do you cast a Japanese lead? Who do you cast? Someone well known? Unknown? Either way they are completely unknown here in the States. Does it matter? You can see Daisy Ridley was completely unknown and she was cast in The Force Awakens. Now Star Wars has a massive built-in audience where Ghost in the Shell certainly does not. Now if you enjoy manga and anime you probably know the film. But go ask my wife what Ghost in the Shell is and she certainly won’t know. Most people have no clue about the film. So why not cast Scarlett Johansson? She’s certainly a well known actress and has proven to be an action heroine in the Marvel movies.

Alright…let’s get with the movie…

A dying woman is brought to Hanka Robotics. She’s dying and they remove her brain from her body and are successfully able to put her brain into an android body. She is the first of her kind.

A year later the woman/robot Major Killian (Scarlett Johansson) is now working for a special police unit called Section 9. She works alongside a bunch of normal (or slightly enhanced) Section 9 members including the massive Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and her boss Chief Aramaki (Beat Takeshi).

A terrorist has decided to start killing off scientists who work for Hanka starting with a Dr. Osmond (Michael Wincott). The terrorist uses robots and people to do his killing for him. As this is a futuristic cyberworld everyone is enhanced with the latest computer technology right inside their body and this terrorist is able to use robots and humans against their will.

Section 9 goes after the terrorist with Major and Batou pretty much taking the lead. But as Major gets closer to the terrorist she also learns more about Hanka Robotics, those who created her, and the truth leading up to her becoming this android. The truth isn’t pretty and it takes her to place she never thought she would go.

That is the plot. It’s pretty damn simplistic but you are drawn in when the bad guy is revealed and his intentions, while actually murdering people, makes sense when you learn the truth. I mean…murder never makes sense but you feel when you learn the real reason behind the killings.

Now as far as it being close to the animated film from what I remember it bears some slight resemblance. What I really thought they did a good job with the look of both Major and Batou. As I only remember these two characters and some scenes from the anime I actually thought both Scarlett and Pilou looked like their anime counterparts.

Now there’s many things about the film and first off I will say that I enjoyed it very much. I thought it a fun sci-fi film that lagged just a tiny bit in the third act but otherwise kept me engaged. The city was very much a brighter Blade Runner and I felt that Blade Runneresque vibe most of the film…except…less dark. The film doesn’t do a great job telling you where the film takes place. There’s LOTS of English signs in the world and some in what I am going to assume is Japanese. Many of the city’s citizens also looked Japanese and Aramaki, the boss, speaks Japanese the entire time. Everyone else speaks English but Aramaki just barks out orders in Japanese. Every listens and understands each other. On top of that at some point they are going to a bar that is “a Yakuza bar.” Pretty safe to say it is Japan.

NOW…this is a very diverse Japan. Because it isn’t like Major is running around as the only white woman in a sea of Asians. The film is pretty diverse from the people on the streets, to those who run the robotics company, to those working for Section 9.

I thought the film moved at a great pace until we got to the third act. It was fairly action packed and I thought Scarlett did a great job in both the dialogue scenes and the action scenes. Plus she looked great in the skintight suit that the Major wears.

Casting wise it is always great to see Beat Takeshi in a film. The man is a film legend and seeing him in a big budget Hollywood movie just makes me smile.

Michael Wincott’s role in this is pretty small but, again, it is always good to see him onscreen. He had a trifecta of early 90’s movies that I loved being The Three Musketeers, The Crow, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He was pretty good and being a bad guy. He’s not a bad guy here so good for you Michael.

Does the movie do the anime or the manga justice? I don’t know. People are bitching on social networking like they’ve been raped by this film so I’m going to assume it deviates from the source material somehow. But the fact of the matter is that it was entertaining for me despite never reading the manga and only watching half of the anime. I also think that I am going to pull out the anime film and actually watch it all the way through. The live action film actually made me want to give the anime a second chance.

Now looking at the Rotten Tomatoes score it is pretty obvious that critics didn’t think much of the film. I didn’t go to look at what the critics who disliked it didn’t like about it. I don’t know if they judged it on its own or stacked it up against its other media. It shouldn’t matter. But if they don’t like it they don’t like. For me? I went in expecting an action sci-fi movie and it delivered. Plain and simple.

It seems that the end of the film really pisses off people and a lot of where the “whitewashing” comes from stems from when we learn who the Major actually was. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care what the vessel for the brain was. It could be Scarlett Johansson. It could have been Dwayne Johnson. It could have been Mindy Kaling. It didn’t matter to me because of who was making the robot (a robotics company full of white people) in a future Japan that was pretty damn diverse.

Even with a $110 million budget I don’t think the studio had much faith in the film doing big business here in the States. The film is based on a comic and cartoon not many know about and they released the film at the end of March. A film like this could probably be a Summer film but they thought better and released it in March. What does that say? It means there’s little faith in reaping big box office. Does that mean the same around the world? Probably not and I’m sure that’s where most of the box office will come from for this flick.

Speaking of box office as I’m writing this the box office figures are out for the weekend. Ghost in the Shell opened at #3 with just $19 million. It’s a paltry number. I knew walking into the theater that the flick was in trouble. I went to a 3:30PM Sunday show and there was NO ONE in the theater. Maybe eight other people. I actually walked in with a couple in their seventies and I was pretty proud that they were out seeing sci-fi together. Would I be surprised if on Monday the actual numbers came out and Ghost in the Shell was lower than $19 million? Not at all.

If you put a Japanese actress in the lead would their be less controversy? Would the film have made more money? Coming out against Boss Baby and Beauty and the Beast could it really have succeeded? I don’t think the property is sold enough to sell to the average moviegoer and I think that the whitewashing controversy could have hurt box office as well.

It’s a damn shame because it is an enjoyable flick. I just think regardless of casting the film was going to have its troubles making money here in the States. Do I still think casting Johansson was the right decision? I do…she did a great job.

And, before I go, I’d just like to point out that Warner Brothers is currently in talks with Jordan Peele to direct Akira. Amazing. What should he do? All black Akira. What would people say then? No white people. No Japanese people. Just a whole bunch of brothers going to war against in Neo-LA. Akira starring Common and Idris Elba? I’d be first in line.