Thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell”

So let’s start the second three-pack of science fiction movies that I managed to find.  This one starts with “Ghost in the Shell”, which is based on an anime that I think I have or had some episodes of but never actually watched.  It also had a bit of controversy, as a number of the usual suspects complained bitterly that Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead instead of an Asian actress.  In fact, it’s quite possible that that controversy was the reason that it was included on an inexpensive compilation set instead of being sold longer on its own.  Now, one point people made is that the entire premise of “Ghost in the Shell” is that the outer appearances are indeed shells, and so even with a Japanese name there’s no reason to think that the shell was Japanese, even in the original media.  So the reaction was a bit of an overreaction from the start.  However, after watching it I think that a good point can be made that plot and character-wise the movie works better with a non-Asian lead, and that the people who were complaining didn’t bother to watch the movie first before complaining.

Anyway, let’s talk a bit about that initial premise.  The lead character is a shell, which means that she’s a brain put inside a somewhat biological and mechanical body.  She’s the first one to actually survive the process, but there do seem to be others that are out there as well, and shells are becoming, I think, big ideas.  She works as part of an organization that deals with criminals and other threats to society, which is the set-up for the action scenes.  However, she doesn’t have her full memories, which is a source of concern for her.  As far as she knows, she drowned and was revived and her parents were killed as well.  The plot, then, weaves between a corporate conspiracy, a terrorist threat, and the lead recovering her memories and the consequences of that.

One criticism that I’d make of the movie is that it tries to generate emotion and have the scenes rely on that generated emotion before it has done the work to establish the groundwork to legitimately generate it.  We find out fairly early on about her memory problems, but don’t know her well-enough to care about them while the movie clearly seems to want us to.  We find out about the terrible treatment of the shells that didn’t work, but we don’t know enough about the world yet to really feel that that was a terrible thing.  It implicates the doctor that might be a mother figure for the lead, and yet we really don’t know enough about the relationship to have that have a full impact, even as the doctor sacrifices herself to save the lead.  So it struck me as hitting the elements of the scenes so that we know what impact they should have, but not really managing to actually have that impact.  It was sort of a “Please feel emotions here!” which didn’t work out that well.

In recovering her memories, she discovers that her loss of memory was in fact deliberately caused by the corporation that built the shells.  It turns out that she was a rebel against the system and that her and her comrades — including a former lover who is the terrorist — were captured and then turned into shells, with her being the most successful shell (likely because of the personal interest the doctor showed in her).  She had left her mother — who is Asian — and her mother didn’t know what happened to her, which she finds out when she meets her after being given a hint to her past.  So, essentially, the corporation took an enemy and converted her to someone that helped to defend them by wiping out her entire past.  This is what makes having a non-Asian as the shell really work, even if it wasn’t intentional:  after all, if they were wiping out her history, why would they give her a shell that in any way resembled who she really was?  It would probably be a bit much to change the sex/gender, but changing the race to make her look nothing like the woman she used to be was the safer play.  I would have very much liked them to hint that the shell she got resembled someone who had a personal connection to the doctor — a sister, a niece, etc — that had been lost to explain the emotional connection the doctor had to the lead (and also hint that the doctor would have gone to great lengths to save that specific shell that she wouldn’t have done for others), but they didn’t really seem to make that move.  But, again, a non-Asian shell for the daughter of an Asian mother really works for the plot.

As I did with the last ones, I’m going to wait until the end of the pack to give my final impressions of the movies and to say whether or not I’d watch it again.  Next time is “Aeon Flux”.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Ghost in the Shell””

  1. Thoughts on “Aeon Flux” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Flux” is the second movie in the pack that also contained “Ghost in the Shell”. This one is based on an animated series rather than a strict anime/manga, but like “Ghost in […]

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