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Last year, a full trailer was shown off for one of the most controversial upcoming films of 2017, Ghost in the Shell. This live-action adaptation of the popular anime/manga series got a lot of flak, when everyone realized that the lead character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, was going to be played by the lovely Scarlet Johansson. She’s a good actress, but this was the wrong casting decision. There are already a lot of concerns and problems than just the white-washing of the lead, due to how infamously terrible live-action adaptations of anime can be. This led me to think about the film itself. Can Ghost in the Shell work in live-action? Well, yes and no. Now why would I give that answer? Let me explain.
In a way, Ghost in the Shell is the perfect anime to adapt. Its visuals and looks can easily translate well into live-action, unlike other live-action anime films like Speed Racer, which doesn’t look good at all, or how lazy and terrible Dragonball Z Evolution looks. Of course, this does come down to who’s making the film, but Ghost in the Shell has similar elements seen in sci-fi films from the past couple of decades. It’s not a super-hard or impossible property to turn live-action. It’s a bleak sci-fi world that’s drab, and has a focus on robots with philosophical quandaries about emotions, what it means to be alive, and what makes you, you. We have seen these types of settings with sci-fi films with complex philosophical ideas done multiple times, with films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Demolition Man, and many more. Even the aesthetic and how some of the androids/robots/machines are made can be made into successful live-action.
Sadly, there are elements that keep me from saying that Ghost in the Shell can be a perfect adaptation. For one, and probably my biggest issue with the film, is that it’s live-action. Believe it or not, much of Ghost in the Shell’s legacy does lean on the fact that for the time it was released in the states, it was mostly about the animation, and due to the fact that no one at that time has ever seen essentially an anime version of Blade Runner. Its animation was gorgeous and detailed, and that’s a shock during that period in time, since I’m sure most anime fans/curious viewers during that period in time never knew there could be something that is on par with Akira in terms of visual presentation. Taking that part out, and making the overall film in live-action makes it look like every other sci-fi dystopian film we have seen. It looks forgettable now, since you can probably find films that look very similar, while watching this movie.
In terms of casting, I respect the wide variety of actors, but could you really not find a Japanese actress to play the lead? Not even the Japanese actress from Pacific Rim Rinko Kikuchi? I know some people argue that the lead, Motoko’s character is her soul, and not her visual robotic body, and not that she is Japanese, but come on. I love Scarlet in movies like the Marvel series and Her, but still. I barely heard of 90% of the actors in the cast, so I doubt you really needed Scarlet Johansson besides the cynical reasoning being that you probably couldn’t get the film made without getting a big profitable name to be in the movie. I also don’t like how everyone looks. Scarlet looks fine (well, mighty fine if we are being honest), but everyone else looks like they are cosplaying as the characters, which is always distracting when you know the costume or make-up department was either not great, or wasn’t given enough resources to make sure that the characters look accurate. Batou looks like a cosplayer who is trying to look like Batou from the original animated film, Beat Takeshi looks kind of goofy, and the others either look awkward or unintentionally creepy.
Another concern I have is how the characters are going to be portrayed. Whether you agree with me or not, Ghost in the Shell’s writing is very stiff and clunky. Characters don’t speak like actual people, but rather speak with these long-winded philosophical ramblings, and while you might get something of an actual line that sounds good, it’s rare. I know anime doesn’t have natural dialogue, and anime creators even admit it, but knowing how badly Hollywood has translated anime in the past, they tend to make everyone sound bored or uninterested. What might come off as stoic in the original language oft-times is accidentally sometimes translated to stilted and boring in English, because they don’t get the acting nuances that went into those roles. A lot of credit has to go to the voice actors and their director when they are able to pull off performances with such wonky dialogue.
Now, with all the concerns and the positives out of the way, can this work? Will it work? Well, I don’t really know. I need to see it for myself. This was all just some thoughts and opinions about why this specific anime might and might not work as a live-action film. I have my doubts it will work and that Hollywood will totally get the themes and philosophy behind the series and make a competent movie from it, but who knows? I could be surprised that it’s good, and the team does a fantastic job adapting it. It’s still too much of a wild card to be sure, but maybe Hollywood will surprise us in a good way. What do you all think? Will Ghost in the Shell do well, or will it be yet another reason why no one adapts anime into live-action?