There’s been plenty of controversy about the casting and plot, but something else jumps out at me in the latest preview.
After years of rumors, halting half-starts, and teaser videos, it’s almost hard to believe that Paramount Pictures live-action Ghost in the Shell, adapted from the ground-breaking anime and manga of the same name, is actually going to start playing in theaters next month. As a matter of fact, the film is so close to release that Paramount has just released what looks to be the final preview, designated simply and definitively as “Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Official Trailer.”
But the last several months have also been filled with controversies for the production, the most prominent being the decision to cast Caucasian actress Scarlet Johansson in the lead role as cyborg-with-a-Japanese-name Motoko Kusanagi…or at least her live-action replacement. So far, the live-action Ghost in the Shell has pointedly refrained from using the name Motoko Kusanagi, unwaveringly referring to Johansson’s character as just “The Major,” the rank held by Kusanagi in the source material.
While the casting choice has met with a considerable backlash in the West, Japan seems largely okay with it, with many concluding that Johansson’s star power gives the film bigger box office potential (the Japanese film industry’s own penchant for changing the ethnicities of characters when adapting stories into new forms of media probably also makes it a little easier for the Japanese public to shrug its shoulders in acceptance).
But even if you’re OK with Johansson playing the lead, you can still take issue with what look like thematic changes Paramount is making to Ghost in the Shell. The official trailer’s dramatic dialogue includes lines such as. “Everything they told you was a lie. You had a family.” “They did not save your life. They stole it,” someone else tells The Major, and the protagonist then goes on to declare “They created me, but they cannot control me.”
After seeing Kusanagi’s single-minded determination on display so frequently in the anime and manga, some fans might be turned off by what they see as attempts to set up a clichéd “hero rebels against corrupt authority” storyline. Ghost in the Shell, after all, has usually been less about fighting the machine and more about becoming a machine, and there’s a certain realistic grittiness lent to the anime’s proceedings by the fact that its “heroes” aren’t always doing heroic things, but instead taking the best choice of action presented from among several imperfect options.
As someone who’s been an anime fan for a long, long time, the possible tonal shift doesn’t really bother me. I was there when manga loyalists complained that director Mamoru Oshii’s heavily philosophical 1995 Ghost in the Shell anime movie felt different from the original comic from series creator Masamune Shirow.
▼ Oshii felt no need to include Kusanagi’s mecha cherry blossom party, which shows up in the very second issue of the original manga (which can be previewed on publisher Kodansha’s website here).
Then I was there when other people complained that director Kenji Kamiyama’s 2002 Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV anime series was mixing in more plot and spending less time musing about how technology affects the human soul than Oshii’s movie did. And you know what? Shirow’s manga, Oshii’s film, and Kamiyama’s TV series all remain extremely popular based on their respective, unique merits. Oshii has even mentioned in interviews that during the planning stages of his movie, he spoke with Shirow and was told to make whatever changes he wanted in order to tell the story he was envisioning.
Yet there’s still one thing that I find extremely annoying about the official trailer for Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell. The moment occurs at the 46-second mark, as Johansson is recreating Kusanagi’s famous “jump-off-a-skyscraper-and-turn-invisible-before-shooting-a-bunch-of-dudes” scene.
One of the building that can be seen in the background is lit up in an impressive display of cyberpunk neon, with Japanese text spelling out kokyu hoteru.
Now hoteru is just the corrupted Japanese pronunciation of “hotel,” so the sign is identifying the building as “kokyu hotel.” However, “kokyu” isn’t the name of company or family, so it’s not like this is a branch of a chain called “Kokyu Hotel.”
All “kokyu hotel” means is “luxury hotel.”
While there’s nothing wrong with the phrase in and of itself, it’s pretty silly to think that a Japanese business would simply write “luxury hotel” on the side of its building, in what looks to be 50-floors’ worth of electric signage, without giving the actual name of the company/hotel. For anyone who can read the sign, it’s a distractingly unrealistic attempt to add some Japanese flair to the setting. It’s the sort of thing that anyone who reads Japanese and has spent any time in the country could point out as weird, and it’s surprising to think that Paramount apparently didn’t have even one person with that combination of linguistic skill and life experience take a look at the scene’s Japanese text.
In the film’s defense, the live-action Ghost in the Shell is yet to specify exactly where its story takes place, and even the manga and anime eschew designating a real Japanese city as the setting in favor of placing the characters and events in the vaguely defined New Port City. Still, it’s clear from the live-action Ghost’s skyline that the metropolis Johansson is running around is supposed to have, at the very least, major Japanese cultural instances.
Although honestly, that city looks more over-the-top-Japanese than any that actually exist in Japan.
Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s still less irked than he was by the gibberish “Japanese” on the street signs in the live-action Resident Evil: Extinction’s Tokyo scene.