Yes this live-action adaptation of the anime sci-fi cyberpunk 90’s classic was released at cinemas many months ago but I missed it back then. I was given a copy of it for Christmas and so now I have seen. There was a few reasons why I didn’t catch it back at the cinema months ago, and one of those reasons may have been due to the slightly uncomfortable issue of ‘Whitewashing’ in the film which very many people were critical about. Why did it star Scarlett Johansson? Did it need to have her? It is seen as an American movie-did it have to be? Could it not have been Japanese made with full Japanese cast of actors?
There were several arguments around these issues of the film production-why was the lead character played by a white American actor? But then the response was that the character of Major Mira Killian was not specifically Japanese in the original manga or anime and was possibly wearing a body and also is a cyborg so she could be created in any visual design way. And on it continued.
So yes, that all may have put me off seeing it or paying my money at the cinema which may have been endorsing this kind of possibly Americanisation of original Japanese entertainment. I could understand it in other ways as well-Scarlett Johansson was at the time of production possibly the highest paid Hollywood actress/female actor due to her role as Black Widow in the Marvel movies, which is a similarly well trained, highly physically capable heroic character so it does right in that sense. Plus, they would have thought it the best thing to have her in this film as it would possibly draw such a huge audience because of her.
So anyway, lets talk about the movie. I am also a big fan of the original anime film from the mid-90’s. If you already knew about it, you may have seen over time how frequently it had been stated that without Ghost in the Shell there may have been no The Matrix. That’s possibly true, as the Matrix trilogy especially the first film did seem to take so much visually and stylistically from this anime/manga classic. I did see the anime G.I.T.S. a couple of years after Matrix was released and I really was shocked at the similarities.
Besides the controversies of production, with this live-action version of G.I.T.S. what do we get? Is it a very close remake? Is it only inspired by the original anime?
Well this is where it did not do so well for me as it is not a total remake, or exact shot-for-shot live-action version but it does feature several very memorable scenes from the anime movie which look almost exactly the same (made extremely well) and the story uses some of the anime feature length story with some elements from episodes of the anime series as well. This resulted in a film which did not really give me a fascinating original new tale, but I mostly knew where it was going all of the way through to the end.
In some ways now I do actually regret not seeing it at cinemas or even on IMAX because along with the recent Blade Runner sequel this movie really does look absolutely mind-meltingly stunning visually. It gives us what Ridley Scott probably exactly wanted for the original Blade Runner all those years ago. It looks just like Scarlett Johansson is walking through that movie and you almost expect her to bump into Deckard on the neon-lit streets. It also contains some of the very best science fiction special effects I have seen in recent times when we seen Major taken apart, reconstructed, broken, her face opened out, other similar cyborg characters and robotic creations. They all look seamless and breath-taking. These are different times for Hollywood with their international cinema audiences changing and evolving and so I can probably (cynically) understand the very international main actors cast around Johansson. This is no bad thing just different to the anime and does feel possibly forced. But then they added in Juliette Binoche who of course is really great and added a maternal bond element with the Major. Strangely they cast Japanese legend Beat Takeshi Kitano-which is fine, as he is a fantastic actor/director-but he has his own dialogue in Japanese and subtitled while no other characters do in the movie.
Another big difference is that this live-action adaptation is nowhere near as philosophically deep or profound as the anime original. I’ll be honest, I had to watch the original a good couple of times for so much of the philosophical theories and issues to sink in and absorb them. With this version, a thin level of the questions around humanity, the self, cyborg, A.I. and robotics are probed but not with too much depth. It would be wrong to have the script be exactly the same as the original but I did feel they could have worked on this more but then in many ways it still is a Hollywood movie aiming for as wide an international audience as possible.
This film is not a total let down. It is not as controversial as you may have been led to believe. If you have not ever seen the original anime or manga you will possibly really love it. You may wonder if it is a Blade Runner spin-off movie. I felt that it was also a little too short. If you have seen the anime movies and series or the manga go see this anyway because it is still very much worth seeing. It is not entirely perfect but it is still a really great new sci-fi movie which does begin to ask some questions about how robots, A.I. and technology may radically alter our lives in only a short time from now.
James E. Parsons is author of two SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century (a cyborg mystery in space) out now in paperback, ebook and hardback in all good bookshops and online. Also his first horror novel Northern Souls is out now in paperback/ebook.