Ghost in the Shell: Hollywood’s $100-Million-Dollar Bet
On March 31st, 2017, come rain or shine, sleet or snow, my butt will be firmly in its seat at the local theater to watch the Hollywood adaptation of one of my favorite animes: Ghost in the Shell. It’s no secret among my friends that Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite animes and manga series to come out of Japan since Akira. I like the anime so much, that I even posted a video on Youtube in the form of a short poetry-ode to the original animated film to the collective chagrin, troll-baiting, and amusement of several people. I still haven’t died of embarrassment over that stunt, but there’s still a chance if tags net any extra traffic.
There is reason to be excited about the film, as well. Unlike other western adaptations of previous animes, this one has been given, a rumored, nine-figure budget to ensure top quality throughout the film’s production (Scarlett Johansson alone has been paid $10 Million and given top billing to star in the film as The Major). Even Mamoru Oshii, the director of the first original anime film from 1995 endorsed the adaptation (for what it’s worth); although there has been no word from the original creator of the series, himself, Masamune Shirow (which is troubling, but not suspect). And considering the source material, which not only involved action sequences that inspired The Matrix, but also included philosophical intrigues that drew from the likes of Rene Descartes, Jean Baudrillard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Simply put: it’s a series too cool and too clever to easily screw up.
However, this film’s success probably fills me with even more dread than its failure. After the stinkers that were the Chun-li movie and the Dragon Ball Evolution film, I’ve come to expect this to be the best Hollywood could do in terms of adapting anime for the American screen and calibrated my expectations accordingly. Having said that, Ghost in the Shell comes into the fold at a unique time in Hollywood.
The elephant in the room, which has only gotten bigger over the past year, is that Marvel and DC films have been doing okay, but not stellar. Just looking at the budgets and revenues of films like Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, both made their bottom line in terms of dollars (thanks in part to China and Europe). However, both also received poor reception from both fans and critics. Not only that, but countless other superhero films have been coming in fast and furious to the point where some comic book fans can’t even keep up. Fans are getting bombarded with so many superhero films, that movie studios are now strategizing on how to combat the movie consumer’s growing “superhero fatigue.” Knowing the movie industry’s knack for marketing, I’m sure this will probably work in the short term (or as long as they can keep releasing sequels to the Avengers and rebooting Batman), but the writing on the wall is clear: some other trend is going to have to pick up the slack.
Ghost in the Shell, I believe, represents Hollywood’s first true dip into doing a legit, high-budget, and highly marketed anime adaptation aimed at America, as well as the Ghost in the Shell fans who live here. If successful, there are dozens and dozens of other anime series that the Hollywood machine may be more than happy to appropriate, repackage and pass off as something fresh and exciting (because, seriously, how many people outside of reddit and anime conventions know what the hell Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, or Gundam Wing are?). For Hollywood, Ghost in the Shell may be their quiet hope that they can start the pivot to sell “new” franchises and create new “fans” of future anime adaptations made for Westerners, by Westerners, and featuring Western actors.
They’ll do this because Hollywood knows something that most diehard fans seem to fail to comprehend which is that most people who watch these comic book films, like myself, never made much of a connection with DC and Marvel outside of the movies that got released for mass consumption. Sure, there is loyalty (I happen to be a fan of the X-Men films), but that extends only as far as theater ticket buys with accompanied Blu-Ray releases. The last time that I even bought any comic blatantly Marvel or DC was back in 1999. I wouldn’t have even known what Guardians of the Galaxy was (much less that it started as a comic by Marvel) had there not been a movie about it. I consider myself a fan of X-Men, but I can only count on one hand the number of comic issues I actually read of that series. The X-Men movies are, truly, my only way of having any knowledge about the X-Men universe at all. When I admit to these kinds of things, it tends to piss off the more die-in-the-wool fans who actually did the work. Even the more polite ones often try and fail at hiding their internal eye-rolling. I usually deal with these encounters with polite indifference at best and passive-aggressive trolling at worst.
But now I may finally get a taste of my own medicine. Which brings us back to the dread that I’ve been feeling. This movie may fail, and I’ll be upset, but I’ll live. This movie may also become a success and spawn a whole new wave of fans who gush about Scarlett Johansson’s role as The Major without caring or even knowing that there were three graphic novels, four anime films, and two anime T.V series that preceded it, much less seek any of that out. I don’t know if I’m ready to confront the me that may have to face that kind of world sometime soon.
Either way, whether I like it or not, I’m just going to have to deal with it; and, hopefully, it won’t take me that long. We’ll all just have to wait and see.