Mange, if not Japanese animation, is a fascinating hybrid. East meets West, the past meets the future, human civilization and technology become one. If you think the last one is a stuff of movies, then check out the humanoid robot at Haneda International Airport. Tokyo will likely end up as that futuristic metropolis in "Ghost in the Shell". Director Rupert Sanders (or DreamWorks Pictures) wasn't the first in Hollywood to think such hybrid, but the filmmaking community in this part of America got their cue from mange (or Japanese animation). Think of "Night on the Galactic Railroad", where philosophical cats were musing about their very existence. The stunning Italian countryside may have inspired them, it might be Italo Calvino as well. Kenji Miyazawa penned this classic children's tale before World War II, and it would be hard to tell if this book prompted Calvino to write "If on a winter's night a traveler". But there were similarities between the two. Authors were responsible for turning our world into one (global) village.
In the case of "Ghost in the Shell", a counter-terrorist operative was suddenly thrust into an existentialist crisis in this graft-ridden seaside city of Japan. Masamune Shinow, who created this mange series, was searching for the basic answers amidst the neon lights, 3D images towering above skyscrapers, and inhabitants who may be robots in disguise. Could there be a place for feelings in such a place? People would cling to memories, which would define them. But what they do would make them instead. The last one sounded Hollywood.
Jess Hall did an impressive job in recreating Shinow's work to the big screen. Scarlett Johansson, who played the counter-terrorist operative in crisis, was seen drifting above the seabed, plankton and sea grasses drifting aimlessly around her. It was cold and dark, not too different from the city where she lived. She was alone. No one would trouble her. This brief image captured the essence of the series. If that won't be enough, then check out the cemetery resembling the amphitheater. There were several floors of small apartments beneath it, which would be a perfect Gothic setting. Alas, DreamWorks don't want to alienate viewers.
Johansson was the ideal choice for an action-packed motion picture set in the distant future, but "Ghost in the Shell" was more than high energy and explosion. In fairness to Sanders, the first thirty minutes of the movie was faithful to the series. There was mystery and awe while watching the fusion of the human brain and artificial intelligence. (The opening credit scenes pretty summed it up.) The director was a huge fan of Japanese Cinema, as Takeshi Kitano seemed miscast in the role as the head of the operative until he brought out a gun in a later scene. This would be the Beat Takeshi that his fans knew too well.
The rest of the film was more like a Hollywood science fiction movie. (Think of "Robocop".) It would disappoint the fans of the series, even those who made mange a passion. It was like DreamWorks don't have any trust in the moviegoers in North America. Then again, they don't have a clue about how to adapt it. And an eye-candy spectacle might be the best option. The box-office results revealed that the film fell below expectations, but it doesn't mean that Hollywood won't consider adopting another mange series to the big screen. It won't be "Night on the Galactic Railroad", though.