GHOST IN THE SHELL Whitewashing: Go big or go home.

The race thing is not handled very well in this live-action adaptation of one of the greatest anime movies ever made, Ghost in the Shell. Both films are set in Hong Kong, but the central characters in the original are Asian and all but one of the core characters in the new version are white. And it is not explained why these white, English-speaking characters—the main baddies, the sidekick, the star—are in an Asian city. They are just there, and we are asked to accept that as a fact.

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To make matters more puzzling, early in the film we encounter a happy group of Nigerian-looking Africans, who are clearly foreigners and are shopping for the latest wetware in the Asian city, in much the same way West African entrepreneurs of our times visit Guangzhou on business visas to get the best deals on hot products pumped out of Chinese factories. They seem not to notice or mind how this Asian city is dominated by a small group of white scientists, CEOs, and government officials.

Why wasn’t the American version of the original Shell set in Los Angeles or New York City or something? There was no real need for it to happen in the same place, Hong Kong. The story—which concerns a cyborg, the Major (played by the queen of science-fiction cinema, Scarlett Johansson), who, while investigating a hacker, learns more and more about her past and the deep secrets of the corporation that made her a machine/monster—could have survived the relocation to the United States with next to no damage.

But, no, they had to make it an Asian city, and the main character a white woman playing an Asian woman with an Asian mother. Enough of this dumb race shit. We live in the 21st century. If Black female rocket scientists can produce a box-office hit in the US, Hidden Figures, then surely Asian cyborgs, scientists, and CEOs can do the same.

Also, the live-action Ghost in the Shell is nowhere near as good as the original, which did for Hong Kong what Blade Runner did for Los Angeles, or The Matrix did for Sydney, or Her did for Shanghai (which plays LA in that superb work). The city in these films is not just stuck in the background but built into the plot. In the live-action Ghost in the Shell, the city is nothing but the background.

And, like the awful Autómata, the film’s big urban “idea” is a bunch of giant holograms that advertise products on top of and between buildings. Those holograms are not cool or convincing or as original as, to use the words of the great urban theorist Mike Davis, the “enormous neon images that float like clouds above fetid streets” in Blade Runner. Any mayor with half a mind would ban those hideous holograms. They have no future in advertising.

One more thing: Recall that there are almost no cars in Her (which stars the voice of Johansson). Public transportation in that future rules. You will find only two buses and not one train in the live-action Ghost in the Shell. It’s all cars and flying freeways in this world.

True, the movie makes one nod to the iconic building of Japanese metabolist architecture of the 1970s, the Nakagin Capsule Tower (in this live-action Ghost in the Shell, it turns up in Hong Kong and counts a white scientist played by Juliette Binoche as one of its residents), but it ain’t enough. We need more than that. The future of the world is not found in cars or whitewashing.

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