Japanese Fans React to ‘Ghost in the Shell’

Ghost in the Shell -Scarlett Johansson - Still 1-Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures
Audiences in the home of the iconic franchise are mostly impressed with the look of Rupert Sanders' reimagining of the story and remain unmoved by the whitewashing controversy, but rue the absence of the depth of the source material.

Ghost in the Shell opened in Japan on Friday, and the Hollywood version is winning more plaudits in the land of the original manga and anime than it did in the U.S. Meanwhile, a new Japanese addition to the franchise was announced on the same day.

Rupert Sanders' take on the iconic manga/anime franchise is earning praise from Japanese audiences for its look, but less kudos for its storytelling. The film currently has a 3.5-star rating on Yahoo Japan Movies, with four stars for its visuals and three for its story.

That reflects the view of Tomoki Hirano, a big fan of the original manga and anime, who had just seen the Hollywood version at the Toho Cinema complex in Shinjuku, central Tokyo.

"It looked really cool and I really enjoyed it. They didn't just try and copy the original, but came up with an original story, which was a better approach," he told The Hollywood Reporter.

"Because it was a Hollywood production, they could use that size of budget to create those visuals of that quality," added Hirano.

Most major Japanese movies don't cost a tenth of the $110 million budget of the DreamWorks and Paramount production.

Hirano, like most Japanese fans, had no issue with Scarlett Johansson's casting in the pic.

"She was very cool. I loved her in The Avengers, and I wanted to see this because she was in it," said Hirano. "If they had done a Japanese live-action version, they would have probably cast some silly idol [girl-band member]."

However, he was less impressed by the pic's failure to address the complex issues of identity in the manga and anime.

"That was the base of the original story — where does the soul reside? That influenced films like The Matrix, but didn't get addressed in this film," said Hirano.

Yuki, a young office worker who watched the film at the same theater, also found it had more style than substance.

"It looked amazing. I think that was the best visuals they could have done in a live-action version," he said. "The story was a bit shallow, though; it didn't go deep into the themes of the anime. But it's a Hollywood version, so that's what you expect."

Yuki, who said he hadn't read the original manga, said Johansson was "probably the best choice" to play the lead character.

"I heard people in the U.S. wanted an Asian actress to play her," he said. "Would that be OK if she was Asian or Asian-American? Honestly, that would be worse, someone from another Asian country pretending to be Japanese. Better just to make the character white."

Ghost in the Shell is currently tracking just behind Sing, which has topped the Japanese box office for the past three weeks.

Anime studio Production I.G. announced Friday that a new local version is now in the works, to be co-directed by Kenji Kamiyama, who helmed the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series, and Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed Alpha).