I thought about this the other day when my Ghost In The Shell (1995) DVD arrived in the post (as I really wanted to own a copy). To explain: this movie is an anime neo-noir cyberpunk thriller directed by Mamoru Oshii. It was given the Hollywood remake treatment in 2017, with a live-action version starring Scarlett Johansson, which itself got a mixed reception. Not least because of the controversy surrounding her casting.
But… cards on the table: I have to say I enjoyed Ghost In The Shell (2017) more than I thought I would. On its release, some said it was yet another example of Hollywood whitewashing an Asian character. But without getting too much into it (although Time do a great summary), I think that without having seen the film or her performance, or taking the time to understand the character — people were getting offended for the sake of getting offended.
Which is par for the course these days.
Controversy notwithstanding, I think she put in a good performance. Indeed, Mamoru Oshii even came out to say there was no basis that an Asian actor should play the role; as the character in question is a cyborg with a brain. She’s literally a ‘ghost’, in a ‘shell’. Keep up, people. I’m here all week.
But anyway, from my point of view it was a decent movie, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. It also further cemented by belief that she should do more sci-fi. There’s something about her wide eyes and her face, and the way she seems to look at the world in a detached and curious manner. Qualities that lend themselves well to playing ‘other than human’ and exploring the human condition.
There’s also elements of feminism at play, breaking down her beauty and her body, dismantling her sexuality, and so on. Some might argue that she’s doing nothing of the sort, and it’s actually to play to fanboys and wear a lot of figure-hugging leotards. I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself which is true. Perhaps it can be both?
Some other examples to throw in the mix include Under The Skin (2013), where she plays an otherworldly woman who preys on men in Scotland. She says little in this movie which, along with her calm and beautiful visage, make her deeply unsettling.
That same year she did Her (2013), a sci-fi romantic drama which had Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely lead develop feelings for his virtual assistant, voiced by Johansson. For those that say she’s just a pretty face, her aural performance was warm, sensual, empathetic and human, yet also coolly detached and devoid of compassion.
It was kind of perfect and, looking back, puts me in mind of Alicia Vikander’s performance in Ex Machina (2014).
A year later Scarlett did Lucy (2014), one of those frenetic Luc Besson sci-fi action flicks which has an interesting premise, yet one which gets a little lost amidst the car chases. But as events of the film progress, Scarlett’s Lucy begins to become detached from humanity and transcend its limitations. That was the part I found the most interesting (in both the film and her performance). Basically all the stuff at the end — I wanted to see more of that.
There is even a case to be made for The Island (2005), an ‘escape from dystopia’ mash-up of Logan’s Run and a few other movies. As far as first halves go, it was compelling enough. The main issue I had was in Michael Bay’s direction. He was, predictably, much more interested in explosions than digging into the sci-fi side. So, in a way, much like Logan’s Run, when our heroes finally escape and go on the run, the movie becomes less interesting.
So, to sum up…
Scarlett has explored a fairly broad spectrum in terms of sci-fi, and I’m keen to see her do more. Perhaps, if I’m honest, I just want to see more of her in the Ghost In The Shell world and cyberpunk environment. Luckily, I might get my wish, as Netflix have approached her to do a live-action TV series. It’s not confirmed as a done deal, but I hope she decides to do this project.
I’d watch the hell out of that show.