I dislike movie theaters and usually wait to watch movies when they come out on demand or DVD. Ghost In the Shell was no exception, especially due to the “whitewashing” controversy which made me less-than-excited about this movie.
Finally having watched it just yesterday, my review of the movie is that they distilled some general themes and isolated scenes from the anime series (which was amazing in comparison) into a general action movie suitable for worldwide release.
Stripped from this movie was anything sexual or messily violent and the overall theme of government interference, human individuality, and freedom was boiled down to a fight against a corporate villain. The politics, issues of sexual identity, and even deeper character exploration, were all stripped away in order to create a PG-13 sci-fi action movie that would play safely across all target markets.
In my opinion, the reason for this is twofold:
- Movie studios need to recoup their investment and leading with content that is safe and digestible by large audiences essentially ensures that a movie is “safe” enough for the entire family. Predictable storylines and characters resonate with the masses (yeah, that last part sounds arrogant but I’m sticking with it because it is true).
- Chinese politics.
Investment and partnership from Chinese companies in US filmmaking comes with strings attached. And part of those strings are ensuring that any content meets domestic political standards as set by the government. Content must be non-threatening and meet the relatively puritanical standards set forth by the Communist Party.
Translation: violence is strong but not bloody, sex is toned down or non-existent, and corporations and people can be villains but never governments (or if there is a government villain, it will be a Western one).
Ghost In the Shell is just one example. The current flood of superhero movies (with the exception of Deadpool) fall into that category as do even small productions like Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi. In that movie, about an international fight club, a scene had to be inserted in which it is noted that only foreigners would watch two people kill each other and that none of the fights were broadcast even illegally in China.
The US has a history of film censorship so this not a unique phenomenon but it is a troubling one in terms of what we can expect from large film studios in the near future as they remain dependent upon foreign money and audiences.
In context of China’s troubled history between the Opium Wars in the 19th-century through occupation by foreigners, multiple wars including the Taiping Rebellion, World War II, and then the chaos of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; this can be understood. China, under any government, would strive to ensure order, self-respect, and strength.
The government under Chiang Kai-shek both in China and then later in Taiwan, also introduced strict controls under the auspices of modernity and strength. Throughout the 20th century, the Communist and the Nationalist governments introduced hygiene, health, and empowerment programs dedicated to eradicating disease, the appearance of weakness and to promoting a vision of China as a strong and modern country.
However, the type of strength that does not allow for creativity and liberty is a brittle one and will not solve the issues at hand….and they will contribute to uninspiring movies in the meantime.