The latest episode of the Substandard—which climbed to number ten on iTune's TV & Film Podcasts sub-chart last week; download now and/or leave a review to help us maintain this dominance of what has to be iTunes' least-popular subsection—is a sure-to-be-popular Ghost in the Shell podcast. JVL, Vic, and I discuss the anime adaptation as well as the career of its star, Scarlett Johansson. Vic and JVL also spent five minutes discussing something called "Star Blazers" or "Blazed Stars" or some such, I dunno. Damn Gen Xers. Give it a listen!
One thing we talk about a bit but don't really get into is why Ghost in the Shell flopped as hard as it did. Some have pointed to the so-called "whitewashing" controversy, saying that audiences stayed away because a white actress was cast in a role that should've been portrayed by a Japanese actress. Did the whinging of a handful of constantly aggrieved Tumblrinas and their muses in the media keep people at home? Maybe, I guess.
I would say a much stronger argument could be made that, simply put, audiences had no idea what the movie was about? Look, I knew what Ghost in the Shell was about because I'm a dork who owned a VHS of the original anime film. But if you weren't familiar with the source material, I'm not sure that this trailer gives off anything other than "generic action movie" vibes. I mean, check it out:
Now it is better than the "generic action movie" feel that trailer gives off, in large part because its perfectly cast: ScarJo and her squad of cyber-enhanced cops are pretty wonderful. And the film itself gets into hairier ethical grounds than you might suspect from this trailer—what it means to meld man and machine, that sort of thing. Can you retain your soul if you replace your skin with circuitry? It's not groundbreaking stuff or anything, but its crisply done and stylishly shot and impeccably acted. Like JVL, I left the theater wanting more—and am vaguely disappointed that the box office results mean we're probably not going to get it.
The real issue here is that anime/manga is a niche market with a small number of intense fans. You can't pitch something like Ghost in the Shell as if its Spider-Man or Batman to general viewers—American audiences, outside of a hardcore group of dorks like myself, aren't familiar with this property at all. If you're going to throw $110 million at a movie that doesn't come with a great deal of pre-awareness, you need a marketing campaign that's a bit cleverer than "look, kicking and punching!"