Based on Masamune Shirow’s manga Ghost In The Shell, the adventures of Major Motoko Kusanagi were originally filmed as Mobile Armored Riot Police: Ghost In The Shell in 1995. With a dedicated and fiercely protective fanbase, the announcement of an American remake was contentious from the outset, not least for the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the cyborg counter-cyberterrorist field commander now simply known as “the Major.”
Having passed through at least three writing teams since 2008 when the rights were acquired by Dreamworks, the new version of Ghost in the Shell is directed by Snow White and the Huntsman’s Rupert Sanders, only his second film, with an international cast which includes Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk, Battle Royale‘s Takeshi Kitano, Godzilla‘s Juliette Binoche and I Origins‘ Michael Pitt.
Scheduled for release on 31st March 2017, after a series of brief teases the first trailer has been released and the team offer their opinions.
Matthew Rutland – I love Anime, and Ghost in the Shell is very much a classic and rightly sits alongside the likes of Akira and the creations of Studio Ghibli. What never seems to work, like most media, is the translation to live action. Just like with video games, there are several dozen awful ones for every one which manages to be okay or mediocre.
This, unfortunately, looks a firm favourite for the awful category. Scarlett Johansson looks a sure fire bet for the Razzies with another lurid, over-the-top display in yet another pre-pubescent boy’s fantasy, all style and no content, and certainly captures none of the aesthetic, charm or appeal of the anime. This looks more like it belongs with other awful action-adventure films like Aeon Flux which couldn’t bring to life the animated story.
This is joining the ranks of Attack on Titan and Black Butler in the “to be avoided” stakes. Of course, with the granddaddy of them all Akira due for production, it seems more like Hollywood is again plundering the Asian world of entertainment, looking for a quick buck over, god forbid, an original premise. I’d rather sit and watch Akame ga Kill! again and suffer the feels than see this trailer once more.
Adam Dworak – I enjoyed this trailer a lot. It looks fantastic, with its full palette of colours and unusual graphical style. It’s very heavily dependent on the digital effects but it works very well.
In my opinion use of computer generated images is the only way to successfully transfer a comic book to a big screen. That is why Marvel fails – you can’t tell comic book story simply by transferring it to the real world, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t look right. You need to create a whole consistent universe. Ghost in The Shell seems to be doing it right.
It reminds me a lot of The Fifth Element or Blade Runner. I just hope that a relatively inexperienced director such as Rupert Sanders will be able to balance the movie so the visuals won’t overshadow the actual story and Ghost In The Shell won’t become next Aeon Flux or Ultraviolet.
My only problem is Scarlett Johansson. I understand that the main character, the Major, is a full-body prosthesis augmented-cybernetic human but giving this role to Scarlett who has the acting skills of a mannequin is a bit too much.
Dario Persechino – It looks visually interesting. Scarlett Johansson is consistently good, and I’m sure this will be no exception but the casting of her as Major Kusanagi still leaves a sour taste. Even with an amazing performance this will be marred by whitewashing.
The cityscapes caught my attention more than the action scenes and they do look like something new but also Blade Runner-ish, large television billboards are now large hologram faces, I like the evolution of that.
Without a strong knowledge of the source material there’s nothing in the trailer to grab me that this is a “must see” and with the casting choices it may struggle to draw in die-hard fans of the extremely popular original material.
As it is, I will probably see it but first I’m going to go and finally watch the Anime.
Michael Flett – I’m another one who genuinely doesn’t know the original other than a title and reputation, though it is getting re-released early next year if memory serves so I might get the chance to catch it before this comes out.
Not being particular about the original in the first place I’m perhaps less bothered by the casting of Scarlett Johansson than some, though that is not to say I’m ignorant of the reasons why some might be put out by the decision, but it is one of practicality. The bottom line in Hollywood is to make a profit, and you do that with bankable stars, and between appearances in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron and Civil War she is just that, and this role will quite obviously be playing on that awareness.
I’d love to say “show me a Japanese actor with that international presence,” but there just isn’t one to my knowledge, and I’m not saying that I don’t wish it were otherwise, that we didn’t live in a world where you could cast someone entirely faithful with the original intent and do it in the original language and subtitle it for everyone else, but that simply isn’t so.
At least Scarlett can act, though I’ve never been taken with her as some are – I like her but I kind of find her a bit samey, even when she’s a life sucking alien or just the voice of a computer. Tell me she’s not doing exactly the same here she does as Black Widow, right down to the conflicts of interest, or Lucy.
The alternative was to cast someone totally inappropriate or tell the story and just drop a western character into it to please the studio, like Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin, an unwelcome guest in his own film, and we all know how well that worked out.
It’s also a valid question – just how many people are in fact familiar with the original, and how many of those protesting have ever actually seen it? It may be huge in Japan and within the global subculture which follows Anime, but at most it’s a niche interest and always has been, whereas this is Paramount’s tentpole for the start of next year.
They’re not placing it as their summer blockbuster, that’s Transformers: The Last Knight, due June, but they likely expect this to clear at least in the region of $250 million, maybe more. It does occur to me that a lot of the resentment from the hardcore fans is that if this does become hugely successful it will be how a great many people perceive the story, regardless of the huge history it had. Hollywood productions do tend to have that effect.
I’m getting both Blade Runner and AI – Artificial Intelligence very strongly in this, though as both those were influenced by Japanese culture and style in the first place, why not? And particularly with Blade Runner 2049 due six months after this, they want this to get out before even the trailers for that have broken so people aren’t going to be comparing the two.
I’m also getting Westworld, though with the two having been in production concurrently it’s likely coincidence unless that image of the prototype rising from the gloop bath is in the original, in which case Ghost in the Shell gets to call dibs.
Other than that, it looks like a standard science fiction action piece with lots of guns and explosions and exquisite costumes and a sparse updating of a Depeche Mode classic, but I’m not getting anything that feels unique. I would say I have only seen one Rupert Sanders film, but that’s because he’s only made one, and it was utter rubbish, but look on the bright side, at least he manages to get the controversy out of the way before release this time.
The screenplay has been passed around like a radioactive potato, and apparently the final version was written by Straight Outta Compton‘s Jonathan Herman, obviously a connoisseur of Japanese culture, and Jamie Moss, who wrote Spectral, so good that having finished filming in 2014 its latest release date is the same month as this. At least he’ll only need the to hire the one suit for the two premieres.
I think it unlikely that I won’t see this when it’s released, but that is largely out of curiosity to see what all the fuss is about rather than because of a burning desire generated by this undeniably pretty but somewhat generic trailer.
John McGrory – I was originally torn when I heard of the live action version, but it intrigued me. Some of the visualisation I’ve seen of it remind me of the anime stuff and believe me, I’ve watched everything.
The thing that has gotten to me the most is everyone having a go at a non Japanese performer playing the Major, but if you actually know the original Manga, Batō and the Major weren’t drawn as Japanese but with a western look.
That slightly changed over time but there is no reason for them to not be presented in that way here.
Ghost in the Shell is scheduled for release on 31st March 2017