[Editorial Tuesday] Ghost in the Shell Live-action: New Trailer Gives New Perspective

Live action revivals of animated classics are becoming quite the trend lately. With the upcoming release of Fullmetal Alchemist, and the recent release of the Attack on Titan and Ruroni Kenshin movies, we can assume that this trend will only continue. Hollywood has decided to join in on the live-action anime movie craze, by creating its own take on the Ghost in the Shell series.

Ghost in the shell is a classic sci-fi anime that helped define and solidify the genre in the mid-1990s with its powerfully positive reception. The Ghost in the Shell series goes on to include several anime series, movies, and OVAs. The reaction to this new installment in the Ghost in the Shell franchise is a mixed one. Fans across the world are excited to see their favorite characters come to life, but questions are arising about the casting choices and if the live-action will remain true to its classic story roots.

Plot: Is It Just a Copy?

The original 1995 movie rivaled classics such as Akira, and reflected the popular tone of that time. The Ghost in the Shell movie follows Major Motoko Kusanagi as her and her teammates at Section 9 try to capture the elusive criminal, “The Puppet Master”. Throughout the story we can see Kusanagi struggling with what defines her humanity and how to even qualify her own identity. It follows the similar themes of popular movies at the time, in such that, it is a sci-fi, psychological-thriller that attempts to define what it means to be human.

For the live-action remake of this movie many people are concerned that the new storyline will not follow the old one, or stay true to the nature of The Ghost in the Shell series. An opposing concern is that the story will just be a combined rehash of all past Ghost in the Shell content and not have anything new to add to the franchise.

There has been a side-by-side comparison of shots seen in the recent trailer release and from several other Ghost in the Shell iterations. These shots have been exactly recreated from the anime but combine several movies and series.

GHOST IN THE SHELL: 2017 Movie VS 1995 Anime - Side-by-Side Comparison

For example, we can see at the beginning of the trailer, the Major strips down to dive off the side of a skyscraper to initiate combat with a group of violent geisha robot criminals. This scene combines aspects from both the Ghost in the Shell original movie and the first episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The opening sequence for the movie showing Major Motoko Kusanagi’s cyborg body creation is an exact replica of the scene in the original Ghost in the Shell movie.

This story seems to delve more into Major Kusanagi’s past and how she came to be a cyborg. Originally we were given the information that Major Kusanagi made the change to a full cyborg body when she was a child. Will the movie include that information, or take the story down a different path? The main question we are left with at the end of the trailer is; what happened to Major Kusanagi that forced her to become a cyborg? Was it necessary or by choice? Or is there some diabolical organization out there, unknown to us, that initiated her transformation? This is a new aspect to the series that we have not delved into. Because of this we can conclude that, while having a number of exactly copied scenes, the plot of the movie itself will not just be a combined replication of previous installments.


Cast: Were they the Right Choice?

The main source of controversy for this movie is the cast selection. Some people are up in arms about a Japanese woman, or even an Asian woman, not being selected for the main role of Major Motoko Kusanagi. Instead, the lead character role goes to the seasoned Scarlett Johansson. She is well known for her role as Black Widow in the action-packed Marvel series. This does make her seem to be well qualified for a combat-heavy role such as Major Kusanagi, but many fans cannot get over the fact that the directors decided to go with someone Caucasian while keeping the character’s Japanese name. There are many qualified Japanese actresses who would have been perfect for the role of Major Kusanagi. The most commonly mentioned alternative is Rinko Kikuchi who played Mako Mori in Pacific Rim. In Pacific Rim Kikuchi shows she can play not only a kick-ass combat heavy role but also a complex, and conflicted character. When such a perfect actress exists, why go with the Caucasian big Hollywood name?

Well, that is exactly why, because Johansson is a prominent female actress, especially with the success of the Marvel movies. Having such a popular actress in the lead role probably allowed for more funding and the audience reach will be expanded. Let’s be real, Ghost in the Shell is not the most popular franchise to be expanding on in a Western setting. Putting a famous name to an unknown movie will definitely help at the box office.

Major Kusanagi was not the only character to have been whitewashed in casting. Other favorites such as Batou, the muscular cyborg side-kick with robotic eyes, and Ishikawa, the rough-looking technician, have been cast by Australian and European actors. Batou will be played by Pilou Asbæk, who was also in the movie Lucy, along with Scarlett Johansson. The role of Ishikawa went to Australian actor Lasarus Ratuere, best known for his TV show appearances such as The Leftovers and Terra Nova. The rest of the main cast of Section 9 is made up of well-known Asian actors such as, Takeshi Kitano who plays Aramaki and Chin Han.

The Ghost in the Shell live action does seem to be including the Laughing Man in this iteration of the story. The character of the Laughing Man has been cast by Michael Pitt. Pitt has been seen in other projects such as, I Origins and Boardwalk Empire. He clearly has a knack for the eccentric and psychological thrillers, so the Laughing Man should be a good fit for him.

Fans are conflicted over these choices. They all seem to be solid actors with notable credits to their name, Asbæk has even worked with Johansson before. The main concern with this cast of characters is; do they make up a realistic, cohesive Section 9? Will the audience see the unified cast working together well, or will hard-core fans be distracted by the nonconformity to the original?


Final Thoughts

No matter what reservations you might have about the new Ghost in the Shell live action movie, it seems like a lot of effort was put into keeping the tone and overall story accurate to the original film and series. We will see the return of some beloved characters such as the Laughing Man, Batou, and of course, Major Kusanagi.
Though, we don’t yet know how big of a role the Laughing Man will play in this movie. With the plot seeming to focus more on the origin story of Major Kusanagi, how will the Laughing Man play a part? We can see that the director for this live action remake is drawing from many aspects of the Ghost in the Shell world. We can only keep our fingers crossed that they will do The Major, and her classic story of humanity, justice.

Devan Baird

Writer

Author: Devan Baird

I was the co-founder for the anime convention Swampcon at the University of Florida. Currently living and working in Tokyo as a writer, editor, and video editor. With my daily vlog on everyday life in Tokyo, you can see how the Japanese lifestyle can be completely different from what you expected!

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