For many Ghost in the Shell was the start of a love affair with Anime and Manga. For me it was Crying Freeman, but that’s another story. Now after several teaser production shots and teaser trailers we finally get to see what the final live action version will look like.
Before going into more detail, it’s probably worth addressing the elephant in the room and the issue that has caused so much consternation – the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi. Whilst I fully appreciate that in the past lots of movies have given iconic ethnic roles to western actors and actresses (who can forget John Wayne as Genghis Khan in 1956 or the ridiculously buck-toothed Mickey Rooney as Iy Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961), however, we have seen a shift away from this in modern movies with more neutral casting. We have seen Quvenzhane Wallis as Annie, Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, even for those concerned with such issues, Morgan Freeman played Ellis Boyd “Red” in Shawshank Redemption (who Stephen King originally wrote as a white Irishman).
We should also remember that this is still a commercial business, and casting such a well known actress guarantees solid audiences. This is not necessarily a bad thing, you wouldn’t expect a Bollywood movie to cast East Asians or Caucasians, or Nollywood (Nigerian Cinema) movies to cast Caucasians. Just as you wouldn’t expect Hong Kong martial arts movies to cast Caucasians, Indians, or Latinos, etc. Local industries cast what’s local and their primary, majority audience.
With that said, I really believe Johansson is a great choice. We need to consider that even in the 1995 original anime, Major Kusanagi doesn’t have an authentic oriental look, she is much more neutral in appearance, which given SJ is an American, Caucasian, Polish/Russian Ashkenazi Jewish woman, she has that neutrality covered.
We need to understand that the Major is a cyborg and as such is much older than her body appears. She has had many bodies and many repairs, so her ‘look’ is as much about choice as it is function.
In fact, in episode 11 of the second season of “Ghost in the shell: Stand alone complex”, we are given an origin story for the Major and how she came to be a cyborg. Kusanagi was in a plane crash that left her in a comma, she was one of the few survivors along with a boy sitting next to her, and as she laid in a comma, the boy made origami for her. Eventually Kusanagi was taken away to get a cybernetic body, and one day returned to talk to the boy, trying to convince him to also get a cyborg body upgrade, but the boy didn’t recognize her new face/body at all. The episode can be watched here:
According to the characters creator, Shirow, said that the Major’s appearance was supposed to be a mass production model so she would not be conspicuous. Her electrical and mechanical system within is special, and features parts unavailable on the civilian market. Otherwise, in the GitS universe, there was a risk of ambushing her to steal her body parts.
Even, so, the likeness between Johansson and the original anime character is startlingly accurate.
My initial feeling towards these types of re-makes is “please, please, don’t screw this up”. The trailer gives us a good sense that they are looking at the same brooding feeling created in the original film. The vast array of colours and sounds should add to the depth and give us a really good interpretation of the original.
Pilou Asbæk looks great as Batou and I really hope that he can portray the characters no nonsense approach. For much of the original, the relationship between the Major and Batou provides a glimmer of hope amongst some dark themes. Whilst Batou appears to have more than professional feelings for Kusanagi, these feelings do not seem to be reciprocated. It will be interesting to see how they handle this ambiguity in the new version.
I’m sure there will be some disappointment that Johansson dons a skinsuit for the role, albeit a tremendously revealing one, but I think this is very sensitively handled, given how often she is naked in the original anime. At least by showing this in the trailer, we avoid a backlash from over zealous fanboys. The skinsuit at the end of the day is basically the camouflage armour she wears in the anime. It’s worth noting that by not having her nipples on show the producers are able to apply a PG-13 rating, making the movie open to a much wider audience.
The trailer gives us strong hints that it will be fairly faithful to the original 1995 movie, with some very similar cinematography and scene styling, all adding to the hope that this will actually be as good as we are hoping it will be.
Although, we can also see that they have brought in some elements from the wider GitS series; the Geisha scene is from the Stand Alone Complex series and the Giesha robots themselves were first seen in the sequel to GitS, Innocence. Even so, the classic water fighting sequence really looks spectacular. The trailer even gives us a tiny sneak look at the tank scene – colour me excited.
Obviously the trailer is intended to spark the interest of people that don’t know the original, but let’s hope that they don’t sacrifice the really deep philosophical elements. It’s these scenes that give the Major a really strong rounded character. Here’s hoping for some strong substance to hold together the action sequences.
For a real treat, they have also released a ‘cam’ version of the opening shelling sequence (pre-post production), which features the original music and will be a truly amazing start to the movie.
See it here:
Everything considered, I’m really looking forward to this movie, let’s just keep everything crossed that they get it right in the end.