Scheduled for 2017, the live action adaption of famed anime Ghost in the Shell is set to come out, with Scarlet Johansson set to play the titular role of Major Motoko Kusanagi.
Ghost in the Shell is set in mid-twenty-first century, in the fictional Japanese city Niihama Prefecture, known as New Port City. Both the manga and multiple anime adaptions focus on the members of public security Section 9, a special operations task force consisting of former military officers and police detectives. In this possible future, humans have developed the technology to replace the entire boy, and even the brain, with cybernetic parts. Many members of the city’s populace possess “cyberbrains,” a technology which enables them to interface their biological brains with various networks. Motoko Kusanagi has had her entire body and the majority of her brain replaced, causing her to become a cyborg.
One of the main difficulties with speculation on the upcoming in film is that there has been and will be multiple adaptions and reimaginings of this world and story. The original manga came out in 1989, and there is another animated film set to come out just two years before the live action production, the video games, the OVA series, the other two animated films already made and the 2002 television series could cause someone to ask what exactly the studio plans to adapt. The best guess someone could make would be the first animated film done by Production I.G., Ghost in the Shell, which was released in 1995 and follows the "Puppet Master" storyline from the manga. Fans seem to widely consider it the definitive adaption of the manga, it most often having been the person’s first introduction into the manga.
The film, despite its age, remains stunning on multiple levels, whether it be the unique digitally generated animation, gripping story, or even the fact that it’s cultural impact can still be felt to this day. A great deal has been made of the film’s concerns with sexuality and gender identity. Female cyborgs within film are often sexualised, this being deeply analysed within such articles as The Guardian’s ‘Ex Machina and Sci-Fi’s obsession with sexy female robots,’ written by Steve Rose.
Motoko Kusanagi is arguably the antithesis of this trope, as her colleagues in no way appear to consider her to be a sexual being. The body within her world is one which may rapidly adapt and change. The human is a “ghost” within their cyborg “shell.” It is highly unlikely that any of these nuanced concepts and ideas will be featured in a Hollywood adaption of the anime. After all, the majority of tropes criticised within The Guardian’s article came from Hollywood.
There is no sure way of telling how much will be lost in translation, but we can make an educated guess based upon what had been lost in previous adaptions. There have been countless live action adaptions of anime, but only a select few have been filmed in America, and none until the 1990s.
What is more concerning, however, is that no adaption has ever gotten anything better than mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. One reason often touted is a lack of a coherent storyline and deviating from the source material, films like Guyver, the first ever anime adaption within the states, being accused of conforming to straight to DVD and video tendencies by relying on humour, and featuring unforgivably bad acting.
Whilst supporters of the original film can hopefully trust those working on Ghost in the Shell to not try to find humour in the film where there isn’t much to be found, their choice of actor will likely raise a few questions. Their choice of widely recognizable actress Scarlet Johansen for the leading role is undoubtedly partly based in Hollywood’s tendency to pursue “safe” films. A film with a famous actress in it is more likely to be a hit than a film with a more obscure but appropriate actress.
Rupert Sanders’ choice to have Scarlett Johansen play the role of the female heroine could also be based in her previous repertoire of roles, those of late largely consisting of action heroines. In this respect, Scarlett Johansen could be a good choice for the role, her experience within this type of movie giving more credence to expect a good performance. However, the role she is playing is still a Japanese women living in a futuristic vision of Japan.
Perhaps, however, the biggest drawback is the move from animation to live-action due to its very nature. Many anime fans become attached to the genre due to a desire to see new ideas and new stories. The vast array of images and concepts within Japanese culture remains largely ignored by the rest of the world, despite its growing popularity. Another key strength of anime over live action is that it does not rely so heavily on CGI for its effects, and any CGI is easier, arguably, to adapt to the original animation, enhancing the effects, rather than placing CGI over real people. It has been well noted that CGI is often recognised by the brain as “fake,” even if it’s only subconscious. For many people, this can become too distracting. Animation offers a deeper level of audience immersion into a world which may seem bizarre to the audience otherwise. One example of this happening in another anime series would be recent hit Attack on Titan, an anime adaption of a manga about the last dregs of humanity trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world in which giant, unclothed humanoids are compulsively driven to eat them. A plot like this would simply be impossible for live action, but the anime manages to pull it off with its interesting storyline, fantastic music and striking animation.
Ultimately, concerns over this movie go much further than simply it being a good movie by regular standards. With even more popular anime and manga franchise Death Note, Bleach and Cowboy Bebop being rumoured to be the next to be adapted by the United States, the way in which this movie is made, the changes it makes, the faithfulness of its adaption, all of this will likely shape these upcoming films.