Ghost in the Shell: An Overview

With the announcement of the casting of Scarlett Johansson, it seems that the long in Production Hell live action Ghost in the Shell movie is finally underway. However, before the film’s release in 2017, not everybody might be familiar with this little piece of anime history. So here’s a little over-view to bring you up to speed with the source material and the reaction to Johansson’s casting.

What is Ghost in the Shell?

Ghost in the Shell started out as a manga written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow, running in Japan from 1989-1990 and the film, directed by Mamoru Oshii, came out in 1995. It is set in a cyberpunk near future and is about Major Motoko Kusanagi, cybernetic police officer working with public security agency Section 9. The team are hunting for a criminal known as The Puppet Master, a hacker with the capability to “ghost hack” cybernetic individuals. The film was a big hit both in its native Japan and Stateside for its impressive visuals, action, and it’s intelligent, philosophical themes about identity and our sense of self in an increasingly technology dominant world. It was also a major influence on science fiction in the late 90s/early 2000s, most prominently in the Wachowski siblings’ Matrix trilogy. With a later television series, Standalone Complex, in 2002, a movie sequel, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, in 2004 and a new OVA (straight to video) series last year the franchise is still going strong.

A live action Hollywood version has been in the works for some time, but there’s never been much success. With the securing of Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders and now Scarlett Johansson set to star as Motoko, the film is going ahead. Personally I think there is potential in a live action version of the anime film, certainly in terms of the action and the cyberpunk visuals. On the other hand the film and in particular the casting of Johansson has made a few people unhappy.

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What’s wrong with Scarlet Johansson?

In general, nothing at all. Scarlet Johansson has really developed over the last few years to be a very capable and watchable actress. She’s proven her box office and action status in films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Lucy, and also shown with film’s like the A.I love story Her and the dark and mesmerising Under The Skin that she’s no stranger to thematic science fiction. Nonetheless the decision to cast her as Motoko by Dreamworks has given rise to cries out against the Hollywood whitewashing that has become more and more prevalent. The critics against the decision have been outraged that Hollywood is once again neglecting to cast someone of the same race as the character, instead opting to cast a white actress who will guarantee a high box office return. They also point out that there is even a very fitting alternative for the role in Rinko Kikuchi, who is no stranger to action after starring in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. She also isn’t a complete unknown after gaining much critical acclaim for her roles in both Babel and the upcoming Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. She has an enjoyable scene presence and I do think could have really brought something to Ghost on the Shell if cast.

Overall whilst I will reserve judgement on the Ghost in the Shell film until I see it, I do think that it’s a shame that Hollywood has opted for easy money rather than taking the chance to deliver a more diverse blockbuster. Nevertheless it will still be a female led action orientated blockbuster, which has also been particularly lacking of late.

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Alright, I’ve seen the anime original, what now?

Anime can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated, with a wide variety of works and genres. Once you’ve checked out the original Ghost in the Shell, these might be worth a look as well:

Akira

Obvious one out of the way first, this is another one of the big anime classics (and another one that has been stuck in Hollywood remake Production Hell). It shares Ghost in the Shell’s cyberpunk futuristic setting and features motorcycle gangs, telekinetic monsters and massive amounts of action and destruction.

Paranoia Agent

This series from 2004 isn’t necessarily science fiction, but does have a lot of food for thought with its twisted themes of sanity and guilt. A series of attacks carried out by a strange assailant called “Lil Slugger” causes fear and panic. As the police attempt to track him down, evidence comes to light to suggest that this attacker is more than human.

Cowboy Bebop

Back to science fiction, but a bit lighter in tone, Cowboy Bebop follows the adventures of a ragtag gang of outer space bounty hunters. Full of humour, fun action, and a really great soundtrack, this one is a big treat.

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