The first full-length trailer for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation just dropped, and it’s full of subtle details, striking imagery, homages to past works in the GitS universe, and a few tricks of its own. After the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as The Major was met with overwhelming accusations of offensive whitewashing, Paramount made the diplomatic decision to release the film’s first full-length trailer at an exclusive event in Tokyo, showcasing an interest in respecting the country which gave birth to the worldwide phenomenon that is Ghost in the Shell.
After watching and re-watching the trailer, inspecting every detail with our signature Screen Rant scrutiny, we’ve come away with observations, impressions, and questions. With this film, Paramount and director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) are tackling one of the most important science fiction stories of the last 30 years. Will they do justice to the legendary source material? We won’t find out for sure until the film releases on March 31st, 2017, but until then, we can judge this trailer as a snapshot of what the final product may ultimately entail. Read on for our in-depth Trailer Breakdown: Ghost in the Shell.
9. What is Being Adapted Here?
We’re living in the age of reboots. In just the last 15 years or so, we’ve seen three different versions of Spider-Man;Thomas Jane, Ray Stevenson, and Jon Berenthal have all played The Punisher; and just as many actors have played The Incredible Hulk. Everything is either being rebooted, remade, or otherwise retooled to make old ideas appear new. Ghost in the Shell is no different. From its debut in 1989 as a serialized manga, each adaptation has existed in their own continuities.
The 1995 film is based on the manga, but with some significant changes, including a (slightly) warmer characterization to The Major, as well as a significant tightening of the manga’s broad focus, in an effort to expeditiously get to the core themes of the story. The movie received a sequel in 2004, entitled Innocence (with the Ghost in the Shell 2 prefix added for its western release), which is loosely based on a chapter from the manga, but with a more auteur-like approach from writer/director Mamoru Oshii resulting in a deeply layered, if impenetrably esoteric, sequel.
2003 saw the release of the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, an anime series which has arguably eclipsed the original movie as the most popular version of the property. SAC is its own beast, a reboot which takes inspiration, but is not beholden to, the manga and the movies. This iteration of the franchise ran for 52 episodes, as well as a follow-up film, Solid State Society. Finally, Ghost in the Shell: Arise came out in 2013 as an OVA series, which was concluded with a new movie, the aptly-titled Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.
Based on the imagery from the trailer, as well as the few plot details of which we are aware, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell film will likely borrow elements from each of these disparate continuities, though with a noticeable focus on the first movie and the Stand Alone Complex anime series. The first two minutes of the film were shown at the trailer launch event in Tokyo, and they are a picture-perfect recreation of the opening scene of the 1995 version. Meanwhile, the Hollywood version of the lead character, The Major, appears to be borrowing more from the Stand Alone Complex version of the character.
8. The Film’s Opening
Based on the trailer, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the film’s first action set piece will be the robot geisha attack witnessed in the opening seconds of the trailer. It seems like the hostage situation is borrowed from the first episode of Stand Alone Complex, while The Major’s rooftop dive and dynamic entry are taken wholesale from the 1995 film. In the trailer, The Major is not shown shooting the robots, so perhaps they are being used by the true hostage-takers, the cybernetically-enhanced men in suits who find themselves on the wrong side of a shootout with The Major.
Now would be a good time to mention The Matrix. The legend goes that The Wachowskis showed the 1995 Ghost in the Shell film to producer Joel Silver to showcase the visual style they wanted to emulate with their own cyberpunk action movie. The influence of the anime on The Matrix is immediate and obvious to fans of both properties. Now that Ghost in the Shell is becoming a major Hollywood movie itself, it’s only natural that the slow-motion shootouts would be compared to those of The Matrix. Additionally, other scenes in the trailer feature brief glimpses of Matrix-style hand-to-hand martial arts, with The Major beating up some poor sap, causing him to go flying through the air (in slow motion, natch).
7. Scarlett Johansson as The Major
In previous iterations of Ghost in the Shell, the central character of the story has always been Major Motoko Kusanagi. This time around, the character has, so far, only been identified as The Major. This is most likely because the traditionally Japanese character is being played by a white American actress, Scarlett Johansson.
The backlash from this casting decision was widely reported, though buzz for the film remains strong; even if she’s not remotely Asian, ScarJo is a globally beloved actor. Plus, the movie’s message involves self-identity being separate from outward appearance, so there can be some additional thematic resonance on that end from casting Scarlett as The Major. To her credit, what we’ve seen of her character in the trailer has certainly inspired confidence in the film. She nails the look and haircut, and her acting talents are on display during scenes like the one in which she visits a courtesan, looking for some type of human connection. Based on the kiss they share, she appears to succeed, at least superficially.
There are hints throughout the trailer that The Major has a dark secret in her past, perhaps a hidden impetus behind her cyborg transformation. In the anime, this was never really a huge issue, though her Stand Alone Complex iteration did receive a backstory; after being involved in a plane crash as a little girl, complete cyborg conversion was the only way to save her life. Perhaps a secret origin could be seen as a way to make the story more personal, as well as adding the momentum of something which The Major may pursue for the whole movie.
6. Cyborgs, Robots, and “Ghosts”
In the world of Ghost in the Shell, unaltered humans are a rarity. Nearly everybody has some type of cybernetic enhancement. Think of it as the entire populace having iPhone functionality hardwired directly into their brains. However, that’s just on the casual end of the spectrum. People can have entire parts of their body replaced with computerized machine parts, and many soldiers and elite police forces do just that; The Major is part of Section 9, an autonomous group that fights against hackers, cybercriminals, and other no-good types, and their members have myriad enhancements based on their fields of expertise: the sniper, Saito, has a cybernetic eye to help him track distant targets, and Batou, the heavy of the squad, has his eyes and arms replaced with cyborg parts.
In some versions of the story (including the 2017 film), The Major is the first cyborg who is nearly entirely composed of cybernetic components. With the exception of part of her brain, she is entirely robotic. Her humanity is fleeting, but it exists. It manifests in the form of her innermost self, known as her “ghost.” The presence of her ghost is what should keep her from being a complete robot, but the 1995 film and the upcoming live-action version both feature a Major in the midst of an existential crisis regarding her humanity, or lack thereof.
5. Nudity, Violence, and MPAA Rating
During her introduction in the anime, The Major is depicted as basically nude, but with her robotic body lacking most obvious sexual characteristics, save for feminine curves. The impression is supposed to be the same here, but the Scarlett Johansson version of The Major looks more like she’s wearing a latex body suit with perhaps some CGI to add a sleek and unnatural edge to her style. After all, it is live-action, so that may be exactly what’s happening. Another consideration in making her look less overtly nude is that, unlike the anime, The Major’s skin-tone is inconsistent from her neck to her shoulders, furthering the impression of a body suit rather than direct nudity.
This glossing-over of Scarlett’s famous assets is a necessary concession to assure the film receives a PG-13 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. While the film has yet to be given an official classification by the MPAA, it’s hard to imagine a big-budget blockbuster aiming for anything rougher than the family-friendly PG-13 rating. That being said, the gun violence in the geisha scene is pretty intense, and one shot even features a bloody exit wound (although, as depicted in the photo above, the blood is colored black, presumably to be approved for the green band trailer). While we don’t expect The Major’s outfit to undergo any significant changes between now and the film’s release in March, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an unrated cut of the film for the home video market, ratcheting up the violence of the film’s slow-motion gun battles.
4. The City
It’s no secret that Ridley Scott’s 1982 cyberpunk classic, Blade Runner, was a huge influence on the aesthetic of Ghost in the Shell. This new GitS movie is taking that influence and running with it. Blade Runner was groundbreaking in its use of special effects to imagine a futuristic Los Angeles. One of its most provocative images was the massive billboards, which totally covered entire sides of buildings. Ghost in the Shell 2017 is upping the ante with hologram billboards which appear to float in the sky as though they were buildings themselves. We can’t claim to be remotely aware as to what most of these floating commercials are actually advertising. Still, they sure are pretty!
Also like Blade Runner and earlier iterations of Ghost in the Shell, there is a striking use of neon lights and other vibrant colors. It remains to be seen if this new film will carry the same cyberpunk film noir tone of those works, or if it will just utilize this color palette to add pizzazz to flashy slow-motion fight scenes, but, so far, the movie seems to have the visual language down. Rupert Sanders may not have critical prestige on his side (Snow White and the Huntsman sits at a mediocre 40% on Rotten Tomatoes), but he has an undeniable flair for visuals which shines through in the trailer.
3. Pilou Asbaek as Batou
When the whitewashing story first broke, Paramount tried to mitigate the damage by insisting that the cast was diverse and filled with actors of a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. In a way, this approach allowed them to downsize their Japanese cast quota even further; in the name of promoting diversity, they diluted what has always been a predominantly Japanese cast.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the casting of Pilou Asbaek as Batou. In the anime, he is basically the second lead (after The Major), and is center stage for the sequel, Innocence. It comes as more than a bit disheartening to see this iconic role inhabited by a Danish actor.
It’s a shame, too, because the character’s design is spot-on with the anime version; he’s big, burly, and has his trademark cybernetic eyes. However, one scene in the trailer depicts Batou as not possessing his most distinguishing feature. If he doesn’t begin the film with his ocular replacements, it would be a notable difference from the anime, in which Batou is said to have had those awesome eyes from since he joined the military, years ago. It may not be a negative change, but if Batou’s entire character arc from the anime is replaced with merely going from one set of eyes to another… well, to say the least, it would be distressing to see him reduced to flat muscle. In the anime movies, Batou was written as something of an avatar for writer/director Mamoru Oshii. He was a stoic intellectual, and is regarded as one of the most compelling characters in the whole franchise.
2. Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki
It appears that the most prominent role in the film being played by an actual Japanese actor is that of Chief Daisuke Aramaki. In Stand Alone Complex, he is the boss of the Section 9 team, and shields them from the political blowback of their dangerous operations. Aside from his unquestionable loyalty to his team and their mission, he is also distinguished by his unique hairstyle, which is more-or-less faithfully translated into live action with this movie.
While the amount of Japanese actors may be significantly fewer than we were hoping for, we can take a measure of solace in the fact that the chief will be played by one of Japan’s most beloved national treasures, Takeshi Kitano. Kitano first came to fame as a comic actor and creator of Takeshi’s Castle (which saw life in the United States as Spike TV’s MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) but transitioned to surreal drama and action, writing, directing, and starring in films like Violent Cop, Hana-bi, Outrage, and Zatoichi. We’re hoping that Kitano’s role in this movie is more than just a glorified cameo to placate Japanese audiences.
1. The Laughing Man/Kuze/The Puppetmaster
The very end of the trailer shows a cyborg figure, cloaked in darkness, bearing the unmistakable voice of Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire). Not only are The Major and Batou played by Caucasian actors, the villain appears to have been whitewashed, as well. Pitt’s character is officially credited as Kuze, but, based on earlier rumors and reports, we suspect that he may be combined with The Laughing Man, who hails from Stand Alone Complex. In the anime series, The Laughing Man is an extraordinarily skilled hacker who uncovers a sinister conspiracy: a cyber-disease is ravaging the populace, and the cure is cheap and easily distributed; however, the government and Big Business are secretly keeping that information secret, leaving the infected no choice but to accept an expensive and less-effective treatment.
From the brief glimpse of the character we get at the end of the trailer, he remains as enigmatic and protective of his identity as ever, though it may just be to hide his mechanical parts from onlookers. If the character turns out to indeed be The Laughing Man, it remains to be seen if his iconic logo (which has since been co-opted by real life groups like Anonymous) will make an appearance. As previously mentioned, The Major is on a quest to uncover the truth of her origins, and The Laughing Man, though outwardly villainous, may also know the secrets she is trying to discover. The image in the trailer, of the monk-like figures plugged into some kind of machine, may also tie-in to Kuze and The Major in some unexpected way.
What do you think? Did the trailer blow you away, or are you still on the fence? Sound off in the comments below, and remember: “The net is vast and infinite.”