Hollywood studios have yet to successfully translate a Japanese anime and/or manga property to the big screen, as evidenced by the weak critical/commercial returns for movies like Dragonball: Evolution and Speed Racer in the past. Nevertheless, as is the case with the video game film genre, there’s a general recognition among U.S. film studios that the well of anime/manga movie adaptations is a potentially lucrative – and varied – market to tap into, which is why such projects as Ghost in the Shell and Death Note are now actively moving forward (while rumors of an Akira live-action film refuse to die).

Scarlett Johansson, who is headlining the film, was previously spotted preparing for the start of production on Ghost in the Shell in New Zealand back in February of this year. Paramount Pictures, which acquired the live-action movie from Disney‘s Buena Vista back in January, has now formally announced the start of production on Ghost in the Shell, along with the official cast and synopsis for the film.

Ghost in the Shell is being filmed in Wellington, New Zealand, with New Zealand Film Commission Chief Executive Dave Gibson having issued a statement saying that “The production will broaden the perceptions of the diversity of New Zealand’s locations by showcasing a science fiction urban setting in New Zealand.” The film is based on the original anime/manga property created by Masamune Shirow and takes place in a futuristic setting with a storyline that blends elements of the crime and action/thriller genres – as illustrated by the following synopsis that’s been released for Ghost in the Shell (on a related note: the credited screenwriters on the film have yet to be announced).

Based on the internationally-acclaimed sci-fi property, “GHOST IN THE SHELL” follows the Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid, who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotic’s advancements in cyber technology.

Johansson is playing “The Major” in Ghost in the Shell, as you can see in the first official image from the film, below. The rest of the film’s cast has now been confirmed and includes such Japanese actors as Beat Takeshi Kitano (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) as Daisuke Aramaki and Kaori Momoi (Memoirs of a Geisha) – in a role that has yet to be disclosed – as well as Chin Han (Marco Polo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Danusia Samal (Tyrant), Lasarus Ratuere (Terra Nova), Yutaka Izumihara (Unbroken) and Tuwanda Manyimo (The Rover) as members of Section 9. In addition, Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria) will be playing Dr. Ouelet, while Michael Pitt (Hannibal) has been cast as Kuze and Pilou Asbæk (who costarred in the Johansson-led Lucy) is portraying the character Batou.

ghost shell movie scarlett johansson major Ghost in the Shell Begins Filming; First Look at Scarlett Johansson

The decision to cast Johansson as “The Major” – though it makes sense from the perspective of the Black Widow actor having already proven herself to be a bankable lead outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with movies such as Lucy – has gotten its fair share of backlash from a number of Ghost in the Shell fans. After all, the original version of the character (see: Major Motoko Kusanagi) from Shirow’s source material was Japanese, like the rest of the characters in the story. In that respect, it may hurt more than help here that Johansson has been dressed up to appear pretty similar to her (animated) Japanese counter-part.

Whether you see Johansson being cast in Ghost in the Shell as an example of white-washing or proof that studio executives are still clinging to notions about box office hits requiring a white lead (and an A-lister if possible), the fact that the majority of Ghost in the Shell‘s cast is composed of Asian actors could be taken as a silver lining; then again, seeing as most of the main characters are white, this could also be taken as business-as-usual for anime/manga film adaptations. Others fans might be more concerned about the fact the a highly-philosophical and thematically rich work of science-fiction such as Ghost in the Shell (Shirow’s source material is widely regarded as a predecessor to The Matrix trilogy, among other films) is being directed by Rupert Sanders: a filmmaker whose previous full-length directorial effort, Snow White and the Huntsman, was praised for having gorgeous visuals, yet also criticized for being style over substance. Whether or not Ghost in the Shell will prove to be a different story than that, remains to be seen.

Ghost in the Shell is being produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, whose studio (Production I.G.) also backed the Japanese Ghost in the Shell movie and TV series, and Tetsu Fujimura (Tekken), but also Avi Arad (Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2), Ari Arad (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), and Jeffrey Silver (Edge of Tomorrow) – meaning, this movie has much in the way of blockbuster producer power behind it, but not necessarily the kind that instills confidence that this will be a smarter than average genre movie. For these reasons and those mentioned above, Ghost in the Shell is arguably one of the “riskier” big-budget tentpoles that is currently scheduled to arrive in 2017; hence, Paramount has wisely given the film more room to breathe at the box office, by setting it to arrive in theaters a week after Power Rangers and two weeks before Fast 8 hits the scene.

Ghost in the Shell will open in U.S. theaters on March 31st, 2017.

Source: Paramount Pictures

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