Ghost in the Shell, a very successful franchise that started with Masamune Shirow’s manga back in 1989, has influenced many works over the years, such as The Matrix. Since the manga’s first publication, it has been adapted into many forms, including various movies, anime shows, specials, spin-offs, and games, however it has never been one thing - live-action. It looks like this may change very soon, and it may not be a good thing.
Before we go into the current possibilities, a little bit of background is in order (no, I won’t make you sit through a complete history of the entirety of the glory that is Ghost in the Shell (GitS), for brevity’s sake). Back in 2008 the rights to adapt the original manga into a live-action film were acquired by Dreamworks and Spielberg, and soon after, the writer and producers were announced as well. In October of the next year, the writer, Jamie Moss, was replaced by Laeta Kalogridis (writer for Shutter Island, a fantastic movie), showing that the project was basically going nowhere fast.
Cue 5 years of no news.
With pretty much everyone having forgotten that Dreamworks held rights to make a live-action film out of GitS, the announcement on 24 January 2014 that the project had a new director, Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman), and a new script by William Wheeler (The Reluctant Fundamentalist screenplay) was somewhat surprising news. Many assumed the lack of activity had been an indication that the project was dead or soon to be so. After considering a few candidates during fall 2014, Scarlett Johansson (Lucy, Avengers, etc.) was offered the role of Motoko Kusanagi, with the casting being confirmed in January of this year. Currently, the project is set to start production in 2016 and be released on
14 April 2017 by Touchstone Pictures.
Edit 4/30/15: The movie release has been moved to 31 March 2017
While the film industry has come a long way since 2008 in terms of production and editing, I don’t think GitS should become a live-action movie yet, if at all. Now, I fully realize and acknowledge that this is just my opinion, but I believe there is some intrinsic value in it. As a fan of the series who wants it to continue and be as great as ever, there is always the danger of becoming stale and repetitive. The recent addition of Arise to GitS is a good way of continuing the story without the series becoming an all-out cash grab, and I’m excited for the movie that is in production for it as well. I’m not averse to the idea of new adaptations or expansion, but I am wary about a live-action film. The biggest problem I have with a live-action adaptation is the limits in creativity of a physical medium. I can already hear the comment “you just prefer animation over live-action” coming to existence within the gears of your mind. Rest assured, I love live-action western films as much as the next guy, but somethings just don’t translate well from one medium to the next.
One of the great aspects of anime is that the creators have the freedom to let their imagination run wild and create scenery, locations, devices, and anything else they desire, regardless of what physical restraints would prohibit in real life. For example, the intricacies of the way characters move, the detailed cyberizations and robotics, the signature falling backwards and fading into invisibility would be very difficult to imitate in a live-action film. I know that they could be done, but to the same effect as they were in the animation? After-effects and CGI are powerful tools, but no amount of CGI can force a thing to feel like it belongs in the same plane of existence as the actors and scenery (*cough*Michael Bay*cough*).
Besides just a feeling of overall visual continuity, I fear that a live-action adaptation would devolve the story into a stereotypical sci-fi action film, which is nothing like GitS. Though it involves both sci-fi and action, GitS, as a whole, does more than just provide eye candy and action entertainment. It raises the questions of what it means to be human, and if that humanity can be taken away by replacing the body; whether it is the meat that makes the man or his consciousness. It poses the very real possibilities of cybercrime in a world where not just your possessions, but your body as well, are hackable pieces of technology. It holds philosophical conversations based on a loose grip of english literature, but makes it work because it makes you think and wonder. It makes you question what is really original, and what makes an individual just that - individual.
These aspects, I feel, will not transfer well to an audience who is used to being catered to with instant-gratification, eye-catching effects, and big explosions without a second thought to the plot, morals, and philosophies that a work encompasses.