While you’ll have to wait until March 31, 2017 to see the highly anticipated, live-action adaptation of Ghost In the Shell in theaters, we’ve got an early Christmas present for you: a ton of new information about the movie. Earlier this year, Paramount Pictures invited Nerdist and other outlets to visit the film’s set in Wellington, New Zealand where we learned a lot more about what we’re going to see in the anime adaptation, including the iconic shelling sequence, the story, how close it skews to the anime, and Major’s (Scarlett Johansson) struggle to find her humanity.
If you’re not familiar with the beloved anime film from 1995, the original Ghost in the Shell is based on the manga of the same title by Masamune Shirow. Set in the not-too-distant future, the story takes place in an interconnected world, where everything and everyone can be accessed through computers. Most people have at least some cybernetic body parts, and our hero, Major, is all cybernetic. She’s part of a an elite task-force called Public Security Section 9, which tracks down cyber crime. She and the rest of the team are at the top of their game, highly trained in combat–they’re the elite of elites, so to speak. In the anime, Section 9 is assigned to hunt down the Puppet Master, an enigmatic villain who is hacking into people’s minds and replacing their memories. Ghost In the Shell is widely considered to be one of the top anime films of all time, holding a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So as you can imagine, the bar for the new adaptation is set pretty high.
From what we learned on set, the new live-action film is going to focus on The Major’s search for her own humanity. What makes us human? Is it our bodies? Our souls? Our minds? Once we completely rely on technology and replace our bodies with machines, are we human anymore? Producer Michael Costigan explained, “It’s a future where people are enhanced and have used technology, and it’s also exploring when that works and when that can be manipulated and used. It’s, frankly, everything that we’re dealing with and questioning because there aren’t answers, so that’s why I think the movie is so relevant right now. Look at all the great things and access you can have. If you have it, what can you do with it? You can do great things with it. But if you can take the same technology and do bad things with it, it can be dangerous. Who is monitoring that? That is something the movie gets to delve into.”
The world has sort of a Hong Kong feel, very multicultural, busy, and confining. We could see that in all the concept art displayed in our press room, as well as the costume department as we walked through. Arad explained that they wanted to get the aesthetic right, sharing, “Hopefully the film feels like the anime… When we first started talking about getting rights for adapting it, the creators went out of their way to suggest that we don’t try to adapt one thing… [They] felt like they had to tell their own story with [the] expectation that it felt like Ghost In The Shell.” He also said that fans will recognize bits of the second film, Ghost In the Shell: Innocence, like the geisha bots we saw in the teaser trailer.
Even if you’re not familiar with the anime or the manga, you may have seen the “shelling sequence” online at one time or another. It’s a wordless montage of shots during the opening credits that shows the Major being put into her cybernetic body; in essence, being born. The one we’ll see in the live-action film will be very close to what we saw in the anime and will be a mix of CGI and practical effects by Lord of the Rings‘-famous Weta Workshop. You can check out the original sequence from the anime below. (Warning: There is animated nudity in this video, so it may be NSFW.)
“The first thing that we did is, of course, we looked at the original because it is so iconic,” explained Weta founder Richard Taylor. “It is imperative, in our view, that [with] movies such as this, that [we] are paying homage to original source material or source literature. [We] have to be deeply respectful of the core fans.”
“The other things you guys did at the beginning of the shelling sequence, which will apply to anything I’ll ever adapt again, which was really brilliant I thought, is you broke the shelling sequence into its constituent parts,” replied producer Avi Arad, singing Weta’s praises.
“It was like eight different phases of addressing [the shelling,] like it was a real manufacturing process and like the palette changes,” Arad explained. “What was so great about that was, you’ll see, we all jointly made our own decisions of our version of it, but they broke it into pieces so we could understand exactly what it was. And, in ways in which it never dawned us to get as literal. So suddenly we could see, here’s exactly what’s going on.”
Arad told us that director Rupert Sanders had a very specific vision and wanted to stay as true to the anime and manga as he could, but there were certain things that had to be updated to fit current technology. “A lot of the time when you see futurist movies either it feels very beautiful and removed and clean or you have to go down a grimy, dystopic world,” he told us. “Rupert was chasing something else that was more similar to the source where it felt really tactile and tangible and you had things like cables even though wireless makes more sense. If you look at the original, the guys’ hands break off and type,” he said, referring to a scene where a man’s hands split into multiple fingers to type faster. “Even in 1995, the idea that if you talked to a computer, you’d type really, really fast didn’t make sense. That’s where we are coming from a lot of the time.”
We also learned from the actors and the producers that this does follow the Puppet Master storyline from the film a bit, but it isn’t exactly the same. We will also get to see the infamous garbage trucks fight sequence from the anime, though more of the Section 9 actors will appear in it. (In the anime, Section 9 is tracking down a man in a garbage truck who is suspected of hacking the brain of his wife and destroying her memories, which leads to an epic street battle.) The final battle from the anime (we don’t want to give anything away here, but this is the big showdown between Section 9 and the villain) was hinted at and we saw the set where it will take place, though we didn’t get specific details. Arad shared, “There are a lot of things from the manga that didn’t make its way into the anime. The first anime closely matches the one Puppet Master storyline in the manga, but also renders it in a ‘motion’ way as opposed to a static way, so it’s hard to separate yourself.”
We got to watch a scene where Johansson’s Major was clearly in combat mode, holding up her weapon and walking through the set we’d seen earlier, slowly, as if to avoid detection. Then we saw it again with her stunt woman, who added in some action. In between takes, Johansson told us about her thoughts on the theme of the film. “I think the character’s in a state for a long period of time [where] she’s essentially having an existential crisis for a large portion of this film and asking herself, ‘Who was I? Who am I now? And what will become of me?'”
Much like the original source material, the new Ghost in the Shell grapples with the concept of technology. Arad closed out the set visit by diving deep into the idea that ultimately, both in reality and in the film, we control our own humanity. “Technically [The Major] is the least human being in the world, but she also cares so much about her humanity… One of the big things in this movie is about the fact you maintain your humanity by choosing to. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy and simple, but it’s a story about people holding onto their humanity.”
Do these new details make you more excited for Ghost in the Shell? What would you like to see from the original manga or anime? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for more interviews from our set visit right here on Nerdist.