At last, we’ve got an extended look at the live-action, western version of Ghost in the Shell, based on the Japanese franchise about cyborg consciousness in futuristic Tokyo. The action looks like a combination of The Matrix and Blade Runner, and some of the scenes perfectly replicate images from the Japanese feature film.
It’s unclear whether the setting is still supposed to be a Japanese city, or if it’s just a random multicultural megacity. Regardless, Scarlett Johansson plays cyborg hero Major Motoko Kusanagi (known simply as “The Major” in this film), whose spirit is human and whose body is robotic. She’s a talented member of the police force, and we see plenty of her generally being seriously badass. The trailer looks pretty exciting, it appears that the plot will revolve around The Major trying to figure out how she became a cyborg, as well as stalking a dangerous AI hacker (possibly a version of the Puppet Master from the first Japanese feature film).
Fans of the original franchise, which includes both manga and anime series, have been dismayed about this adaptation ever since Scarlett Johansson was cast as The Major. Comic book writer Jon Tsuei argued that the series is fundamentally about Japanese culture and history, especially its relationship with technology after World War II. By casting Johansson, who is neither of Japanese descent nor native to Japan, the story becomes something fundamentally different. But obviously the filmmakers believe that Johansson is the right lead for the film, and she certainly has shown that she can play tech-enhanced humans/AIs brilliantly in the movies Lucy and Her.
Regardless of how you feel about the casting, it’s worth asking whether this movie will have the same resonances now that it has been drained of its Japanese characters and context. The movie comes out in the US on March 31, 2017.