Well, the first trailer for the 2017 Ghost in the Shell live-action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson as
Motoko Kusanagi the Major hit the screens yesterday, so I thought that I’d give my recap for what the first proper look at the film tells us, shot by shot.
We begin with a look at a robot Geisha from the earlier preview clips. What is immediately apparent is that the art direction of this film owes a lot to Mamoru Oshii’s 2004 film, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, with its deliberately uncanny valley androids based on the sculptures of Hans Bellmar. This is not a very good start, as the style of that film relied heavily on its animated medium, and many of its choices don’t necessarily translate well to live action. For one thing, who would want to own a gynoid that looks like it wants to wear your skin on its shoulders?
Then we move to an exaggerated version of the Japanese cityscape from the 1995 GitS film. It looks like they were going for a Blade Runner turned up to eleven, but I can’t help but be reminded of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Most of the location shots of this film were made in Hong Kong, presumably in homage to Mamoru Oshii’s decision to base the cityscape shots of his own adaptations on that locale, but if the this film is equally faithful in its actual setting, the place is a actually Niihama in Ehime Preferecture, Japan. In the cyberpunk future of GitS, the population of Japan has been concentrated in the southern islands of the country, rather than the Kantô region, like today.
A party hosted by Geisha robots. This scene is based on the opening of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, a TV series adaptation by Kenji Kamiyama.
Didn’t I warn you? What is it with robot designers who want to give ordinary waitress bots the feature of turning into spider-monster deathmachines? Does that sort of thing really boost the sales?
But seriously, this is from the SAC, as well, although in terms of art style the homage to Innocence is even more obvious; that film made it practically a trademark to have pieces fall off of androids’ faces. Even that didn’t have their faces open up like mandibles, though.
The Spider-Geishas weren’t enough? Now Zombie-Yakuza is invading, as well!
And so we get to yet another homage of a famous scene, the Major stripping down and leaping off the skyscraper to make an impressive entrance, just like in the 1995 film. Fun fact: in that film she wasn’t actually naked, either, just wearing a skintone/translucent bodysock to produce the thermoptic camouflage effect. I wonder if what we’re seeing here is supposed to be her cybernetic body or a suit?
You thought I was kidding about the Zombie-Yakuza? What’s wrong with these people’s mouths?
Whatever it is, the Major is kicking their asses. Remember to shoot them in the head!
“You’re the first of your kind, but you’re not invulnerable.”
Yeah, this is where we get to the negative stuff. Aside from the cyborg special effects looking really unconvincing, at least at this point in production, this is a major shift in the traditional GitS canon. While full prosthetic cyborgs are rare in this universe, they’re well represented in the military, and while the Major is usually portrayed as an early adapter, she’s never been described as the “first”. Even more importantly, this seems to give her a personal relationship with her “creator”, something that was never a part of her story.
Speaking of the said creator, here she is. I wonder if she’s supposed to be based on the robot coroner Haraway from Innocence, who also liked to hang around with discarded cyborg and android parts? Well, that’s just idle speculation on my part. Either way, I’m really not sure what to think of the Major getting what looks like a maternal figure in this adaptation.
This is the shot where I also really started to doubt the quality of Scarlett Johanssen’s acting in this film. I can’t quite even describe the demeanour she has here, but it really doesn’t suit the Major’s character.
Yet another homage shot to the 1995 film — wow, those just keep coming. Though if anything, this is even more austere than her anime counterpart’s home, which is an achievement in itself. Judging from the view from her window, it’s possible that in this version she could live in a Geofront; essentially an inverted high-rise built around the walls of a giant pit. Those have made an appearance or two in the course of the franchise
A first shot down the street level, with more Blade Runner/A.I. mashup environment. But is it just me, or are those streets really deserted? There’s very few people going about for a giant metropolis look. The L.A. in Blade Runner was half deserted, and it still looked more populated than this.
Maybe at this point I should also address the Major’s narrative: “Everyone around me feels connected to something. Connected to something I’m...not.” That feeling about Johanssen’s acting chops? It’s not getting any better, and the quality of writing doesn’t help here.
A shot of a random prostitute. We’ll be getting back to this.
A scene from a graveyard. This is the first sign proper that this film really wants to explore the Major’s past, something that no other iteration of the franchise has given much focus to. While I want to compliment the film for doing something new for once, it’s not necessarily something that improves its quality. The Major’s past has always been a cipher, with only tiniest tidbits revealed on the course of the adaptations, and that has been a part of her character’s fascination. Also, humanising a character with a tragic backstory that comes out of nowhere is one of the cheapest tricks in story writing.
After a little more cityscape, we get to see the Major soliciting the services of the aforementioned prostitute. Now, the Major’s bisexuality has been established in the past, and is not a problem in itself, but once again the trailer seems to be derailing her character, making her much more open about her insecurities and vulnerabilities, here apparently making a desperate attempt at a genuine human connection.
The prostitute’s reaction is also telling: “What are you?” It seems to confirm that there are no other full prosthetic cyborgs in this universe, or at least that they’re being kept a secret from the people at large.
These shots are based on the “Making of a Cyborg” sequence from the 1995 animated film, made iconic by the score of Kenji Kawai, a unique combination of a Bulgarian folksong and traditional Japanese harmonics. It has been revealed that Kawai has been hired to adapt the song for this version, as well, and that it will serve as the film’s opening.
Also, “We saved you, and now you save others”. This writing isn’t getting any better.
Even more shot-for-shot homage to the 1995 film, the Major kicking some poor, brainwashed sod’s ass in her thermoptic camouflage. This trailer seems to switch between ultra-faithful homage shots and lacklustre original content at the drop of a hat.
Hey! It’s our first look at Batou, Kusanagi’s work partner and confidant, played by Pilou Asbæk. And he has his trademark cyborg eyes in place, unlike the preview shot of the character previously suggested. And he’s apparently white, too. Wonder what they’ll call him? Batty? Batter? Help me out, here.
And here we have a shot of Daisuke Aramaki, the Chief of Public Security, Section 9, and the Major’s boss, played by Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, who is not white. Kitano is most famous in Japan for his gangster flicks, and the scene clearly pays homage to them, as Aramaki pops a cap in some poor bastard’s skull, execution style. How this meshes with his original characterisation as a rock-solid, incorruptible badass bureaucrat I have no clue.
Looks like Batou is getting his eyes fitted on, here. Guess that they’re really making cyborgs be a novel invention in this adaptation.
“I don’t know who to trust?”
“You trust me, right?”
This scene seems to be based on yet another famous one from the 1995 film, but the intricate and at times obtuse dialogue is really stripped down to its basics, here.
Here’s Batou without his trademark eyes. Guess he really was just getting them fitted. At least I hope he was. If they introduce him with them and then replace them with normal ones, I’m going to be annoyed.
Malevolent Masked Men, ahoy. I’m guessing that these are the main baddies of the film. The story is supposed to be loosely based on the second season of Stand Alone Complex, but as the creators don’t have the time to develop the story and its multiple morally grey factions the way the series did, I suspect that these people are an extremely bare bones version of the Individual Eleven, a radical anti-refugee terrorist group. Speaking of which, I wonder if they’re still including the timely refugee crisis plot into this film?
The Major kicking more ass, now chained to a stripper pole. Classy.
Her outfit seems to be based on the one she wears in the latest adaptation of the franchise until now, Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013).
Zen-Buddhists seem to be getting on with the times, judging by the cyberbrain connector collars.
No clue who this guy is supposed to be. An evil cult leader or an enlightened spiritual mentor? His looks could go either way in a Hollywood film.
A hooded man on fire. This could be the first shot at the advertised main antagonist of the film, Kuze Hideo, but it’s not outright confirmed, yet. Either he has a very good protective coating on that outfit, or he’s also a cyborg.
More spooky gynoids and Zombie-Yakuza. I thought we left them behind, already.
Jeez! I was just kidding about the whole zombie thing! Why is this trailer taking me so literally?
And here, our first confirmed shots of Kuze Hideo, who apparently knows more about the Major’s hidden past than she does. Because apparently she’s amnesiac above all other clichés they’ve included in her character, now. Yay?
I’m not sure what to make of Kuze, himself. In Stand Alone Complex he was a genuinely motivated, (anti-)heroic individual who chose a poor method of helping the downtrodden, and almost started a civil war in Japan for his troubles. In the series it turned out that he was manipulated through a cyberbrain virus in his system, but what his motives and plans in this version are, I have no idea.
The trailer seems to suggest that they’re really playing up the connection that he and the Major had in the series, which really wasn’t a big part of the story, originally — they were semi-kindred spirits who had briefly known each other as children, but it really didn’t enter most of their interactions. Here he almost seems stalker-ish in a way that would better fit for another, more iconic Ghost in the Shell-antagonist, the Puppetmaster.
And the trailer ends in another scene from the earlier previews. From the context, we’re probably supposed to see these people as Kuze’s supporters, linked to each other’s consciousness through the cyberbrain connectors — in the series Kuze had the ability to link millions of people to his brain to lead and coordinate them better than any normal charismatic individual. Whether they belong in the refugees or the Individual Eleven, or some other faction made up for this film, remains to be seen, as does whether they share any connection with the monks in the earlier scene.
And thus ends our recap. The visuals were for the most part impressive, though many gave the impression of incompleteness so common with trailer shots these days — hopefully they will be completed for the final film. But the number of homage shots combined with really sub-par original content doesn’t raise my confidence about this product. If anything, I’m reminded of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, and not in a positive way. Unfortunately I fear that we may have entered an era of expensive but low-quality adaptations of beloved geeky franchises.