March 3, 2016 by bck1402
Ghost in The Shell is being adapted into a live-action flick, coming from DreamWorks.
While there have been complaints, primarily surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson, the question we need to ask: Should we be worried about the overall movie?
Not to say that Hollywood hasn’t the best track record in adapting materials from other sources, but when it comes to adapting anime properties, casting would be least of its issues. The track record here is spotty, even when casting isn’t taken into consideration. Let’s make one thing clear here, we’re looking primarily at adaptation of anime and not video game properties. That rules out the likes of Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, D.O.A.: Dead or Alive, Tekken or Street Fighter… and let’s simply ignore Super Mario Bros.
The first live-action adaptation of an anime property (please feel free to correct me on this if you find anything earlier) was The Guyver in 1991. Based on the manga series, Bio-Booster Armour Guyver by Yoshiki Takaya and an anime adaptation in 1986, The Guyver had some interesting behind the scenes talent. The directors were a pair of special effects make-up artists, Steve Wang, who started out with Rick Baker on Harry and The Hendersons, and Stan Winston on Predator and The Monster Squad; and ‘Screaming Mad’ George, who went from creature effects on Predator to A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master to designing effects on Bride of Re-Animator. Producer Brian Yuzna was known for loads of cult schlock horror favourites from Re-Animator, From Beyond and Society (which he directed) to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. He also produced the 1995 Canadian adaptation of Crying Freeman, starring Mark Dacascos.
The Guyver was more a creature feature effects film with loads of rubber suit monster battling it out with our hero, Sean Barker. Despite having Mark Hamill’s name and face half covered by the Guyver mask on the move’s poster, the hero was played by Jack Armstrong. In spirit, the movie followed the concept of the bio-armor finding its way to an individual who uses it to fight the creatures. Despite its typical jokey approach to the proceedings and mediocre action, freely adopted into the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series a couple of years later, the movie got enough recognition for the creature effects and built a small fan base resulting in a slightly superior sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero in 1994. Steve Wang returned to direct the sequel alone with his own story that stayed closer to the source material, but its direct to video release also meant a limited audience. The continued use of actors in rubber suits for the monsters, limited by the decreased budget of the time, still left a lot to be desired.
Things did not improve with 1995’s Fist of the North Star starring then kick-boxing champion, Gary Daniels as Kenshiro. It was an even lower-budgeted independent affair that had a cinematic premiere in Japan but went direct-to-video everywhere else. While the fight scenes were decent enough, the hyper-violent action movie had deviated significantly from the source material. It also didn’t help that the setting was as post-apocalyptic as every other low-budget DTV science fiction adventure that was popping out at the time. Suffice to say, fans of the 1986 animated feature were severely disappointed.
As mentioned, an adaptation of Crying Freeman was released in 1995 and the movie hewed closely to its source material for the most part. Some regard it as a faithful if tamed adaptation, but as this is a Canadian /French production, we’re side-stepping it here.
In the following years, anime awareness grew in the US and several properties were snapped up by some studios. Most prominent is cyberpunk classic, Akira. Warner Bros obtained the rights for a live action adaptation and have been working on the project on and off since 2002. As of November 2015, it was reported Marco Ramirez had been drafted to tackle the screenplay. Ramirez wrote several episodes of the Netflix Daredevil series and Da Vinci’s Demons, and served as producer on both shows.
Meanwhile, the influences of anime and its style began to permeate into the consciousness of several film-makers. Quentin Tarantino infused anime into his epic Kill Bill Vol 1. Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) may owe some of its dream hopping and shifting worlds to the works of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika (2006). 2013’s Pacific Rim’s Jaegers obviously homage the numerous giant robots and mechas of anime. The biggest influence is primarily seen in The Matrix (1999), directed by The Wachowskis. The Matrix and its sequels relied on numerous influences with many scenes appearing as it they could have been lifted directly from anime. The anime influences even extended to a direct to video project, The Animatrix. The Wachowskis would then revel in their complete live-action anime feature, Speed Racer (2008).
Love it or hate it, as most people do, there is no denying that Speed Racer is pure anime come to life, from its physics defying action set-pieces to the use of motion lines in a fight scene and its filming and camerawork. Even the storytelling structure with its flashy time-jumping editing is reminiscent of a cartoon (also see Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003)). Despite the critical negativity and failure to perform at the box office, Speed Racer has since become an under-rated yet appreciated cult fan favourite.
The following year saw anime favourite Dragonball come to life with Dragonball: Evolution. Despite having Dragonball super-fan, Stephan Chow on board as producer, the movie failed to connect with the fans and received a far more severe critical lashing. Even creator Akira Toriyama felt slighted by the Hollywood machine for not listening to his ideas and suggestions. It leaves one to wonder what Stephan Chow might have done had he decided to write and direct the movie himself.
The next time another movie based on an anime property turned up, we got Kite (2014), based on the 1999 OVA of the same name featuring a young assassin. Nothing much can be said about this movie except that it certainly does not help any other anime adaptations. The movie is a critical bomb, released direct to video in most countries.
Three more movies some may point to, but let’s just note that there were no anime adaptations of these works. Priest (2011) starring Paul Bettany is based on a Korean comic, while Oldboy (2013) is a remake of a Korean film based on a manga property. Despite its source material being a Japanese light novel with a manga adaptation, All You Need is Kill (book) a.k.a. Edge of Tomorrow (movie) a.k.a. Live, Die, Repeat (home video) (2014) starring Tom Cruise also has no anime adaptation.
A fan-favourite anime property scheduled for a 2017 release is Naruto, although nothing is known about the movie other than Avi Arad (early Marvel films) is producing. James Cameron continues to hold on to the film rights for Battle Angel Alita a.k.a Gunnm, and it has been in various stages of production throughout the (15 or more?) years. Initially, Cameron had intended to direct the movie himself, post Avatar. Instead he’s now focussed on the Avatar sequels and has since relinquished the directing reins to Robert Rodriguez (as of October 2015). No other word on the production has emerged.
One adaptation expected to start filming this year is Death Note. As of November 2015, Adam Wingard (You’re Next (2011), The Guest (2014)) is slated to direct with a script by no less than five writers. Nat Wolff (of Paper Towns) has been cast as Light.
As of this time, the expected release date for Ghost in The Shell is March 31, 2017. The movie is currently filming under the direction of Rupert Sanders, who has one feature length movie in his resume, Snow White and The Huntsman. Despite a slight veiled lift from Mononoke Hime in that movie, it’s hard to know if he’ll deliver the goods beyond being a director for hire. It might be clear he can handle an effects-heavy movie, but nothing in the direction stands out, not to my recollection. The two credited writers at this time have one movie each. Jonathan Herman co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Straight Outta Compton, while Jaime Moss is co-credited for Street Kings (2008). Avi Arad is also producing this one.
Aside from Johansson, Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal TV series) has been cast as “Laughing Man”, which suggest an adaptation of the Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime series rather than the movie or the Masamune Shirow graphic novel. From a thematic aspect, it might be easier to compress the anime series into a movie. After all, it’s been done as there is a 2005 compressed edition OVA of the first season that runs a little under 2 1/2 hours. Anyone who hasn’t seen the series may still find the OVA difficult to follow, so even Hollywood adaptation may not do it justice.
Then again, it may all be in the approach and how they decide to tackle the material, themes and the complex story. At its core, Ghost in The Shell is a police thriller but the characters often meditate on philosophical themes pertaining to numerous aspects of self identity, individualism and more. And that’s just on a basic level which is expounded within the overall series. All that may be bypassed for a simple police thriller set in the future.
Perhaps they may turn out a decent adaptation after all, but the odds are not in their favour if they do not have a passion for the source material.
Add (Mar 14): For a reedited (and slightly expanded) version, hop on over to The Hyped Geek.