Scarlett Johansson talks Ghost In The Shell – Giving life to an anime icon

I like to think that Ghost In The Shell was the film that got many people hooked on anime in the mid-90s. Decades later, it’s still a monumental achievement in animation and the themes it explored resonate louder today in a world where we’re slowly becoming fused with our smartphones. The idea of what it means to be human in a world where your flesh can easily be discarded for cutting-edge cybernetics is intriguing stuff that was explored in follow-up spin-offs and sequels, while Hollywood had a western adaptation in development hell for years.

Ghost In The Shell is finally clawing its way out of that pit however, with an actual movie finally on the way that stars Scarlett Johansson as the Major. A character who is more mechanical than biological thanks to a childhood accident that left her as nothing more than a brain in a steel shell. It’s those cyberpunk themes that’ll play a big part in the adaptation, as Johansson explained to Collider:

The idea to explore the discover of self, I think, to tell that story in this world was really what drew me to the project. And of course, like I said, Rupert’s visual vocabulary is so unique and riveting. So those elements are here. And I think, in live, it’s more kind of profound to be here, living in the environment than you could ever imagine just seeing images on paper.

But it’s deep, it’s a challenging job. I think the character’s in a state for a long period of time that is very like, she’s essentially having an existential crisis for a large portion of this film and asking herself, the questions of “who was I? Who am I now? And what will become of me?” And to stay in that state for this length of time in production has been uniquely challenging. But it’s really rewarding, you know. I like this job, I like doing it. It’s good to be challenged like that.

Even though the Major lives in a body that still allows her to experience tactile sensations, she’s still the titular ghost in her own shell. An idea that translated to how Johansson approached the physical side of the character. “Because you can go deep in one direction and play a very sort of unfeeling kind of mechanical sort of gait and her stride, her mannerisms are cold,” Johansson said.

But you don’t want to be, of course, shut off from the feeling audience. And also from this character’s like inner experience. So you know, you kind of work with varying ways of going too far in different directions. I think one of the most important things about The Major is that she’s got a lot of intention, everything she does is intentional and she’s always like moving forward.

Because she doesn’t have those kind of mannerisms and tics that make us, when you see when we’re impatient or nervous or decision making. All these things you don’t really think about and things that you develop for characters to give them a lot of life. She doesn’t have that stuff and I think maybe the absence of those mannerisms is what gives her her physical character. She’s very efficient, I would say.

But beyond the Major herself? Expect Ghost In The Shell to borrow heavily from the underrated cyberpunk genre to craft the world that she lives in. “It is a really cool world and I think what’s interesting about it is it’s not, you know, I think we’re very used to the idea of the future in an armageddon context or a post-apocalyptic kind of idea or it’s very stringent, like Spike [Jonze] did with Her,” Johansson said.

Everything’s kind of digitized and computerized and clean or absence of character. This movie, I think, it’s Rupert’s idea of, he described it to me as cities built on cities and the abundance of waste. It’s a kind of collage of cultures and it’s sort of identity-less in that as a whole melange of different kinds of textures and colours and, it’s really rich. The depth of this movie is amazing. I find that the sets are so incredibly detailed and the thought that goes into each set even in the very sterile sets, like all the Hanka hallway stuff and laboratory stuff.

There’s a lot of texture and depth to the way that it’s shot and the way that it’s dressed. Of course the format that they’re shooting in also really adds a lot of texture and depth too. So it’s visually delicious, I think for people. Especially fans of the material will appreciate the look of it a lot, as Rupert’s been very dedicated to making that stuff come to life for people.

So, that’s cool. And, from what I’ve seen, I don’t watch a lot of stuff, but from what I’ve seen before, I think Jess [Hall, the cinematographer] is doing with the visuals are beautiful. It’s really photographic and very rich. And I think people will enjoy that part of it.

Ghost in The Shell is out next year March, and also stars Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche, Kaori Momoi, Rila Fukushima, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara and Tuwanda Manyimo.


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