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What we learned from the Ghost In The Shell launch

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After a series of cryptic "glitches", the new live action Ghost In The Shell unveiled its first full trailer at a Tokyo launch event over the weekend. Empire was there to speak to director Rupert Sanders and watch the on-stage presentation with stars Scarlett Johansson and Takeshi Kitano. Here are the key things we learned...


It isn't a straight remake of the original anime

While much of the footage glimpsed so far – the "shelling sequence"; the capture of the hacker; the Major's "naked" swan-dive from a high building – seems immediately recognisable from Mamoru Oshii's original anime, the new Ghost In The Shell itself is far from a straight remake.

"I think that first film is a hard story to tell cinematically," says director Rupert Sanders. "The original presentation I made to the studio included elements from the first film, but also from Innocence and from [TV series] Stand Alone Complex. I made a graphic novel and wrote a story that went beside the images, and went back to the studio and said, 'This is what I think it should be.'"

With that in mind, the film's villain is Kuze (played by Michael Pitt), who comes from the second season of Stand Alone Complex. But the film's version of Kuze will incorporate elements of original villain The Puppet Master (not the one from the stupid horror movies) and the manga's Laughing Man. Essentially it's a Ghost In the Shell mash-up.


Clint Mansell is doing the music

The Tokyo presentation began with an awesome live performance by composer Kenji Kawai of the original film's iconic, indelible theme, while the new shelling sequence (incredibly achieved practically before being CG-enhanced) played on the big screen above. It's hard to imagine that that haunting soundscape won't accompany the new film in some way, but it's a detail that still hasn't been worked out.

What we do now know, however, is that Clint Mansell – forever Clint Poppie to some of us – is the film's official soundtrack composer. And while some may have preferred someone like Yôko Kanno, whose work on Stand Alone Complex enjoys similar cache among fans to Kawai's first score, Mansell is a choice that's hard to argue with. Cast your mind back to his work with Daren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan etc.) and his seems like a very safe pair of hands.

There's also no guarantee that the trailer's Mad-Worlded version of Depeche Mode's Enjoy The Silence (by Ki:Theory) will make the finished film. "But there will definitely be synths," says Sanders.


The production stands by its casting

Pilou Asbaek as Batou in Ghost In The Shell

As a Hollywood remake starring Scarlett Johansson, Ghost In The Shell is understandably facing some accusations of whitewashing. Its something the production is sensitive to, but not much in agreement with.

"I think whenever you cast anyone, someone’s going to be critical about it," says Sanders. "I stand by my decision: she’s the best actress of her generation and I was flattered and honoured that she agreed to be in this film. She comes from such edgy films, from Lost In Translation to Under The Skin: she’s got an incredible body of work and the attitude and toughness of her, to me, really is the Major. A lot of people around the original anime have been vehemently in support of her. I cast very much from the gut and I was very lucky to get an amazing international cast of people I wanted to work with."

That international cast is the film's key rebuff to criticisms of racism. The principals include Pilou Asbæk (Danish), Chin Han (Singaporean), Lasarus Ratuere (indigenous Australian), Danusia Samal (Londoner via Turkey and Yemen), Tawanda Manyimo (Zimbabwean), Yutaka Izumihara (Japanese) and Juliette Binoche (French). Section 9 is headed by the legendary Japanese polymath Takeshi. Even Johansson is half-Danish. And it's worth noting that, on several occasions in the anime franchise, its made explicit that the Major deliberately chooses to look European (she's a human mind in an entirely sythetic body; "Why wouldn't you choose to look like Scarlett Johansson?" quips producer Ari Arad).

"Hopefully the sounds of Ghost In The Shell resonate around the world and come back to Japan," says Sanders. "That's why we wanted to have this launch in Tokyo, its birthplace, to show both the creators and the people who really started the whole thing that we were taking this next chapter of the legacy very seriously. I hope they feel that we’ve honoured and respected the heritage of Ghost In The Shell, and are proud of what they see on the screen."


Takeshi Kitano will be speaking Japanese

Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki in Ghost In The Shell

On that note, everyone in the film is using their own accent, while Takeshi will be speaking entirely in Japanese. "I didn’t really want to speak English; basically because I can't," he chuckles. "I also told them I can’t really read English either, and I can't memorise lines and I need a prompter. I made all these complaints! But I was very moved. Scarlett held up my cue-cards."

How does a character speaking a different language to everyone else work? The answer is it isn't even addressed, and is simply presented as normal in the cultural melting-pot of the film's future Hong Kong.

"I was speaking English and Takeshi was speaking Japanese," Johansson explains, "but acting is human, and it’s all about what’s going on inside. The Major feels so many things in [Takeshi's character] Aramaki’s presence: shame at times, eagerness to please, sometimes she’s more like a petulant child. Playing all those things without sharing a language means you’re using an emotional vocabulary. It's the beauty of being able to work on a film as diverse as this."


Tricky is in it

Ghost In the Shell - Tricky

Taking his first film acting role since Luc Besson's The Fifth Element in 1997, Bristol trip-hop genius Tricky is, somehow, part of Ghost In The Shell and can be glimpsed in the trailer. "He plays kind of a spiritual guide," is all Sanders will reveal, aside from the fact that "he's a legend".

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