Shared from the 2017-03-28 Chattanooga eEdition

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‘Ghost’ brings cyberpunk spectacle to life

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PARAMOUNT PICTURES VIA AP

Scarlett Johansson appears in a scene from “Ghost in the Shell.”

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The opening moments of the new “Ghost in the Shell” — a minute-and-a-half establishing shot of its futuristic city and its hero, The Major (Scarlett Johansson) — could have taken quite a bit of time if it had been done on only one computer, said the film’s visual-effects supervisor, Guillaume Rocheron. “About 33 years,” he guessed.

Luckily, they had more than one computer.

“Ghost in the Shell,” which opens Friday, involves crime, intrigue and Major’s realization her life was stolen when she was made into a cyber-enhanced crimefighting machine. It is intended to amaze with its transformation of the beloved 1995 animé into a live-action spectacle. But Rocheron said the intention was also to do as much “practically” as they could.

“We tried to be as tactile as possible,” he said, “which was always Rupert’s mission.”

Director Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), along with Rocheron and the rest of their filmmaking team, were under quite a bit of pressure: The animated Japanese version, directed by Mamoru Oshii (and adapted from the popular manga, or comic book), has an enormous cult following. It was just released on BluRay / HD digital by Anchor Bay Entertainment with a limited edition steelbook and exclusive artwork (there have been numerous other films and TV spinoffs, as well). To say it has a fan base is to do it an injustice: “Ghost in the Shell” broke new ground — for fans, and for the Japanese animation industry — when it hit U.S. shores almost 19 years ago this month. A generation of animé lovers were exposed to it at an impressionable time in their movie-consuming careers.

“Oshii’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ arrived on the Western radar at a perfect moment — and not just by capturing so many of the tropes and concerns of the cyberpunk movement,” said Rupert Bottenberg, programmer of the Axis animation section at Montreal’s Fantasia film festival

Bottenberg said Saturdaymorning and after-school cartoons had familiarized kids with the animé style and sensibility, but the quality of Japanese animation, since the ’60s, had been all about “cutting corners.” When the sophisticated “Akira” hit screens in 1988, it was a revelation. But it took “GITS” in 1995 to show “Akira” wasn’t a fluke, that Japanese animation had metamorphosed into something far more advanced — cartoons no longer needed to be synonymous with kooky and cuddly.

Sanders’ “Ghost in the Shell,” which co-stars Juliette Binoche and Michael Pitt and was written by Jamie Moss, became controversial as soon as Johansson was cast as the lead: That a non-Asian would be playing the principal character in the remake of such an iconic Japanese story struck many as just another case of Hollywood “whitewashing.” However, Oshii has apparently given his blessing to Johansson, and the cast includes several Asian stars, including one of the biggest, the actor and director Takeshi Kitano.

“I grew up watching the films of Takeshi-san, from ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,’ to ‘Sonatine’ to ‘Hanabi,’ ” said Sanders, “and when first casting for the role of Aramaki there was no one else in my mind. It was a challenge to schedule, he is always busy, but I was incredibly persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Even when I had to tell the studio that he would only speak in Japanese, I wouldn’t back down.”

At the world premiere of “Ghost in the Shell” in Tokyo, a news conference brought together members of the international cast, including Kitano and Johansson.

“Appearing in a real Hollywood film with a big budget was a very good experience for me; Scarlett taught me how to behave when working as an actor,” said Kitano, who has about 64 acting credits and is something of a oneman entertainment empire in Japan.

For her part, Johansson left any controversies to others. “This film was a labor of love for all of us, and it’s a property that’s beloved by all of you,” she told the Japanese media. “And it feels very fitting and deeply touching to bring this film here for the world premiere.”

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