STAR’S MAJOR APPEAL
The anime within a Japanese classic gets a gritty live-action makeover fronted by Hollywood hot property Scarlett Johansson
She was the highest grossing actor of last year, thanks to her Marvel role as The Black Widow, and now Scarlett Johansson is taking on a heroic new role.
The New York native plays The Major, a woman who is cyber-enhanced after nearly dying in a crash, in Rupert Sanders’ live-action remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell. The Major is seen by her creators as the perfect soldier and she is put in charge of the elite task force Section 9, devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists. But her ability to follow orders is threatened when her memories of her old life come back to the surface.
Is this version a little less abstract than the original 1995 anime movie? When I first saw the anime film, the movie was kind of esoteric and existential and free flowing. It was very poetic and, of course, that applies not just to the words; the visual journey is very languid and poetic as well. It didn’t immediately strike me as something that could be adapted for live action. The visual references are exciting and you can imagine how that’s going to like lift off from the anime version, but the character’s journey was not totally apparent to me. It didn’t seem all that fleshed out, and that was my concern when I first saw the anime film. I thought that the physical aspect would be exciting for me and that it would be a great challenge, but what was I going to do with this (character’s journey)? For my vanity it was exciting, but other than just making pretty pictures, what was there to hold on to? What could the audience hold on to? I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
How would you describe The Major? You have this woman who has an idea of who she is, or who is told she is supposed to be, and then this feeling at the back of her mind, which is the person who she actually is. There is this ghost that literally and spiritually haunts her.
Rupert, the director, had a strong vision for the film? We imagine the future as this dystopian place and often times it is perceived as very clinical and without identity, and then at other times we see it as a post-apocalyptic future. Rupert really loved this idea and what seemed most realistic to him was a future where there is just no space. We are constantly competing against ourselves for space, so we operate in a city that is almost built on top of another city. And it is full of cultures that have been appropriated by other cultures. There are renovations that are haphazard and it’s a much more colourful future than we’re used to seeing. It is a city that you have never really seen before; it almost has this Blade Runner aesthetic – as though that aesthetic actually continued and was updated. I was fascinated with that because I assumed that this future would be cold and digital but it’s not at all like that. When you see the film, it’s really warm and inviting. That vision is a real gift that Rupert has.
The film seems incredibly timely … I think it is timely, certainly when you look at the original anime. It was more than 20 years ago but was so progressive. More than anything it predicted this disconnect that is a byproduct of the digital age. Cyberterrorism too is a threat. But it is this longing, this yearning to connect with one another in an age when we are overly connected. We are supposed to be so connected to one another – it’s easier than ever to connect with each other – yet we have this feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction. So, yes, that feels very timely.
How do you feel about Ghost in the Shell evolving into a potential franchise? It is daunting because it is not totally obvious what the next chapter is for this character. It is also physically daunting. This film was extremely draining, physically, emotionally and professionally. It required an immense amount of discipline and thought. It was very, very difficult for me, so it is daunting. But, of course, the idea that this female-driven genre film could go on to be a sequel, that it could be successful enough to demand a sequel, that is very exciting. It would be a real victory in many ways. I am up for the challenge. I am a big girl. I can handle it, I think. Ghost in the Shell opens today in all major cinemas.
Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in this remake of Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures.