The upcoming live action Ghost in the Shell has been controversial from the start, as all Hollywood adaptations of Japanese cinema are wont to be. With Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, instead of a Japanese actress, the film has already faced criticism for white washing. But aside from the tricky racial issues, there are plenty more hurdles for director Rupert Sanders as he seeks to emulate such a visually stunning original film with its emotionally complex story.
Ghost in the Shell would be a challenge to adapt for a seasoned director, yet Rupert Sanders is very much a newbie to the directing biz. Snow White and the Huntsman was his big screen debut, and received mixed reviews. Dreamworks must have a lot of faith in him to attach him to direct such an ambitious project. So can Rupert Sanders live up to the hype? And will he do Scarlett Johansson's talents justice?
Living Up To The Original
Look, Ghost in the Shell has always been visually stunning. Whether you prefer the original anime film, or the remastered version with its CGI additions to the hand drawn animations.
The prospect of seeing a live action version has got many fans excited, as there's the potential for Sanders' version to be mindblowingly beautiful. But it also has to capture the cyperpunk aesthetic, blend this with Japanese architecture styles, and represent technology in a way that makes it seem futuristic yet accessible. While a lot of this will be down to the art director, it's Sanders' vision that will guide the film, and hopefully he can do the original justice.
There's also the matter of creating a cyborg character. Motoko Kusanagi is a fascinating creature, not just a blank slate for badass fighting moves (a la Lucy in Lucy). She may be a machine, but she thinks and feels like a human. Much of the story is focused on Motoko grappling with her identity: an object to humanity's subject, she has to find what it means to exist and what kind of a being she is. While kicking lots of butt, naturally. Motoko is simultaneously the stoic, badass cop, and the existentially questioning cyborg. She's fascinating.
So can Rupert Sanders and Scarlett Johansson do Motoko justice? Johansson's subtle style is perfect for a cyborg: she can convey a wealth of emotion without seeming over the top. But she'll need a good director to give her portrayal cohesion.
Snow White: Masterpiece or Meh?
Considering Snow White and the Huntsman is Sander's only Hollywood work to date, it's the starting point of any examination of his directoral style. Most reviewers were favourable when it comes to the visual elements of the film.
"An impressive piece of visual storytelling. Some of the action sequences could’ve been cleaner and clearer (too much ‘quick-cut’ editing) – but on the whole, Sanders’ scene composition and choices in photography and angling create a distinctly original style." - ScreenRant
Overall the film is suitably dreamy for the fairy tale setting, with little artistic flares that make it enjoyable to watch. The special effects are also very cool - Ravenna's legions of soldiers seem to be comprised of black iron filament, giving an interesting texture while their movement is jerky and menacing. And don't get me started on those beautiful bath scenes...
Ghost in the Shell would obviously present a genre shift, so can Sanders' style apply to cyberpunk? It's not too much of a stretch from fantasy to scifi, so the outlook is pretty hopeful there.
The character direction is a different story, however. Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart are both very talented actors, and they made the best of a pretty shaky screenplay. But there were moments when their portrayals were just a little lacklustre. This is the time when a good director steps in and gives the actors the direction they need to really carry off tricky moments.
Of course, it's difficult to untangle responsibility in character portrayals. Dialogue is a key element, and the script was clumsy and cliche at times. But at the end of the day, both Ravenna and Snow White were fearsome women, and that's exactly what Motoko needs to be in Ghost in the Shell.
So what's the verdict? Tentatively hopeful, if Snow White and the Huntsman is anything to go off. Sanders' directoral style seems adaptable to Ghost in the Shell's aesthetic. His character direction, while not amazing, can hopefully combine with Johansson's talents to create a compelling yet badass Motoko.
But what do you think? Should such an ambitious project be left in the hands of an inexperienced director? Let us know in the comments, or write your own post!