The live action Ghost in the Shell movie has faced controversy already, even before production started, mostly due to it being a Hollywood adaptation of a Japanese film. When Dreamworks acquired the rights, most people assumed the movie would still be set in Japan, with a Japanese (or at least Asian) actress as the main character. Of course, after Scarlett Johansson was cast in the leading role, these hopes were dashed, and now it seems as though the story won't be set in Japan at all...
New Casting Call
Production will soon begin on Ghost In The Shell in New Zealand, where there has been a casting call for extras and other parts in the new film. The call itself didn't have a restriction on the race of applicants, and in fact stressed the importance of representing all ethnicities in the new film. Casting director Liz Mullane had this to say:
"It is very early on, we aren't filming until next year, so this is really finding out the type of people that might be interested in all sorts of roles. We ware interested in anyone who is interested, the variety of people is massive."
This does seem to prove definitively that Ghost In The Shell probably won't be set in Asia, or feature a majority Japanese cast. This is a shame, as much of the aesthetic appeal of the original films comes from their Asian setting: while the setting of the films is fictional, the architecture and scenery draws from Asian cities, specifically Hong Kong (according to designer Oshii).
But with Scarlett Johansson in the lead, it makes sense to reset the film in another location. However, though filming will soon commence in New Zealand, that doesn't mean the film will be set there. Taking place in the future, it's possible that the city will have an ambiguous geographic setting. And this isn't the only change to the original plot that the live action Ghost In The Shell will feature: we've had a few plot details that drastically change the meaning of the original story...
Story Changes & Johansson's Role
The Hollywood Reporter provided some previously unknown plot details in their announcement about the film's screenwriter, which helped shed some light on the movie.
"In the film, Scarlett Johansson stars as a special ops cyborg who leads an elite task force called Section 9 for Hanka Robotics. Section 9 is devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, led by The Laughing Man, whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka’s advancements in cyber technology."
As pointed out by Forbes, these plot details are significantly different from the original manga and TV show. Most notably, Section 9 seems to have been altered from a government agency to a faction of the corporation Hanko Robotics, which has replaced Megatech as the main producer of cybernetic systems.
This seems to muddy the narrative somewhat, and might shift the main themes from government control and cyber warfare, to a more corporate focused plot questioning the power of companies in law enforcement and cyber terrorism. Or these changes might just be a case of miscommunication, as an official plot synopsis has yet to be released. In any case, it looks like the focus might not be on the leading character and her existential crises, but rather the race to stop the Laughing Man before he achieves his goals.
The fact that Scarlett Johansson's character wasn't named as Motoko Kusanagi, while the other major players were given a title, also throws her role into doubt. Johansson will clearly play a character similar to the iconic cybercop, but it could be that considering Johansson's race, the writers are choosing to alter her role completely to play a different character than Motoko (who nonetheless mirrors Motoko's journey). Again, we'll just have to wait and see until official details are released. In any case, there's no doubt that Johansson will use her considerable talent to bring this cyborg character to life, and challenge any preconceptions we have about the role.