Tackling material that is already so beloved is a very risky proposition. That’s kind of why this new version of Ghost In The Shell really deserves more credit than it is getting as director Rupert Sanders and his entire team have really crafted a film that not only stays true to the original ideas presented in the Manga and the original anime film of the same name but also manages to give a new spin on this very distinct universe.
In advance of the Blu-ray release now available at all major retailers I got the unique please to sit down with director Rupert Sanders about the challenges of tackling a property like this, challenges in casting, some of the controversies surrounding the film including the accused whitewashing of the story and so much more…
Dave Voigt: Obviously congratulations on the film and I can imagine that it was a fairly daunting task tackling material that has not only been done before but material that is just so beloved. Can you talk a little about how came it all to make a live action version of a story that would simultaneously hit all the buttons for the fans of the previous films but still really be something that none of us have ever seen before?
Rupert Sanders: I think it was definitely something that weighed on me for sure. I had been a big fan of Ghost In The Shell since its inception and I wanted to make sure that whatever I did was done from the point of view of the fans. I had this mantra with all these big decisions that needed to be made that ultimately I had to make sure that it WAS Ghost In The Shell. We had all this new material that needed to blend seamlessly with everything that had come before rather than just remaking it all. It really was all about getting into the mindset that is Ghost In The Shell for me and kind of living and breathing it all for a little under three years which is how long I spent on it, so I certainly had time to think about it at great depth.
DV: How do you balance that line? I can easily imagine you drifting into something that (Mamoru) Oshii did or something that came straight from the Manga itself. How do you keep your distinct spin on the material while living and breathing that universe?
RS: You know I think that you have to have a unique artistic outlook and faith in that. I definitely became incredibly fluent in all of the Ghost In The Shell universe then after that I closed the book and put it all aside, confident that I was in tune with the vibe of the material and now it was up to me to add and create things that worked in this world. I felt that as a fan that there were some things that really had to be in there and as a fan I knew that if I didn’t see the court yard water fight or the suitcase machine guns I really wouldn’t feel like I was experiencing the Ghost In The Shell universe. It would be like a James Bond movie without him saying “Bond, James Bond” or without a flashy car and crazy gadgets and I knew that there were certain scenes and elements from this universe that just had to make it to this film.
DV: On some levels there were some people complaining about the casting of Scarlett (Johansson) as the Major, I really felt like it was an inspired choice because the world that you built was necessarily ‘white-washed’ per say but what the world could really end up looking like in these multinational shades of grey that play throughout the film and that we all live in. Was that a conscience choice for you because with this obviously being such a big budget picture and the necessity to have a star in the lead and knowing that really you wouldn’t necessarily be allowed to make the film with an all Asian cast or anything like that?
RS: Yeah, I mean look I don’t think that there are that many Hollywood films to feature one of the greatest Asian actors to have ever lived speaking Japanese throughout the film!
RS…people are so blinded to these snowball effects that the internet can create and people can just comment without really understanding the complexities of what we were trying to say in the film. I think people that have seen the film have managed to get something from my mind and that’s right in the film and it goes to something of the things we were trying to comment on and it all felt a little ironic in the end. However, I do agree that there really was no one other then Scarlett who could have embodied the role and Oshii agreed with me very early on as well. Really it is just an artistic expression of the future; it’s not a predictive future. We’re meant to go “WOW!” Look at all this, and really in the future our world is going to become much more blended, not just culturally & physically but digitally as well and as a filmmaker that was a very exciting prospect and ideal to get across onto the screen.
DV: Was it always in your mindset, especially from a casting standpoint to make sure that the ensemble had a very international feel to it because like you said ‘Beat’ Kitano was talking Japanese throughout and no one batted an eye lash, plus you had Juliette Binoche and several others round the ensemble and the film truly does have a very multi-national feel to it all.
RS: Yeah, I mean it goes even deeper than that because we had indigenous Australians, Polish natives, we had New Yorkers, Danes, people from Tokyo like Takeshi and many others which did make for a very international and multi cultural cast. However for the film it was never done in an effort like we felt we had to check certain boxes it came down to focusing on who was that one in a billion person who felt like could play the role that we needed them to play and we were very lucky as I really do feel like we found everyone we were supposed to for the roles we needed to fill. We were very lucky because sometimes you cast a film and you look back and you that it just didn’t quite work but this time out I really feel strongly that we found every single person that we were meant to find.
DV: The story itself is one that really does make you think and has layers. Do you think that’s important these days to be able to tell stories that have these kinds of emotional layers but on a multimillion dollar science fiction/action type of platform?
RS: I really think that we are on the verge of a big change in cinema as a whole. The smaller more independent films these days are really being made for TV and these days the cinema left with this numbing deluge of franchises and I what I want to do is things with large scale that can still and most importantly draw people in and play with them on multiple levels, not just for story but with visuals and effects as well. I ultimately really feel that Ghost In The Shell will be an incredibly strong DVD/Blu-ray release because it’ll allow people the opportunity to watch it a few times. It’s not just a flashy film whose existence is based around how it performs on the weekend that’s overloaded with effects it’s something that you’ll be able to revisit over the years as it has a real sustainability about it. This feels like a film to me, especially as a fan of the material going in that will be able to sit on people’s shelves and get revisited over and over again.
DV: Have you had any feedback from Mamoru Oshii or anyone involved with the original Manga?
RS: Oshii was there at the premiere in Japan and he was very happy with the end material which meant a lot and I think that the fan reaction was fantastic as well since it really did seem that we have been able to bring new audiences into this universe while still also pleasing the hardcore fan base of Ghost In The Shell. We’ve made a serious homage to the original and we never once took that for granted, we had the trailer premiere here in Tokyo along with the regular one and we truly wanted them to know how serious and how much respect we have for the material.
DV: If you had to sell this to a cinema fan that really was oblivious to the world of Ghost In The Shell what would you say?
RS: Just that Ghost In The Shell is a very strong, visually intense and mind-blowing world with a strong female cyborg hero who is tasked to track down a cyber villain. His high octane action with very cerebral thematic elements to it all, it’s truly original and it’s something that you have to let sink and that really is a testament to everyone involved in this project. It’s a truly unique blockbuster that has never been seen before.
Ghost In The Shell is now available on all major platforms.