Chris Lee writes: The opening set piece in Paramount’s “Ghost in the Shell” should be soothingly familiar to those who love Masamune Shirow’s groundbreaking manga comic book on which the live-action 3-D movie adaptation was based — at least, insofar as any on-screen shoot ’em up can reasonably evoke fan nostalgia.
Portraying a special ops police cyborg named the Major, Scarlett Johansson dives off the top of a skyscraper in downtown Neo-Tokyo cloaked in “thermal-optical camo,” a kind of tactical invisibility device, before shattering through a window with twin pistols blazing to take out the bad guys.
A strikingly similar sequence appears in the opening pages of Shirow’s bestselling Japanese comic series (original title: “Mobile Armored Riot Police”). And according to director Rupert Sanders, that’s no accident.
His objective was to stay true, he says, to the “world of unbridled imagination and philosophical introspection” first established within “Ghost’s” manga origins.
“All of the offerings in the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ universe are spawned from Shirow’s imagination,” Sanders says. “Cinematographer Jess Hall and I were conscious of framing our shots as though from a manga perspective. … To design, imagine and construct a world this unique and dense was, of course, a difficult task.”
Known for its quirks — manga is read right to left, as per traditional Japanese, even when written in English — as well as the visual density of its action-packed illustrations and a devoted readership that follows the comics’ serialized installments over decades with nearly religious zeal, manga has remained at the fringes of American cultural consumption since the early 1950s. It is also often overshadowed by anime, the distinctly Japanese form of hand-drawn or computer animation seen in the TV series “Sailor Moon” and 1988’s sci-fi epic “Akira.”
But now, with “Ghost in the Shell” poised to pull in around $30 million over its debut weekend in theaters (per estimates in pre-release box-office tracking), Hollywood seems to have awakened to manga’s slumbering commercial potential. And with a growing number of live-action versions of these beloved Japanese comics in various states of development along the studio pipeline, manga is no longer the exclusive province of cosplay conventions and genre geeks.
Last month, writer-director Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City,” the “Spy Kids” franchise) began filming an adaptation of the 1990 cyberpunk manga serial “Alita: Battle Angel” — about an amnesiac cyborg turned bounty hunter — co-starring Oscar winners Mahershala Ali and Christoph Waltz and co-produced by “Avatar” filmmaker James Cameron. “This project is near and dear to me,” Cameron said in a statement, going on to describe the thriller, which hits theaters in July 2018, as a “kick-ass epic.”
In January, Warner Bros. bought the feature rights for Hajime Isayama’s wildly popular manga comic “Attack on Titan,” which is set in a dystopian future where mankind is battling a race of freaky, naked, flesh-eating giants called Titans. David Heyman (producer of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and all eight movie installments of “Harry Potter”) will oversee production. … (read more)