With Scarlett Johansson and Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood Might Finally Notice that Manga and Anime…

By  · Published on January 5th, 2015

With Scarlett Johansson and Ghost in the Shell, Hollywood Might Finally Notice that Manga and Anime Exist


Update: Scarlett Johansson has officially signed on to Ghost in the Shell, according to Variety.

Original Post: Earlier this week came news of WB/DC’s Suicide Squad, and the sparkly list of celebs wanted to play various morally murky supervillains. And right afterward came an update from Deadline – yes, Tom Hardy, Will Smith and Margot Robbie are super interested in pursuing some supervillainy (save for Ryan Gosling, who’s being all finicky). But in one throwaway sentence of that Deadline piece was something even more shocking (more shocking than Will Smith playing an outright villain, if you can believe it). It seems Robbie was free to pursue Suicide Squad because her previous target, the live-action Ghost in the Shell adaptation, had ditched her to pitch woo at Scarlett Johansson.

Savor those words: Scarlett Johansson. Ghost in the Shell. Perfect, no? Because Johansson would almost certainly (it’s not been said outright, but we can assume) be playing Ghost in the Shell protagonist Motoko Kusanagi, a future cop with hacking skills and also a mess of cybernetic upgrades wired into her brain. This could not be more perfectly tuned to Johansson’s wheelhouse- she’s spent the past few years clicking into characters that are human… but not totally human. An OS that sounds like a lady in Her; a regular human given trippy time and space powers in Lucy; an incomprehensible space horror with a little humanity painted on the outside in Under the Skin. Hell, even Black WIdow, with her “I’m a spy with a troubled past so I karate kick all my emotions away” shtick, can come off a little robotic. It’s kind of Johansson’s specialty.

So tossing a mostly untested talent like Robbie aside for the tried and true Johansson is definitely in Ghost in the Shell’s best interest. Because for some odd reason, if you speak the words “comic book adaptation” within earshot of any major studio executive, their eyes light up with spinning dollar signs like a pop-up for online slot machines. But if the word is “manga,” you’ll get nothing but icy indifference.

It’s no joke. Every manga/anime (where one goes, the other tends to follow) with any amount US crossover appeal has been optioned for a film at some point; all currently languish in development hell. Akira. Bleach. Cowboy Bebop. Death Note (someone could have a lot of fun making “The ABC’s of Failed Anime Adaptations”). Sure- maybe everytime Hollywood tries to go all Japanesey, we get something like Dragonball: Evolution (precisely one good thing has come from Dragonball: Evolution, and it’s the Honest Trailer that rips it to shreds). But you can’t fault an entire well of source material for one noxious bucket- that’d be like swearing off all video game films forever after one viewing of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.

Now technically, Johansson hasn’t signed on to Ghost in the Shell– we’re just at the “Dreamworks Courting Johansson” phase. But the role couldn’t be better suited to her skill set, so if she takes it, this might be what us Westerners need to push a non-Dragonball: Evolution anime/manga-based film into theaters.

And if Hollywood needs any more incentive, there’s always the nuclear option. I won’t string these words together in the same sentences, lest they unleash something unholy upon the world, but let’s just say that Ghost in the Shell, with its film, TV, game and manga incarnations, would fit nicely into one of those universes that are all the rage now. You know… the expanded kind.

Just a thought.

Editors note: This post was originally published on October 18, 2014, when Johansson was only in talks for the role.