Ghost in the Shell has been a successful anime franchise in Japan and had crossover success in the United States, but will the 2017 American live action adaptation with Scarlett Johansson as the lead see similar success?
So far there have been few American-produced live action films based on anime. They’re obviously more common in Japan. The only American-produced live action anime adaptations are Speed Racer (2008) and Dragonball Evolution (2009).
The criteria is simple for the interest of the piece. We’re not counting American-produced cartoons that were animated in Japan like Transformers or G. I. Joe.
Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution domestically grossed $43.9 million and $9.3 million, respectively. There was an attempt to adapt Akira (1988) into live action with Tom Cruise set to lead, but it was permanently shelved. A live action Cowboy Bebop was discussed with Keanu Reeves in the role, but nothing has panned out yet has been stuck in production hell ever since. Reeves commented in a Reddit AMA that it might not likely happen.
“Cowboy Bebop does not look like it is going to happen with me in it. The script that was written was great and amazing, but it would cost like half a billion dollars to make it, and while I wished and hoped I would have done that project, we are working on trying to get Bill & Ted 3. There’s a script and we are trying to put it together.”
Shinichiro Watanabe did comment of the development in 2014. He doesn’t sound too optimistic of the film.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what they’re thinking in Hollywood. Apparently the project hasn’t come to a stop but I don’t know how it’s going to progress from here on. I hear that there are a lot of ‘Hollywood’ problems.”
With certain films involving Asian characters or an Asian-based work, there has been backlash over representation and Whitewashing. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in Doctor Strange (2016) was changed from an old Tibetan monk to a Celtic woman as according to Marvel, not to offend China. While there was an outcry from a portion of the Asian community, the film still grosses $231 million domestically in the box office and cracked the top 10 grossing for superhero origin films according to Box Office Mojo.
There was also similar controversy involving Matt Damon’s role in The Great Wall, which is a Chinese film, but he’s primarily being used to sell the film in the US. Those involved with the film say Damon’s character is not Chinese, but critics argued it perpetuates the “White savior” stereotype.
Ghost in the Shell has endured similar controversy with Johansson in the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi, which the cast, crew and creators all defended the choice saying the film is set in an international world. Japanese fans of the franchise presumed Hollywood would cast a White actress in the role.
With the film’s imminent release in March 31, there isn’t much to go on to see if it is a success due to mixed-to-poor reactions of existing films. We know if there’s anything going for it, is that Johansson can carry a sci-fi film on her own with the success of Lucy (2014), which generated $126 million in the box office domestically and $463 million globally.
Will Ghost in the Shell’s fate in the box office determine if other anime gets adapted to live-action from Hollywood?