Well, I'll say this: they got my attention. With a handful of fleeting teaser shots, the Ghost in the Shell live-action film has established several things: the movie looks good, has at least some sense of the eerie atmosphere and maybe even the mysticism of the original, has Takeshi Kitano doing what he does best, and still has some of the most troubled casting since Paul Muni donned yellowface for The Good Earth.
First, here are the five mini-trailers, all in one playlist.
Take a moment to digest all that. Now, my takes:
1. They have the look down
In a way, this is the easiest thing to get right. There's no shortage of talented art directors and designers in Hollywood, many of whom could cite Ghost in the Shell or anime generally as an influence. A couple of individual shots in these snippets are clearly intended to match shots from the original 1995 film — e.g., Motoko waking up in her apartment. That seems par for the course; you don't make a movie like this and not take cues from the originating look and feel.
2. This movie needs a two-phase review
With all the controversy around the film, there's no way to talk about it except as a bifurcate. On one hand, we need to talk about the movie alone — the drama it sets up, the story it tries to tell, the ideas it wants to explore. Every film deserves a chance to stand on its own.
On the other hand, no movie exists in a vacuum, either, so we'll also have to look at the consequences of casting a Western actress in a lead that is ostensibly not Western. That may have been intended as a pragmatic move to raise the chances of the film at the box office, but it's hard to ignore what else it does to the movie.
3. "Beat" Takeshi Kitano is a great actor, but this may not be his role
It's curious how a man who has basically one expression — a lopsided snarl, made all the more lopsided after a motorcycle accident — has become one of Japan's most valuable and magnetic actors. He embodies a type, and that type is never anything other than Takeshi Kitano, or "Beat" Takeshi (his credit as an actor as opposed to a director).
That said, casting him as the "old goat" Daisuke Aramaki, chief of Section 9, was somewhat left-field casting that may backfire. I like the idea of putting Kitano into this project, I'm not sure the execution will work. Aramaki was an eloquent and erudite man, and Kitano's roles are typically people of few words and a few well-directed blows. Perhaps that's why the only thing we see him doing here is emptying a revolver.
4. There may be more of an audience for GITS than we think, even without ScarJo
Two words: Mr. Robot. The hit TV show has introduced many of the same concepts explored in GITS to a Western audience — the asymmetry of modern information warfare, hacker culture as the future culture, the paranoid genius as antihero, and so on. Twenty years ago, "cyberpunk" was a buzzword that only showed up in nerd circles; today, the world is cyberpunk, and so Ghost in the Shell has a growing timeliness about it that may allow it to be more accessible to the broader swath of paying audiences weaned on things like CSI:Cyber.
5. The metaphysics of the series is as important as the politics and the technology
Two hints of this are present. Teaser #3 — "What are you?" (not "Who are you?"), and teaser #5 both nod towards the way identity and spirituality played key roles in the original franchise. I was worried they would be stripped out entirely, but I'll still be concerned if they are reduced to nothing but token nods in that direction. The Ghost is just as important as the Shell.
Last but not least, the film is set to drop sooner than I realized — spring of 2017. That implies a relatively short post-production cycle, which in turn implies the emphasis of the film is on drama and not overblown effects sequences. Here's hoping, anyway.
Addendum: There's now a fan trailer. That didn't take long.