Even though Disney recently dropped its live-action Ghost in the Shell adaptation from its release schedule, Paramount and Universal are still set to distribute the DreamWorks production. With that in mind, the cast is still being announced. Scarlett Johansson has long been set as the film’s protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg cop tasked with taking down a dangerous hacker. Now, fans of the original manga and anime adaptation know that a villain known as the Puppeteer/Puppet Master provided the main antagonist, so it’s curious that today’s casting announcement suggests a different villain entirely.
As THR reports, Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) is set to join the film as a villainous hacker, but it’s not the villainous hacker you might have expected. According to their write-up, Pitt will play the Laughing Man, “a bitter and vengeful man with a body that is part robot. He has a unique sense of style and has been described as a bad guy filtered through the lens of a street artist.” What the trade doesn’t tell you is that this isn’t the traditional villain from the manga or anime feature adaptation, but rather the antagonist from the early 2000s anime series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
While the decision not to include the Puppeteer/Puppet Master is a little disappointing considering the rich thematic material that particular villain brought to the story, Laughing Man might actually be an easier sell for today’s audiences. This isn’t your typical bad guy, just like Kusanagi’s Public Security Section 9 aren’t your typical good guys. The Laughing Man is an anti-corporate terrorist and social media-savvy super-hacker who is able to mask his identity by both real-time manipulation of video feeds and cybernetic brains. His trademark logo – which, along with his moniker, was inspired by J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” – masks his face. His part to play is certainly an interesting on in the series, and one that Pitt could do quite well with, as long as he doesn’t mind hiding behind a smiley face logo the whole movie a la V for Vendetta.
Avi Arad and Steven Paul are producing with Michael Costigan, Jeffrey Silver, Tetsu Fujimura and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa are executive producing; Jonathan Herman wrote the script based on Masamune Shirow’s creation. Sam Riley has yet to be confirmed for the picture, but Pilou Asbaek will co-star alongside Johansson in the Rupert Sanders-directed picture. The film is rumored to begin shooting later this month as it aims to keep its March 31, 2017 release date.