Rupert Sanders on ‘Ghost in the Shell’s Villain and Making More Than an Action Film

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A few weeks ago I got to do something incredibly cool: I was able to visit Tokyo for the first time thanks to Paramount Pictures and the Ghost in the Shell movie. While some studios release the first trailer for a big upcoming movie during the Super Bowl, or drop it on YouTube, for Ghost in the Shell Paramount went all out and invited reporters and a few lucky fans to a special location in the heart of the city where they had costumes, props and even Batou’s car on display before showing the trailer, some clips and conducting a Q&A with Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, and director Rupert Sanders.

For those not familiar with Ghost in the Shell, it explores what it means to be human. When you can copy your consciousness to another body, when do you stop being human? Is it your body or mind or both that makes you who you are? In addition, in the world of Ghost in the Shell, hackers can plant memories in your head and the recipient can’t tell what’s real or fake. The world of Ghost in the Shell tries to deal with real issues in a technologically advanced world.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

Of course you can’t make a big budget Hollywood movie tackling these philosophical issues alone. But when you mix in these themes with a cool story and some kick-ass action, it’s the kind of thought provoking stuff that makes me excited to see it.

In the film, Scarlett Johansson stars as The Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out advancements in cyber technology. Loaded with an all-star international cast featuring Pilou AsbækMichael Pitt, Juliette Binoche, Kaori Momoi, Rila Fukushima, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara, and Tuwanda Manyimo.

A little after the Q&A ended and the party started to slow down, I was able to participate in a group interview with Rupert Sanders. He talked about how the film is not an origin story but a “birth story”, where they’re at in the editing process, how the film’s villain (Kuze) is an amalgamation, how Clint Mansell is going to do the music, why he wanted Scarlett Johansson to be The Major, having a diverse cast, and a lot more. Check out what he had to say below. Ghost in the Shell opens March 31st.

Question: It’s nice to have a trailer and that we can finally talk about this movie, because before this the conversation hasn’t been about the movie, it’s been about the controversies. What has that been like, knowing you have this movie and you want to show it but all of the talk has been about the issues?

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Image via Paramount Pictures

RUPERT SANDERS: Quite seductive, actually. We knew this time would come and I think we’re proud of what we’ve done and how we’ve done it, so it wasn’t like, “I’ve got to get it out there. I’m not gonna take any more flak.” It was like, “It’ll come out when it’s ready.” I feel even when we started putting out the little 10 second teasers, those little glitches –Because I really wanted the marketing campaign to kind of hack into the system. We’re not one of the normal films, we’re quite weird and out there, but I think we can also inhabit a much bigger. So for me, we started to see it when that stuff came out and people were like, “Oh, maybe there’s something in this,” and I hope that we see this week –and your reactions obviously count– what people do think and how it grows and how it finds its place, which is a hard thing to do, you never really know. You’re kind of casting a fly out into the water and you just don’t know whether it’s gonna sink or swim.

I think fans of the franchise are gonna be very interested and maybe a little surprised in how much you’ve pulled from both films, the whole Stand Alone Complex series, you’ve pulled aspects from each of those things. Was there ever any concern about pulling all of these disparate storylines together and using aspects of each of them like that?

SANDERS: It’s hard, because I don’t think you could’ve taken the 1995 film and just remade it frame by frame. I think it’s just too philosophical and too introspective. That’s what so many people like about it and I hope that we’ve channeled that into the film but hopefully built a bigger film around it, so that people are excited in the cinema but come out enriched in some way. I think so many times I come out of the cinema and just feel like I’ve been battered over the head and my money has been taken, I haven’t actually left with anything other than a few bits of popcorn stuck to my trousers. And I hope that there’s something in here that…A lot of work has gone into it. I’ve been in this for three years and it’s been a wonderful and exciting journey, but I really hope people love it and get something from it.

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Image via Paramount Pictures

You’re a huge [Takeshi] Kitano fan. Of all his films, which is the one that you find the most interesting and why?

SANDERS: I think Hana-bi to me was the one that kind of –There’s something about that aspect in Aramaki, is that he’s an incredibly violent exterior shell and then inside there’s this kind of incredible warmth and intimacy to him. I was so lucky to work with him. What a precise and amazing actor. You just literally put the camera on him and you just see these feelings coming. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

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