Ghost in The Shell is being adapted into a live-action flick, coming from DreamWorks.
While there have been complaints, primarily surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson, the question we need to ask: Shouldn’t we be worried about the overall movie as well?
It’s a fair and valid question. Not to say that Hollywood hasn’t the best track record in adapting materials from other sources as there have been a few successes, be they from books, stage plays or TV shows. When it comes to adapting anime properties into live-action films, the track record is spotty, even when casting isn’t taken into consideration.
Let’s make one thing clear here, I’m looking primarily at anime adaptations and not video game properties. That rules out the likes of Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, D.O.A.: Dead or Alive, Tekken, Street Fighter… and let’s simply ignore Super Mario Bros along with the few from Uwe Boll.
The first live-action adaptation of an anime property (please feel free to correct me on this if you find anything earlier) was The Guyver in 1991. Based on the manga series, Bio-Booster Armour Guyver by Yoshiki Takaya and an anime adaptation in 1986, The Guyver had some interesting behind the scenes talent.
The directors were a pair of special effects make-up artists, Steve Wang and ‘Screaming Mad’ George. Wang started out with Rick Baker on Harry and The Hendersons and worked under Stan Winston on Predator and The Monster Squad. ‘Screaming Mad’ George, did creature effects on Predator and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, progressing to designing effects on Bride of Re-Animator. The producer of The Guyver was Brian Yuzna, known for loads of cult schlock horror favourites such as Re-Animator, From Beyond and Society (which he directed) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. He also produced the 1995 Canadian adaptation of Crying Freeman, starring Mark Dacascos.
While the anime was dark and bloody, The Guyver was more a creature feature effects film with loads of rubber-suit monsters bloodlessly battling it out with our hero, Sean Barker, played by Jack Armstrong. The movie followed the concept of the bio-armour finding its way to an individual who uses it to fight the creatures but did so in a more typical jokey approach to the proceedings. Unfortunately, the mediocre action was due to most of the performers struggling with the rubber suits they wore. It was a style that would be freely adopted into the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series a couple of years later.
Still, the movie got enough recognition for the creature effects and built a small fan base resulting in a slightly superior sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero in 1994. Steve Wang returned to direct the sequel alone with his own story that stayed closer to the darker tone of the source material. He also had a new leading man in David Hayter (screenwriter for X-Men, X-Men 2, and Watchmen, voice actor in several cartoons and video games). Unfortunately, its direct to video release also meant a limited audience. Despite better action set-pieces, the continued use of actors in rubber suits for the monsters still left a lot to be desired
Things did not improve with 1995’s Fist of the North Star adaptation starring then kick-boxing champion, Gary Daniels as main protagonist Kenshiro. It was an even lower-budgeted independent affair that had a cinematic premiere in Japan but went direct-to-video everywhere else.
While the fight scenes were decent enough, the hyper-violent action movie had deviated significantly from the source material. It also didn’t help that tit had a post-apocalyptic setting that was in every other low-budget DTV science fiction adventure popping out at the time. Suffice to say, fans of the 1986 animated feature were severely disappointed.
As mentioned, an adaptation of Crying Freeman was released in 1995 and the movie hewed closely to its source material for the most part. Some regard it as a faithful if tamed adaptation, but as this is a Canadian /French production, we’re side-stepping it here.