You might not recognize Rupert Sanders’ name, but you know his work.
He’s directed and won awards for some of the most eye-grabbing commercials to hit television.
Fans of first-person video game Halo 3: ODST probably remember “The Life.” Filmed with tight closeups, rapid cuts and quick action shots, the 150-second ad shows a young soldier through enlistment, training and battle. In contrast, an ad for online recruiting pioneer Monster.com looks like a fairy tale with quaint villagers, a subterranean bicycle that spins the Earth — and a 10-foot-tall guy with humongous thighs.
Sanders, 46, gets to reveal new wonders in his second film, “Ghost in the Shell,” a live-action version of the 1995 anime famous for its own stunning visuals.
Set in 2029 Japan, the story follows cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her elite cybercrime-fighting task force. She’s played in the movie by Scarlett Johansson, a casting decision that outraged fans who accused the filmmakers of whitewashing the beloved series.
Scarlett Johansson plays the Major in “Ghost in the Shell,” in theaters March 31, 2017.
Sanders spoke with CNET about the dangers of technology, translating “Ghost in the Shell” to live action and his casting choice. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation.
Given the story’s fan base and cultural impact, how did you decide to approach a live-action version?
When you take something from anime to cinema, there’s a very different journey. The original is very cerebral. And its pace is not only very anime, it’s Japanese. It has a kind of stillness and quietness to it, and it has space to it. In modern cinema, the expectations are different.
The challenge was how much of the anime style can you introduce in cinema. You can’t really shoot “Tom and Jerry” straight up, transpose it straight to live action. You have to find a way of translating it that feels both relevant and reverent of the original.
I wanted to do it justice. It’s a cherished part of my visual evolution growing up, and I really wanted to make sure that [the movie] could be the same. That it could be as remarkable now in the cinema as it was in the mid-’90s when it was first released upon the world.
We obviously have to talk about your decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi. Many fans say you’ve whitewashed an essentially Japanese story.
I stick behind my decision to cast the actress I felt was best in the role. I feel that she channeled the Major better than anyone else I could have thought of. She was my first choice and remains my first choice. She’s the best actress of my generation and her generation, and the person I felt most embodied the physicality and the ability to inhabit that role.
“Our film is much more about the hope that humanity will prevail amongst a technological revolution.”
The world we’ve created is a parallel world. It’s a global world. “Ghost in the Shell” inhabits a very multicultural, multiethnic and diverse landscape. I think it’s very authentic.
You’re quoted as saying “casting is all about finding a character within the actor off the screen, as much as on the screen.” What of the Major did you see in Johansson?
She’s incredibly intuitive, and she’s got both a toughness and a softness that I really feel the Major has. It was a character she could understand and relate to. There’s something in her, from her work in ” Lost in Translation” to “Under the Skin” to “Lucy.” She has that kind of punk/cyberpunk aesthetic to her.
Director Rupert Sanders on the set of “Ghost in the Shell.”
It’s really a coming-of-age [story about] an android becoming human, or at least the struggle of being both. And I think she handled that dualism perfectly.
At its core, “Ghost in the Shell” is about AI and what makes a person human and not a machine. Did that affect your view of technology?
Part of what we’re trying to say in this film is that humanity at some stage is gonna be absorbed more and more in technology. The important thing is that we figure out a way that humanity is needed by technology rather than the other way around. I think technology will evolve beyond us and [when that happens], what’s the need for us? We’re greedy, we’re wasteful, we are destroying the environment that they would need to survive.
Our film is much more about the hope that humanity will prevail amongst a technological revolution.
That’s a pretty dark image of the future. How do you see tech today?
We are very trusting of technology. We give so much of our location, of our desires, of our thoughts into these devices that, ultimately, we trust. You already see kids in their strollers flicking through iPads as though they’re software designers. And one of the questions of our film is, “Can you trust?”