The Geisha robots wore full head masks created by Weta Workshop and modeled after Japanese actress Rila Fukushima. The opening or 'exploding' of the Geisha's heads was mechanical rather than CGI. The inner workings of the heads were modeled after clockwork technology.
Mamoru Oshii, the Japanese director of the original Ghost in the Shell (1995), has spoken out against the whitewashing controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson playing Major despite not being Japanese. He gave her his blessing and said "I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie."
Although the film was shot in Wellington, New Zealand and the name of the setting is never mentioned, the city depicted is a highly digitized Hong Kong. For example, the dirty slum with narrow housing was Sham Shui Po and the splendid background when Major is in the boat was Hong Kong Island's Central.
The scene where the Major takes the prostitute Lia up to a room to examine her for evidence of humanity was initially longer and more intimate (they shared a kiss). It was cut short during post-production.
The character Dr. Ouelet was originally written as a male character, but was rewritten as female to accommodate Juliette Binoche who impressed the filmmakers at her audition. Rupert Sanders was very enthusiastic about this because he liked the idea of adding some maternity to the character.
The scene at the Yakuza bar where Batou drinks a beer served by a bartender with a mechanized arm is an homage to Ratz the bartender in "Neuromancer" by William Gibson. This book is considered a heavy influence on cyberpunk.
Despite Rila Fukushima getting top billing with the rest of the cast, it appears that she is nowhere to be seen in this film, which confused audiences. Her face was actually the model for the robotic Geisha faces. However, while the background Geisha are played by stuntwomen and dancers wearing the masks resembling her, Fukushima herself also plays the iconic red-robed Geisha (revealed in behind-the-scenes videos).
The film credits contain a remixed version of Kenji Kawai's soundtrack from the original film. It is not the first time the music has been remixed as "Beneath the Mask" by Kenji Kawai and Makai was a drum and bass version from 1998. Oddly, the UK release of the original film had alternate music on the credits - "Three Minute Warning" by Brian Eno and The Edge.
The Major is referred to several times as a "miracle". Her anglicized name in the movie is "Mira Killian", a tribute to the idea that she is a "miracle" of techno-human hybridization and a testament to the greatness of the human spirit.
The tips of Major's hair are dyed a blue color which glows a purple shade during darker scenes. This is an intentional homage to the Major's hair color, which was purple, in the television series Stand Alone Complex.
Although the film is largely an original story, the film does use several characters, as well as visual and thematic cues not only from Ghost in the Shell (1995), but also its sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004). The geisha, for example, are lifted from Innocence.
The red vial that Cutter gives to Dr. Ouelet to terminate the Major is labelled C11H17N3O8 which is Tetrodotoxin, the toxic compound produced by the symbiotic bacteria in pufferfish. See Wikipedia article on Tetrodotoxin.
Batou is shown bonding with several stray dogs, including a Basset Hound he calls Gabriel. The director of Ghost in the Shell (1995), Mamoru Oshii, is a huge fan of Basset Hounds and had one himself, also named Gabriel. A Basset Hound is seen several times in the original film. In the sequel to the original, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), Batou is shown to have a pet Basset Hound. Oshii wanted to have his own Basset Hound make a cameo in the film but he didn't have the proper documentation to bring the dog to the set.
All of the actors playing the Public Security Section 9 officers had to train for several months together with stunt coordinators on how to perform hand to hand combat and how to handle guns and knives.
Batou had a specially designed shotgun for the film that was created with a futuristic look to it, but problems happened on the set when the gun kept jamming and refusing to fire rounds causing the actor Pilou Asbæk to mess up several takes. Rupert Sanders encouraged him to continue filming as normal even if the gun wouldn't work properly.
In this film, Major visits an apartment building looking for her past. When she arrives, she sees the name of the building on a card, "Avalon Apartments". It is a clear reference to Mamoru Oshii's Avalon (2001), which, at the same time, is strongly influenced by the manga and anime Ghost in the Shell. In this film, Ash, a player in a virtual reality video game, sense of reality is challenged as she attempts to unravel the true nature and purpose of the game. Avalon is a legendary island featured in the Arthurian legend. It is known as the place where King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, was forged and, later, where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. In the film, Avalon is referred as the Island where warriors of the pure heart go after death. Additionally, some of this film was shot at Avalon Studios in Wellington, New Zealand.
This film's production was met with controversy over the choice to cast the lead role of Major (a Japanese character in the original source material and previous adaptations) as white, with the role going to Scarlett Johansson. Online protests over Hollywood whitewashing flared up in April 2016 when Paramount Pictures released the first promotional image of Johansson in costume. The anger toward her casting was exacerbated by reports that Lola VFX was commissioned to manage tests on visual effects to make white actors look Asian, though the results were reportedly rejected immediately upon their review.
An official release of the film's score by co-composers Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe was originally planned by Lakeshore Records with pre-orders available for CDs but was inexplicably canceled shortly after the movie's opening on March 31, 2017. Some have speculated that the cancellation was due to the film's under-performance at the box office and its polarized reception with both critics and fans of the original anime series alike. Many fans of the film's music across the Internet expressed their outrage and a Change.org petition was even started which has over five thousand signatures asking for an official release as of April 2018. On December 31, 2017, Lorne Balfe linked eighteen cues that he had composed in studio quality WAV format on his official Twitter account as a free New Year's Eve gift and thanked the fans for supporting his work on the film. However, over a year after the score's release was canceled, neither Lakeshore nor Paramount Pictures have addressed this controversy and although a soundtrack album was released digitally on the same day as the movie itself which mainly consisted of licensed tracks that appeared in and were also "inspired by" the movie, it's unlikely that an official release of the actual score will see the light of day in the near future, if ever at all.
The film was released almost six months before another film set in a dystopian future about robots - Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Blade Runner (1982), to which Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is a sequel, was one of the influences for Ghost in the Shell (1995), of which this film is a remake.
There is a scene in a few trailers where a chapel containing several monks are seen praying, two of these senior monks were played by Tricky and Andrew Ng though all of their scenes were deleted during post-production.
This is Scarlett Johansson's third time playing the role of an enhanced woman; following Natasha Romanoff who received Russian combat training at a young age in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Lucy (2014) as the title character where she is given a drug by chance giving her more control of her brain.
The shelling sequence that opens the film was, with the exception of the CGI and green screen background, done with nothing but practical effects. Scarlett Johansson's body was used as a model for the cybernetic shell for the sake of authenticity. Weta Workshop, who designed the shell, carefully studied the human anatomy to accurately create the model, and the whole process of constructing the shell took 5 months. The white liquid that the shell rises through was an actual plastic solution. A gel mold for the skin of the shell was made entirely of ballistic gel.
In the scene of the city, there appeared advertisements displayed as 'innocence' in Japanese katakana character. This is quoted from Mamoru Oshii's anime movie Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004). And 'Avalon', apartment name where Major went to find her past, is also quoted from Mamoru Oshii's movie Avalon (2001).
The brain that is inserted into the shell in the opening shelling sequence was a practical effect. The head was animatronic and opened with the help of remote controls, while the 3D printed brain was molded from ballistic gel.
A body cast of Scarlett Johansson, complete with a flesh painted face and wig, was used for the ending of the shelling sequence where the body is now completely formed. That was not actually Scarlett Johansson standing on the platform after the shelling sequence.
To prepare for their roles, all of the actresses, dancers and stunt women playing the Geishas had to attend a Geisha boot camp, to learn about the techniques and mannerisms of a traditional Geisha. The actresses were coached by veteran Geisha choreographer Hanayo.
The animatronic Geisha masks were powered by having the batteries and wiring located in the hair sections of the mask, while an earpiece was located on the side of the mask so that the actresses would be able to hear the director's commands. Fans were also mounted inside the masks to provide proper ventilation for the actresses, but even then, it still got so hot that they had to remove the masks every 10 minutes.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The Major is called Mira Killian in this film, to align better with her western appearance. However, in the ending, it is revealed that she used to be an Asian girl named Motoko Kusanagi. This was Major's name in the original anime.
Many of the locations in the film are designed either to look exactly like places in Hong Kong or are visually similar, including the view of the harbor when Batou and Major are on the boat, the HQ of Hanka, a sign for "Central" seen on the highway as Major heads to the last action scene, and the location of the battle with the spider tank, which looks like the circular pedestrian walkway in Causeway Bay - albeit made to look rundown and covered with vegetation in the movie.
The film's villain is Kuze, who is a terrorist cyborg. His character is an amalgamation that incorporates elements of several villains from the franchise such as that of the Laughing Man, a hacker from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) series who wears a parka coat, the Puppetmaster, a villain from the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) film, and is primarily based on Hideo Kuze, a member of the Individual 11, and childhood friend of Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG - Individual Eleven (2006).
Kaori Yamamoto and Andrew Morris, who play the human versions of Major and Kuze before they were kidnapped to be placed in synthetic bodies, never once have their faces revealed in the film for flashbacks that feature their characters.
During the Spider Tank battle as the tank closes in on a damaged Kuze (Michael Pitt), he points his finger at the tank as if it were a gun. This is a reference to the anime Cowboy Bebop where the main character, Spike Spiegal, does the same.