On May 31, Scarlett Johansson will take over the big screen as Major Motoko Kusanagi—aka The Major—an augmented cybernetic human who leads an elite team of counter-terrorist agents in a Japanese dystopia. Paramount and Dreamworks’ Ghost in the Shell, based on the 1989 manga (Japanese comic book) and subsequent 1995 anime (Japanese animation) takes viewers into an alternate future in which humans mix freely with machines—a double-edged sword of technology that while awesome, leaves the public vulnerable against hacker attacks. (Looking at you, Internet of Things.)
Since hacking is a major theme in Ghost in the Shell, Paramount debuted its first trailer footage in an unconventional way—by “hacking” commercials for the season two finale of Mr. Robot. A total of five, 10-second teasers revealed richly colored imagery of a robotic geisha, Johansson as The Major, Takeshi Kitano as Daisuki Aramaki and enough dark shadows to make Ridley Scott shed a single, joyous tear.
“The great thing about season premieres and season finales is that they’re like live sporting events—people want to watch them in real time,” Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of worldwide distribution and marketing, told Deadline Hollywood. “Because of the social media explosion, there’s a fear of missing out or having a plot detail spoiled. We knew with the Mr. Robot finale we’d get that extra boost of people who would be sharing on social.”
And a boost they did—12.3 million views on the official Paramount YouTube channel within days of the activation.
Despite critic accusations of “white washing” The Major by casting Johansson, Ghost in the Shell footage thus far recreates the tone and visuals of its source material, often shot-by-shot. The Mr. Robot commercial takeover was just the appetizer for fans to see the first, full-length trailer that debuted a month later, which quickly amassed millions of views. A special viewing party was held in Tokyo for the trailer, where costumes and props from the film were on display. Cast and crew took to the stage and even Johannson herself answered fan questions on social media.
Of course, the most recent social media buzz resulted from Paramount’s spot during Super Bowl LI, generating nearly 30,000 new conversations, according to media-measurement firm comScore.
Together with a poster giveaway and a brand-new trailer debuting over the weekend, it’s unlikely that this tale of cybernetic espionage will be a “ghost” at the box office.