Scarlett Johansson has been cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi, the main character in the Japanese anime hit Ghost in the Shell that Paramount/DreamWorks is adapting into a feature film. The issue here is that, along with Johansson’s character, all but one other main characters, who are Asian in the source material, are being portrayed by white actors. Japanese actor Beat Takeshi Kitano is the lone exception. What’s probably most surprising about the backlash this decision has received is that most of the negative comments are coming from the Western world; many Japanese had already assumed that the role would go to a white actress. Now we get to hear what Sam Yoshiba had to say about the controversial casting choice. He’s the director of the international business division at Kodnasha: the company that publishes the Ghost in Shell manga in Japan.Yoshiba told The Hollywood Reporter:
“Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place. This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.”
He added he was “impressed by the respect being shown for the source material.”
Masamune Shirow wrote the original manga in question, which Kodansha published in 1989. Kodansha has since licensed it for multiple ventures, including Mamoru Oshii’s seminal 1995 anime feature, Japanese spin-off films and anime series, and now, a Hollywood live-action version. Here’s the official synopsis of the upcoming film, helmed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and with a screenplay by Jonathan Herman (Straight Outta Compton).
Based on the internationally-acclaimed sci-fi property, “GHOST IN THE SHELL” follows 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 Hanka Robotic’s advancements in cyber technology.
Other names attached to the movie are Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones) as Motoko Kusanagi’s right-hand man, Batou; Beat Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi) as Lt. Col. Daisuke Aramaki and Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) as the main villain, The Laughing Man.
Digesting this information may be hard for some. The easiest course of action would be to write it off, since this is by far and wide not the first time Hollywood has “white-washed” a film. The deeper issue, however, is that Johansson is playing, for all intents and purposes, the hero of the story. And it’s a shame that it’s universally expected for Hollywood to white-wash our heroes.