As previously reported, Scarlett Johansson will star as Motoko Kusanagi in the Hollywood film production of the iconic manga / anime “Ghost in the Shell.” Ever since it was announced that Johansson would play the film’s protagonist, there has been controversy due to what some see as “whitewashing”, since a white person will be playing a character that was originally a person of color.
A few days ago, the first photo of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi surfaced online, reigniting the controversy. Things weren’t helped by the fact that sources close to the film reported that there were attempts to make the film’s non-Asian cast members appear more Asian through use of CGI.
While the “whitewashing” has been a point of contention in the West, things aren’t necessarily the same in Japan.
The publishing company Kodansha released the original “Ghost in the Shell” manga in 1989. It has since licensed the work for various spinoffs, including the upcoming Hollywood film. “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast,” Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division at Kodansha’s Tokyo headquarters, told The Hollywood Reporter. “She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.” He continued, “This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” Yoshiba recently returned from a visit to the film’s New Zealand set, where he says he was impressed by the respect being shown for the source material.
Many ordinary Japanese manga fans are also not bothered over the casting controversy. “If you want a Japanese cast, then a Japanese company should make the film in Japan,” said longtime manga fan Tetsuya Kataoka.
Interestingly, the casting of an Asian actress may have avoided the “whitewashing” accusations and likely pacified some fans in the West, but it would’ve provoked a worse reaction in Japan.
“It’s a shame they didn’t choose a Japanese person to tell such an interesting story. But at least they didn’t cast a Chinese actress, like they did in Memoirs of a Geisha,” said Ai Ries Collazo, another manga fan. “[Zhang Ziyi] actually did an amazing job, but it was like: really? Again, can’t they find a Japanese actress? Though casting an Asian actress would probably have gone down better in America.”
Japanese manga and anime fans pointed out that similar “race-bending” casting takes place in reverse for domestic productions. Two live action movies based on the “Attack on Titan” manga, also originally published by Kodansha, were released last year. The characters in the manga by Hajime Isayama were Western, but the cast for the movies was all Japanese.
Meanwhile, some Japanese Twitter users suggested that not too much attention should be paid to the physical appearance of the actress, because the dominant themes in “Ghost in the Shell” are the nature of identity and cyborgs used to host cyber-brains.
“It’s a Hollywood movie, it can’t be helped that there’s going to be a white lead actress. Well, best to think of it as an artificial body situation,” tweeted @Imperia_r.
“There’s been a lot of criticism from foreign fans about the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi in the movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell,” wrote @janyojanyo. “It’s about artificial bodies, so you may as well think of it as her using a white cyborg. The manga and anime have differences anyway. It’s still better than them casting Rinko Kikuchi just because she can speak English.”
And some said the casting could draw people to cinemas. “So it’s Beat Takeshi Kitano and Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell,” tweeted @Rotten_Stupa. “I don’t really know much about the plot, but that’s a combination probably worth seeing,”
Several more opinions on the topic could be found on 2ch and My Game News Flash, one of Japan’s biggest game blogs:
“This is wrong lol”
“I can definitely say that the one thing they’re more true to than I thought they’d be is the hairstyle lol.”
“The gap between Japan and abroad is interesting. Japan: A white person is okay, right? Abroad: We won’t forgive white-washing, cast an Asian person.”
“Well, then, who as a Japanese person (an Asian) would be good?”
“Japanese people don’t really care, and that’s really depressing.”
“White people rule Hollywood.”
“I laughed at them casting a foreigner as a Japanese character.”
“She looks way too kind.”
“I’m not going to watch this, so whatever.”
“There aren’t high-level Japanese actresses, so this can’t be helped…”
“Twenty years earlier, this would’ve been Milla Jovovich.”
“I have no idea why people are complaining this much.”
“At this year’s Academy Awards, there was criticism that about all the white people, so perhaps this outrage is linked to that.”
“Well then, how about Rinko Kikuchi?”
“I hate Scarlett Johansson because she appeared in that movie that made fun of Japan. She’s ugly, but she might have a face that white people like.”
“Taylor Swift would’ve been better.”
“For the Japanese dub, please use a proper voice actress. Without fail.”
“Yep, this is a Hollywood film.”
“There would be controversy no matter who starred.”
“If it’s going to be an Asian in Hollywood, then it would be someone like Lucy Liu. Scarlett Johansson is fine.”
“I guess it’s that white people are taking work from Asian people.”
“It’s unfortunate but only natural because there aren’t many Japanese (actors) who can speak English.”
“Scarlett Johansson looks terrible with black hair. It doesn’t suit her at all.”
“Then, who would be better?”
“Ko Shibasaki, perhaps. That’s the only one who came to mind.”
“I thought it was okay that they didn’t use a Japanese person.”
“The original manga is quietly saying, ‘Please make this anime only.’”
“Putting race on a cyborg…”
“A Japanese actor wouldn’t sell the film.”
“Don’t care too much about this image. My concern is the substance.”
“You know it’s going to end up totally different, so who cares about the casting.”
“I wasn’t even looking forward to this movie in the first place.”
“If only they had put Rinko Kikuchi as Motoko Kusanagi, there wouldn’t be any issue.”
“This stinks of a B movie.”
“Even though in the Attack on Titan manga, the characters were foreigners, the movie version was all Japanese people, so I’m not going to complain.”