White As A "Ghost"
Masamune Shirow's Ghost In The Shell is a manga that takes place in a fictional Japanese city of a future cyberpunk world. I have not read the manga (although I saw part of it in a Dark Horse sampler once) or seen the two animated movies that came from it. However, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is one of my favorite animated TV shows to come out of Japan. So I do have some idea what I'm talking about here. It was recently announced that Scarlett Johansson would be taking on the role of the main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi (usually referred to as "The Major", which is how I'll refer to her for the rest of the article). The Major works for Public Security Section 9, and gets involved with cybernetic crimes in a world where cybernetics isn't just something that exists, it's taken over almost everybody's lives. As you can tell by the name, she is also Japanese, which shouldn't be surprising because the franchise takes place in Japan. Naturally, fans are up in arms about the casting of a white person as an Asian character. This does instill in me a few questions of my own, and a few defenses. And then more questions because that's how I roll. The focus of Ghost is Public Security Section 9, who investigate high-profile crimes involving the hacking of actual people, or robotics gone haywire. In the future you're an outsider if you don't have at least one cybernetic part to you. This includes the brain. The question is whether or not your soul (referred to as a "ghost", hence the name of the series) follows you into your new prosthetic body. The Major has undergone full prosthesis as a child, due to a plane crash in one telling. The various media is inconsistent with characters at times and the Major's history is seldom explored. She's the Major, and that's all we appear to need to know. She and her fellow agents deal with high-profile, often politically sensitive, crimes, which is used to explore the themes of humanity in a world where the one-man tanks have cute personalities and existential conversations. I personally recommend Stand Alone Complex. The three-season show has both stand-alone cases that last an episode or two and a running storyline throughout the season, like the "Laughing Man" a criminal who can hack people's eyes and has a beef with the local police force. Sometimes the stand-alone cases will connect to the season's arc. I have only seen the first two, since those aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup. So why the flare-up against Johansson? She's shown how well she can pull off the sexy, yet limited emotional action heroine. As much as Black Widow needs more development before she can hold a full movie (one of the reasons I believe they went with the current Captain Marvel), the actress herself is good enough to pull off the kind of character needed for the Major--although she'll need a haircut and will wear the most unnecessarily skimpy outfit possible. With so few action heroines that haven't escaped b-level, direct-to-video status (for example, look up Cynthia Rothrock, a martial arts expert who has never become the female Chuck Norris but has had plenty of movies to her name), wouldn't be nice to see a female action heroine get a lead role? And with Johansson a big name in the movie business her name is sure to elevate the movie to near-top rung status when pushing the film to investors and distributors who only see names and not the story. Granted, they created the world of big name celebrities. "But she's the wrong race", scream fans who approved of the new Nick Fury and Johnny Storm, and then called anyone who complained about those changes "hella racist". Pointing back to a previous commentary, fans notice these things because we want to see the character whose adventures we are a fan of (and the reason someone pitched the idea to Hollywood) properly adapted, even if it isn't a word-by-word, scene-by-scene adaptation of the source material. (That's hard to do with comics and some novel series.) This includes wanting to see a Japanese woman (or at least Asian) as the Major, even if she isn't as big a name as Johansson, which may keep this movie from becoming another Fist Of The North Star, a terrible adaptation (and possibly a terrible movie altogether) of the manga of the same name from what I hear. It's not really my kind of story, though to be fair Ghost In The Shell shouldn't be, either in theory. To me it all hinges on where the movie takes place. If it's Japan (the series takes place in the fictional Niihama, Niihama Prefecture, although the name New Port City also comes up in Wikipedia), then yes, EVERYONE should be Japanese. Batou, Togusa (who happens to be my favorite character even if he doesn't get the Major or Batou's screen time), and everyone else. There was even an episode of SAC where the US were the bad guys. It wouldn't make sense to set your movie in Japan, about a Japanese criminal investigation team, and have a white lead when the franchise is all Japanese. It's like the other two race changes I mentioned above, an attempt to get a big name to help sell the movie when you don't have enough faith in the story you're presenting. That already makes me question this movie. On the other hand, if New Port City is moved to America (and imported Japanese franchises like The Ring, The Guyver, and Godzilla have all done this, even though Godzilla entered our culture as taking place in Japan) it would be somewhat more acceptable. Somewhat. America is a bit more diverse and it's possible that the security team would have a more diverse racial makeup. While the Major would have to change her name (I doubt anyone would buy Scarlett Johansson having the name Motoko Kusanagi, even if SAC questioned if she even knew her real name) in theory it would work. It's been done before with the franchises I've listed and a whole bunch of other ones. I guess it comes down to a question of where you think it should be set, Niihama Prefecture or New Port City. I don't have a problem setting a movie in a futuristic, cyberpunk Japan. We accept the Mad Max franchise, and that's a dystopian Australia. We think of Japan as being all into technology, so going full-Borg isn't going to be a big shock to US audiences. I do also realize that Hollywood-types, who don't understand whatever can't be tracked on a chart, won't understand that and I can accept a different origin country, or even something nondescript as being part of any nation. Personally, I'd say remake the original animated movie with updated animation and sell that internationally. I've also written that I don't understand the "live-action status symbol" that exists in the entertainment industry. Adults are more willing to watch animated movies, and with anime so popular it might be time to try an animated production for older audiences. Television has proven this could work or there wouldn't be an Adult Swim or shows like Archer or South Park (sadly, this also includes Brickleberry and other such crap). It's quite possible. There's even a prequel story coming out from Japan. All this is meaningless, however, if the production doesn't put a decent spin on the original franchise and characters that can't connect with both fans and newcomers to the franchise. They haven't even finished casting the thing yet, and any script that would leak would probably be changed as movies tend to be while in production. Hopefully this will be good enough to win fans over and draw newcomers into checking out the series. (Hopefully somebody gets the license and gets the series and movies re-released with the dubs, as well as translations of the original manga--Dark Horse could use having the license again after losing Star Wars). Only time will tell. Related articles Scarlett Johansson Confirmed to Star in Ghost in the Shell