Ghost in the Shell is just one of many live-action anime adaptations that are coming up in Hollywood over the next few years. Thanks to star Scarlett Johansson and some eye-catching visuals, there’s a strong chance it’ll be a hit. If it does succeed, we can likely expect popular and obscure anime and manga to start becoming the next big thing when it comes to film and television adaptations. When it comes to these movies, however, the idea of remaking them hasn’t been met with universal support by fans.
People are not only upset to see the settings and characters altered, with the idea of white actors tackling the Japanese roles an area that’s especially troubling for many. While adaptations often change characters to reflect the region they’re being remade in, many find it particularly problematic for anime adaptations to erase roles for Asian actors. And with Asian audiences consistently spending more and more money at the box office, we could see this trend eventually reverse course.
One person who’s more than okay with the Ghost in the Shell casting, though, is Mamoru Oshii. Oshii is the director of the 1995 anime that has become the cultural reference point for the franchise. When IGN recently sat down with Oshii and asked him about the casting controversy, he brushed it off saying nothing in the source material demands lead character Major be Japanese:
“What issue could there possibly be with casting her? The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.”
His point is a valid one, as it could be argued that while Ghost in the Shell originated in Japan in the real world and clearly draws influence from the culture, it does so in much the same way as any classic story or tale draws from the region it originates in without necessarily codifying the the in-universe culture. While Oshii isn’t the creator of the property, he certainly has some unique insight into the world and his opinion is an important one. Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld recently made a similar statement about his character Domino and her assumed race. And though Oshii doesn’t think Johansson is taking on an Asian role, he wouldn’t have a problem even if she was:
“In the movies, John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, and Omar Sharif, an Arab, can play Doctor Zhivago, a Slav. It’s all just cinematic conventions. If that’s not allowed, then Darth Vader probably shouldn’t speak English, either. I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie. I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics.”
While Oshii’s argument about John Wayne playing Khan likely won’t find many supporters, it also negates his previous claim that Major isn’t Asian. Still, the general sentiment seems to be that Oshii has no issue with an actor of one race playing the role of another. While he’s certainly entitled to such an opinion and fans of his work will find it to be the final word on the subject, the issue of representation can’t be laid to bed so easily.
With Ghost in the Shell arriving at the end of the month, audiences will be able to make up their own minds about whether Johansson was the right choice or whether the film is deserving of the controversy it’s generated.