The live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s anime/manga series Ghost in the Shell has been riddled with controversy surrounding the casting of actress Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi, the cybernetic-human heroine of the series who is, in all other iterations, Japanese. The decision to feature Johansson, the top-grossing actress in history, in the central role in the Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman)-directed pic has received some defense from one of Ghost in the Shell‘s manga publishers, and the film’s producer Steven Paul has spoken up to assure that “everybody is going to be really happy with it” and that “all sorts of people and nationalities” will be included in the new film.
However, fans have skewered the casting decision as another instance of Hollywood whitewashing and cinematic cultural appropriation, condemning the film for overlooking a bevy of qualified Asian actresses who might have been available for the role — several of which, including Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) and Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), expressed their own ire with the decision on social media.
Despite the wide protestations, though, production on the Hong Kong, China set of Ghost in the Shell has proceeded as planned since getting underway in April and moving from its original New Zealand shooting location. With a largely Japanese supporting cast in place, and city scenery that may offer more realistic backdrops to represent the gritty and futuristic aesthetic of New Port City (a building of which Public Security Section 9 has sent the Major out to spy on in the story), the hope is clear that fans will be able overlook the fact that Johansson is not Asian. Perhaps the fact that she and Sanders have now gotten the blessing of some of the series’ most important figures will help as well?
Thanks to the GITS cast&crew for having M.Oshii, K.Kawai, K.Kamiyama on set & for their respect towards their work. pic.twitter.com/HYpq7pKb1Z— Production I.G (@ProductionIGinc) June 27, 2016
In late June, Mamoru Oshii, Kenji Jamiyama, and Kenji Kawaii paid a visit to the set of Ghost in the Shell and shared a glimpse of themselves standing alongside Rupert Sanders and Scarlett Johansson (who was still dressed in character). The image was shared on Twitter and captioned by Production I.G. (the production company which produced several prior adaptations of Ghost in the Shell in conjunction with these filmmakers) with an expression of gratitude for the current project’s “respect towards their work.”
Mamoru Oshii directed the 1995 animated version of Ghost in the Shell and followed that up with Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Ghost in the Shell 2.0. (All three of Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell films’ scores were composed by Kenji Kawaii.) Meanwhile, Kenji Kamiyama was the writer-director behind the popular TV version of the series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and the 2011 3-D animation version, Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. Solid State Society 3D. Needless to say, their approval of this new version carries some serious gravitas, but will this token of inclusion and consultation with some of the series’ most esteemed adapters be enough to overcome the sting of the film’s much-fussed Westernization of such a pivotal role? That remains to be seen.
In addition to Johansson, the film will also feature Rila Fukushima (The Wolverine), Beat Takeshi Kitano (Battle Royale), Kaori Momoi (Memoirs of a Geisha), Chin Han (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Danusia Samal (Tyrant), Lasarus Ratuere (Terra Nova), Yutaka Izumihara (The Wolverine), Tuwanda Manyimo (The Rover), Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria), Michael Pitt (Hannibal), and Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones).
Ghost in the Shell will open in U.S. theaters on March 31, 2017.
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