So this will be my final part regarding the entire Ghost in the Shell casting controversy you can find part one here and part two here and this will be the last part. I had to split it into three parts as I had so much to say about the topic and dumping everything in a single article would have been messy and would not have made a whole lot of sense. So this would be the last post I make about the topic and the last part of this three part article. While the previous two articles dealt with the “white washing” accusations and if Scarlett Johansson could play Motoko Kusanagi, this article will deal with her back story, why race is not an issue with casting her and a bit on how big budget Hollywood movies work.
So besides the regular arguments of she is a terrible actress and this is “white washing” another argument that comes up regularly is the fact that everyone claims she is Japanese. Because she was “born” in Japan and she has a Japanese name and surname. And like I have mentioned in the second part of my article. Motoko Kusanagi actually had several prosthetic bodies, of both genders, ages and races in both the Anime and the Manga. She herself doesn’t even remember her original name or origin and mentions this several times, and anyone who has bothered reading the source material and watching the movies would know this as this is basically the basis of the entire franchises story.
So let’s fanboy a bit and take it a step further. Mokoto Kusanagi is a cyborg correct? And in the world she lives in anyone who can afford it can have a cybernetic body, or as they call it a prosthetic body or “Shell”. Her “Soul” or her “Ghost” is a mass of data containing her personality and what makes her unique. So using the logic provided by Masamune Shirow we can assume the things that make her “human” and unique can be transferred from one “Shell” to another. So using that we can assume that whatever her body looks like, her “Ghost” in essence would still be Japanese. So race like I have stated in my previous articles isn’t necessarily tied to the story, or important to the plot.
And logically this makes sense if you think about it, what matters in the Ghost in the Shell is your soul not the physical body you inhabit I mean it is in the title for God’s sake. This is no more racist or white washing than making Nick Fury from the Avengers Black, or making Thor a woman. And while the people who are furiously complaining about this on social media tend to forget that Ghost in the Shell was heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and the works of Philip K. Dick. Which brings me to my next point why Hollywood decided to cast Scarlett Johansson in the role. Argue as you might despite the recognisability of the name, Ghost in the Shell is still a niche tittle.
Look at what happened with Dragon Ball: Evolution. And that was based on one of the most popular anime of all time, and no it did not fail because they cast white actors. It failed because the directors and writers tried to adapt it for western audiences. And let’s be brutally honest here, the mainstream movie going audience won’t bother being invested in that kind of movie, because they just don’t understand the source material or the story. Because despite what Anime/Manga fans might tell you Anime/Manga is still a niche entertainment form. Regarding the Ghost in the Shell franchise, it was a watershed moment in the 90’s as far as Anime penetrating Western pop culture goes.
But it had everything to do with the fact that it was like nothing anyone had seen before and very little to do with the actual plot or substance of the story. So knowing all of the above won’t it make sense to cast a well-known female actress in the lead role who is a house hold name, instead of an Asian actress only known in Asia and a few select Hollywood movies? So let’s go through some possible candidates: Rila Fukushima? She does not look the part, what about Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh and Fan Bingbing? Won’t work since they are Chinese/Malaysian and not Japanese. Then what about Lucy Liu? Nope she is American.
I also should also point out that even if they had cast an Asian actor instead of Scarlett Johansson that actress isn’t Japanese, then we sit with the same issue. For those of you who remember, the last time Ang Lee cast a Chinese girl for Memoirs of a Geisha, the uproar was just as bad as this. So let’s just say this: No one is going to satisfied no matter who plays the role. Period. Which leaves us with one single Japanese actress: Rinko Kikuchi, who is Japanese and looks the part. But simply does not have the on-screen presence to fill movie theatres and bring in the money, that is a fact. No white washing or some sinister racial sub plot by Hollywood, just a logical choice based off making money.