Spoiler warning: Spoilers for the Ghost in the Shell remake to follow. Proceed at your own risk!
You know the drill by now. Despite being based on an iconic anime that's intrinsically Japanese in every aspect, Hollywood's Ghost In The Shell remake scrubbed away the original's cultural identity by casting American actress Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.
With this much whitewashing on display, #GhostInTheShell's chances of success could have been swept away completely under waves of controversy. However, the whitewashing controversy began long before the remake was actually released; is there any way the film save itself once audiences actually got to see it?
Now that #ScarlettJohansson's latest stab at playing enhanced women has finally deep-dived into cinemas, does Ghost In The Shell live up to everyone's whitewashing expectations? We didn't think Rupert Sander's remake would have a ghost in a chance of fixing this problem, but it looks like we could have been wrong.
How Did Hollywood's 'Ghost In The Shell' Remake Try To Fix This Problem?
Issues of identity permeate Ghost In The Shell from the outset. At first, we discover that Major Mia Killian is struggling to hold onto lost memories after her brain was placed inside a robotic 'shell'. Fans were outraged that the original Japanese protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, was replaced by the clearly American character, Mia Killian, further erasing Asian identity in Hollywood.
However, as the story progresses, we eventually learn that 'Mia' is a victim of brainwashing at the hands of Hanka Robotics. In reality, Johansson's character was originally a Japanese teenager called Motoko Kusanagi, whose memories were removed as part of an experiment to create the ultimate weapon.
Upon discovering the truth, Major Mia Killian/Motoko Kusanagi strives to reconcile these two personas into one coherent identity. Essentially, this means that Scarlett Johansson's character possesses the mind of a Japanese girl inside a white woman's body. In this sense, director Rupert Sanders has attempted to bypass the whitewashing controversy by combining the original Japanese character with the kind of American actress that Hollywood feels is necessary to help market such a film.
Does This 'Twist' Justify Scarlett Johansson's Casting For 'Ghost In The Shell'?
The Ghost In The Shell remake tries to have its cake and eat it too, surprising audiences with a twist revelation that tries to fix the problem of whitewashing — but is still likely to anger the majority of fans.
It's easy to understand why audiences are outraged that the film ends with Motoko Kusanagi's name etched on a grave. Is this #whitewashing at its most literal? Well, yes and no.
Sure, the Ghost In The Shell remake represented the perfect opportunity to finally cast a Japanese actress as a major Hollywood lead. However, this would have lessened the impact of what is arguably the film's most powerful scene.
For all of The Matrix inspired slo-mo and mind-blowing visuals, the soul of Ghost In The Shell (or it's very ghost, if you will) lies in the moment where Major meets her Japanese mother for the first time. Despite the outward appearance of the American robotic shell, Motoko's mother still recognizes Johansson's character as her daughter. Had a Japanese actress been cast as the lead, one could argue that the emotional impact of this scene would have been dampened. After all, it's the very fact that Motoko is not Japanese that makes her mother's realization all the more extraordinary and touching.
What Does The Original Anime Director Think Of This Casting Choice?
As the filmmaker of the original Ghost In The Shell, one would expect Japanese director Mamoru Oshii to disagree with Johansson's casting and even denounce the remake in its entirety. However, during a recent interview with IGN, the anime legend defended Sander's remake in a surprisingly logical way:
"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."
In some ways, Oshii's opinion shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. After all, the Japanese #anime purposefully Westernized Major in order to explore issues of commodified whiteness in Japan. One could argue that the remake has simply drawn inspiration from this choice — although of course, the change in cultural context from Japanese anime to Hollywood blockbuster completely changes the meaning of this decision for the majority of audiences.
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In an ideal world, the way in which Ghost In The Shell bridges the gap between Japanese and American version of Major would actually be commendable. After all, the aim of those who denounce whitewashing is to create a world where skin color no longer matters. By striving to incorporate both Eastern and Western cultures into the film's main character, one could even argue that Sanders and his team are trying to break down racial barriers through their casting.
Ultimately though, we don't live in an ideal world, and representation still matters. Yes, Ghost In The Shell could have easily just ignored the issue of whitewashing completely, but at the end of the day, Sander's attempt to address these racial concerns remain problematic, despite his admirable aims. It's no coincidence then that the Major's original Japanese "ghost" is trapped inside a hollow American "shell," just like the spirit of the franchise itself.
Do you think that Scarlett Johansson should have been cast as Major?
(Source — IGN. Poll Image Credit: Shochiku)