Many are squirming at the fact that the iconic Japanese sci-fi anime "Ghost In The Shell" is not only being adapted into a westernised live-action thriller, but being adapted with a white lead, namely Scarlett Johansson playing Motoko Kusanagi. Perhaps the most convincing creative argument for casting Johansson in the role is that without a familiar face, western audiences are going to find it hard grappling with the philosophies and ideas contained in the anime that originate from such a different culture than there own. However, the reality is that is far from the case. Whilst many are questioning whether everything that is great about this Japanese cult classic will get lost in translation, the film is actually tainted with far more western influences than many at first realise. "Ghost In The Shell" has already both been greatly influenced and has been greatly influential in western culture. Here's how.
What Makes us Human?
What makes us human? This has been the question used as the driving force throughout the sci-fi genre. From Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" to Duncan Jone's "Moon", many film-makers have used the sci-fi medium to answer this single question, and produced some of cinema's best material as a result. Perhaps the most influential sci-fi movie for "Ghost in the Shell" however is Ridley Scott's "Bladerunner". More for the the way Ridley Scott chooses to ask the question than the answer he gives, director Mamoru Oshii is clearly inspired by Ridley's 'cyber-punk' sub-genre. This can be seen in the eerily long silent shots maintained between dialogue, the sky shots of a futuristic dystopian city landscaped often shot, in this case drawn, of the night-time, and the use of multi-layered city landscapes marked by a mirage of neon-lights.
I Ghost, Therefore I am
Whereas Ridley Scott may have been a key influence in the visual way humanity is questioned in "Ghost in the Shell", it is both contemporary and classical western philosophers that were key in the content and phrasing of the questions being asked. Both Descartes' "Evil Demon" thought experiment and contemporary philosopher Arthur Koestler's work "The Ghost in The Machine" were hugely influential in the ideas explored. These ideas therefore stem from the West and continue to prove just how influential western culture was on the inception of "Ghost in the Shell".
"We Wanna Do that For Real"
A live-action "Ghost in the Shell" adaptation may have already been made in the form of 1999's "The Matrix". Legend has it that when writer and director's of the film; the Wichowski's pitched the idea to their producers, the Wichowski's just played "Ghost in the Shell" to them, finishing the pitch with "we wanna do that for real". Although it may be a little far fetched to call "The Matrix" a full-out remake of "Ghost in the Shell", they were clearly influenced by the cult anime, heavily influenced. This can be seen from the storyline, to the angles used in the action-sequences to the way it was shot, to the cyber-punk inspired outfits. As such "The Matrix" was also incredibly successful, quickly gaining cult status itself.
Other famous names in Hollywood including James Cameron, Joss Whedon and Steven Spielberg have all noted that many of their own work has been influenced by the anime too.
It Was Specifically Created to be a Bridge Between Cultures
The 1995 film was actually financed by a British company and Manga films and offshoot of Island Records, which is a western company founded in New York, USA. The British executive producer, Andy Frain even said that the movie was always intended to be a "blend of east meets west".
The fact that the film is, although set in a future city in Japan, is actually modelled off Hong Kong is very telling as well. Whereas Tokyo is largely defined by exclusively Japanese legacy, Hong Kong is a city steeped in a colonial history filled with both eastern and western influences. But the importance of the films location can be taken a step further. It can be used to show that the theme of converging East meets West allows for the purpose of the film to be explored visually. By this I mean that "Ghost in the Shell" is ultimately a film about identity. Therefore basing the film in a city whose identity is so influenced by the converging of cultures cannot be a coincidence. Furthermore it can therefore be said that the sharing of culture was imminently important in illustrating the purpose of a film, a medium that uses audio-visual techniques to tell a story.
Therefore it could be argued why not star Scarlett Johansson as the lead? If the film represents, and has always represented the convergence of east meets west, then why not have a western actress play the lead role?
Well for one, the character is Japanese. Also, the reason why Johansson has been cast as Kusanagi has nothing to do with the pureness of the studios pursuit for creative authenticity. It's unfortunately a lot more financially motivated than that. It would also be a much bolder and honest move to say that a White actress is not needed to convey this theme of convergence, the material will speak for itself. Casting a Japanese actress would help represent and respect the film's Eastern roots as well. So let's see. It's highly unlikely that Dreamworks will make any changes to its casting of the lead role, especially now that they've managed to get such a big name in Hollywood, but you never know. With feminism being so high up on the agenda now, perhaps the race issue will begin to take precedence as well.