Thoughts on Ghost in the Shell (2017)

When it was first announced that Ghost in the Shell would be getting a western movie adaptation, I was absolutely ecstatic. It was one of the first anime films that I remember watching as a child and I probably wouldn’t like anime as a genre if it wasn’t for that movie. Not only did it have jaw-dropping and fluid animation, Ghost in the Shell also presented very compelling themes worth pondering about deeply. It explored self-identity, what does it really mean to be “human”?, and is their actually a clear boundary or distinction between humans and machines? I think that these questions are even more relevant today since we do live in a world that is heavily reliant and dominated by social media and electronic devices; whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

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Galahena, Tharindra. Artificial vs. Synthetic Consciousness. Digital image. Linkedin. N.p., 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 7 Oct. 2016.

Despite the scintillating narrative that permeates within Ghost in the Shell, more attention seems to be aimed towards the casting choice for the lead role of the upcoming live-action adaptation. The news of Scarlett Johansson playing the main character, Motoko Kusanagi, immediately raised the question of whether or not this was an example of “whitewashing” since a white actress is supposedly playing a Japanese character. While I do not think that whitewashing is an issue in this movie, I can totally understand the frustrations that people might have going into it. As a Filipino, I do feel sort of upset that their aren’t that many Asian actors in major roles of western films. The only ones that instantly come to mind are John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Star Trek), Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim), and Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas, Sense8). It sometimes feels as if my culture is being swept under the rug and ignored altogether. In the upcoming live-action adaptation of the anime, Death Note, an Asian actor named, Edward Zo, wanted to play the lead role of Light Yagami. Before he could even audition for that role, he was dismissed altogether without even being considered. This is what he had to say about this experience in a youtube video:

This would have been an amazing opportunity for an actor of colour, for an Asian actor, to take the global stage and break barriers and break stereotypes… (but) they were not looking to see Asian actors for the role of Light Yagami.
-Edward Zo, Racist Hollywood? Death Note Whitewashing, YouTube, October 9th 2015

On another note, Their is one example where it would’ve made sense if they had a predominately white cast. For instance, the Japanese anime, Attack on Titan, is set in Germany, so I found it strange that all of the actors in the live-action adaptation were Japanese if most of the characters in the source material (besides Mikasa Ackerman) were German. It not only took major creative liberties, it ended up altering a lot of character dynamics within the story itself. As for why I don’t think that Ghost in the Shell is an example of whitewashing, it’s because the main character, Motoko Kusanagi, is a fully synthetic robot. This means that she can take on various different appearances regardless of race. Secondly, it was never explicitly stated or inferred in the  1995 film and even in the TV series that Motoko Kusanagi is Japanese, so the argument about the titular character not being Asian is moot. Regardless of the controversy surrounding this movie, I’m still extremely excited to see how it turns out both as a fan of the series, and as a casual observer.

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One thought on “Thoughts on Ghost in the Shell (2017)

  1. Yea, I wouldn’t mind if they had just made the cast white and look white. But to Asianify a white character is somewhat insulting. I’d see it on its own merits if it were good, but it’s still disappointing to think about. Also disappointing in general how Asians get snubbed in big American movies. I hope there’s a change someday, and Asians stopped getting relegated to token stereotyped roles or bit parts in Disney Channel movies.

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