Last year, it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing the lead role in Paramount Pictures' live-action adaption of the anime Ghost in the Shell. Immediately, people started criticizing the studio for casting a white lady as a beloved Japanese character.
Ghost in the Shell with a white cast is completely ridiculous — not only because there are tons of amazing Japanese actors who could nail the lead role, but because it doesn't make any damn sense. Let us explain.
The original Ghost in the Shell animated movie was released in 1995. It's based on a 1989 manga by Masamune Shirow. It takes place in 2029, when most of humanity have cybernetically enhanced bodies.
Hollywood has been obsessed with the film for years (see this Guardian piece published back in 2009, for example). Basically, all modern science fiction movies, in some way, shape, or form take cues from Ghost in the Shell.
According to legend, when the Wachowski siblings pitched The Matrix, they straight up walked into a room full of producers, played Ghost in the Shell, and said, "We wanna do that for real." Which they basically did — at least visually.
Last week, Paramount released its first look at Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi.
Not just anime fans either, but Asian-American actors like Ming-Na Wen, who plays Agent May on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., spoke up about the casting.
As well as Constance Wu, who plays Jessica Huang on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.
Then ScreenCrush dropped this bombshell. Producers reportedly experimented with using CGI to make Johansson "appear Asian."
Either way, the very fact we're having this conversation is ridiculous. Yellowface is yellowface, CGI or not.
But what about fans in Japan? Well, the reactions haven't been as angry, but people appear to be uncomfortable about the whole thing.
Some are happy that at least a few Japanese actors are involved. For instance, famous Japanese comedian Takeshi Kitano was recently cast in a lead role.
Basically, the overall attitude appears to be that "it can't be helped." Which, sadly, they may not wrong about. This is far from the only film going through this sort of controversy right now.
It was announced just a few weeks ago that Nat Wolff from Paper Towns would be playing Light Yagami, the lead role in the mega-popular and super-dark anime thriller Death Note.
A quick summary of Death Note: A high school student named Light finds a notebook dropped by a demon. If you write someone's name in the book they die immediately. Light decides to do what anyone would do — use the book to become a serial killer.
By the way, there already is a Japanese live-action Death Note movie, and it's pretty good! You should watch that one instead and not think about the audacity of casting the kid from The Naked Brothers Band as one of Japan's greatest serial killers.
OK, maybe at this point you're like, "I don't care about this P.C. nonsense, they're making these movies for people in America, the movies should have American actors. Freedom!" OK, sure, whatever, you're wrong, Hollywood doesn't exist in a vacuum, BUT...
...if you like anime and you want to see good movies get made, you'd know we've been down this road before. In 2009, 20th Century Fox cast a white dude as Goku in a live-action version of Dragonball — one of the most famous anime franchises ever.
And it was a total, complete fucking disaster.
Here's another one for you (while not technically a Japanese anime property): The heavily anime-influenced Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender was similarly awful. They cast a kid named Noah Ringer as the main character, Aang.
Congrats! You somehow made a worse movie than the American Dragonball.
Hahaha... ha... 😩😩😩 and we haven't even talked about the absolute shitshow surrounding the American live-action Akira movie.
Jaume Collet-Serra — the director of such films as Run All Night (aka Liam Neeson-doing-Taken-again-but-not) and House of Wax — was attached to direct. Here he is talking about how ONE OF THE BEST SCI-FI MOVIES OF ALL TIME didn't have strong characters.
Coming Soon: ….if you were going to do it in live-action, one would hope you would bring something new to the table. What is it you are bringing specifically that is going to make it yours?
Collet-Serra: I hope that I can bring strong characters. In the original source material, I don't think the main characters are the protagonists. What I'm hoping is to bring characters...
Collet-Serra (cont.): Nobody's interesting. Tetsuo's interesting because weird shit happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That's part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They're used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.