I feel your pain folks. I grew up loving Japanese horror films. I idolized film makers like Takashi Miike, and films like Audition, and Ichi the Killer.
Then Hollywood started remaking Japanese horror films. Sometimes before they left the theater in Japan. The Grudge… staring Sarah Michelle Gellar? The Eye staring Jessica Alba? The Ring starring Naomi Watts? This was horrible, this was a travesty, this was racist!
Why not just release the original Japanese films theatrically in the states? Why do we need to make a “Hollywood” (aka whitewashed) version? Of course, I heard the same things you hear today. “American audiences want American movies starring Americans” If you like the Japanese version so much better, the go buy the disc. No one is stopping you. Hollywood has always worked this way (remember when Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” was remade by Hollywood as “The Magnificent Seven”?)
But Ghost in the Shell is different. Many people on the internet have been outraged (big surprise) by the news that Scarlett Johansson will be playing the lead role in the Hollywood live action adaptation. People complain that it should be played by a Japanese actress. They call it “Whitewashing”. But it isn’t. Here is why.
The character that Scarlett Johansson is playing is Motoko Kusanagi. Motoko is not a Japanese character. She is an android. She is portrayed as having blue eyes. Traditionally, in anime, blue eyes is a sign that the character is supposed to represent a European. Also, the city that Ghost in the Shell takes place in is modeled after Hong Kong. A Chinese city (governed by England at the time). Therefore the character was either British, or Chinese, but definitely not Japanese.
When the Wachowski siblings made The Matrix in 1999, they admittedly used Ghost in the Shell as a heavy inspiration. They have stated that they cast Carrie Ann Moss for the role of Trinity because of her resemblance to Motoko. Carrie Ann Moss is not Asian.
Granted, I am basing all of this off of the anime film Ghost in the Shell. I know it was based on a Manga, and the character may have been more Japanese in the Manga (I don’t know because I haven’t read it), but she was not Japanese in the Anime (she just spoke Japanese… but hey, everyone who speaks English isn’t from England, are they?).
I think the people that complain about things like Scarlett Johansson playing Motoko Kusanagi are the same people who complain about things like Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra. They assume Cleopatra was black because she was an Egyptian ruler. If they had done any research, they would know that Cleopatra was a part of the Ptolemaic dynasty that was started by a Greek general from Alexander the Great’s army. Cleopatra was of Greek descent, and therefore probably looked a lot like Elizabeth Taylor. Likewise, Motoko Kusanagi is portrayed in the Ghost in the Shell anime as a white woman. Therefore, Scarlett Johansson is a great choice to portray her in a live action adaptation. Assuming a character is a specific race because of where they live is racist. Just don’t tell todays “social justice warriors that, or they may end up hating themselves.
I think what this “outrage” is really about is this ultra sensitive mentality pervasive in America today. Nothing is allowed to offend anyone. However, film making is all about offending people. It always has been. The first feature length film ever made was about the KKK. When America was poised to enter World War I, Hollywood gave us “Intolerance”, a film with a strong anti-war message. In the 1930’s, films like Clara Bow’s “Call her Savage” explored female sexuality in a time when that was a taboo subject. 1960’s films like “Candy”, and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” offended the mainstream with their portrayals of sex and violence. If you expect Hollywood to make films that won’t offend anyone, you don’t know much about Hollywood.
Hollywood makes movies to offend, but more so, Hollywood makes movies to entertain an American audience. If you want the Japanese version of “Ghost in the Shell”, go rent the DVD… but wait a minute, Motoko Kusanagi is a blue eyed white girl in that to…