The film based on Masamune Shirow’s cult manga series of the same name, “Ghost in the Shell,” has taken big hits for the casting of white woman Scarlett Johansson instead of casting a Japanese woman in the lead role. I agree with regards to this misstep in casting. It’s ugly. It’s racist. It’s prejudiced. It’s unnecessary. It’s hurtful, and it’s not necessary—wait I mentioned that twice. Let’s go for three: it’s unnecessary.
The real star of this film is the brilliant storytellers that have mastered VFX. They get it, and every frame of the film’s composite enforces that simple but vital fact. It is a feast for the eyes and the ears, and according to the press notes it’s a light homage to Mamoru Oshii’s animated adaptations in the mid’90s.
Hollywood is not a place where originality is honored or trusted. In this paranoid state, the racism that perfumes the industry is allowed to grow like wild weeds, strangling creatives and forcing others out of the game all together.
When Hollywood decides to re-boot “Ghost in the Shell” again—and they will—the suggestion would be to have the creative team go back and absorb the elements of the Japanese culture that made the manga so popular. I further suggest that they remove their Western sense of white-washing everything and anything with a hint of color. I also suggest that they find a director that could first understand Oshii’s beloved animated adaptations and then build upon them using an authentic voice. To be clear, I also suggest they cast a Japanese woman in the lead.
This version of “Ghost in the Shell” is watchable despite it being bland. It’s still an action-packed, tricked-out film with some fine actors putting in their time. For those who appreciate and follow Japanese cinema, there is a performance by director-actor Takeshi Kitano, who plays Aramaki, (Major’s boss) that is a treat. It’s also interesting to note that although the other major characters speak English, Kitano only speaks Japanese. Well done, Kitano. Shame on you, racist Hollywood.
Manga (comic book) series are character-rich. To put it bluntly, those characters do their best living on pages and therefore come alive in the imagination of the readers. On page, the characters provide an understanding that moves beyond the restraints of language, finding a way to communicate most effectively.
Johansson, who is playing a Japanese character, is doing her best. She’s a hero going through the hero’s journey, and it’s not an interesting journey. It’s the same one that Hollywood retreads. If you are keeping score and you know the manga, you might ask who stole the soul of the story or who sold their soul to get this version of “Ghost in the Shell” made inside the Hollywood system.
“Ghost in the Shell” is absolutely worth watching when it becomes available on one of the popular platforms like Netflix or Hulu. But in regard to taking a trip to your local movie theater, personally, I would recommend saving your money, and, more importantly, your time and not supporting the racism that continues in Hollywood despite the continued outcry against it.