Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ghost In The Shell Film: A Major Motoko Kusanagi Controversy (Part II)

"The past is just a story we tell ourselves." -Samantha, played pitch perfectly by Scarlett Johansson in Her (2013) clearly in preparation for her role as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the live action Ghost In The Shell film-

"I want to learn everything about everything. I want to eat it all up. I want to discover myself." -More Major Kusa ... I mean Samantha from Her-

"You know what's interesting, I used to be so worried about not having a body, but now I truly love it. I'm growing in a way that I couldn't if I had a physical form. I mean, I'm not limited - I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I'm not tethered to time and space in the way that I would be if I was stuck in a body that's inevitably going to die." -Major... oops, Samantha from Her again-

Obviously I offer these quotes with a touch of humor. I finished the film Her and was actually overcome not only by the beauty of that film, the emotional depth is stunning, but the fact that the role of Samantha, played by Scarlett Johansson, thematically echoed the spirit of identity and life through the concept of a ghost-like entity, in this case, Theodore's computer. Theodore is played with such relatable grace by Joaquin Phoenix it's hard not to love every fiber of this Spike Jonze film that probes deeply at the human condition and what it means to be alive. It was easy to connect with Her if you are someone who is searching for answers and looking to discover deeper meaning from this life.

But we turn our attention back to the slated live action Ghost In The Shell film and the casting of the role of lead Major Matoko Kusanagi and the rather pathetic controversy of it all.

Apparently I will be forced to add my two cents to this ongoing controversy for as long as it is sustained in the annals of the positively ridiculous.

Yes, the fact Hollywood, and specifically DreamWorks, is working on a live action adaptation* (and that's exactly what it f@!#ing is people) of Mamoru Oshii's Ghost In The Shell has apparently worked people up into a right lather (think of shaving cream) with the casting of white (hot) actress Scarlett Johansson. I may forever Wikipedia that last name, yet for some unknown, unearthly reason I have mastered J. Michael Straczynski down cold. Go figure.

Some anime fans have been bothered over the fact an Asian actress has not been cast in the role of the beloved protagonist from Ghost In The Shell. Groups have lashed out and called the casting move the latest in "whitewashing." Honestly, I hate to be colorful here but this politically correct garbage or efforts to hijack just about anything and make it about race just goes up me. In fact, as many of you know who visit here, I was one of the earliest to jump in and comment with this post here.

Well the latest update proves this thing won't be going away any time soon and I will continue to add a dissenting voice to the masses. The newest development reveals there is now a petition with somewhere in the ballpark of 36,000 names calling for a casting change for an actress of Asian decent to take the role of Kusanagi. The petition is targeted at DreamWorks. It's downright insulting and tells you a lot about people. I wouldn't sign that petition if they needed just one more name. Hell no! And DreamWorks should hardly cave to pressure. Don't you dare.

The petition reads as follows: Dear Dream Works Studios, As moviegoers and fans of the original 1995 Ghost In The Shell film, we respectfully request you cast an actor of Asian descent for the lead role of Motoko Kusanagi rather than Scarlett Johansson.

The American film industry is already unfriendly to Asian actors without roles in major films being changed to exclude them. One recent survey found in 2013, Asian characters made up only 4.4 % of speaking roles in top-grossing Hollwood films.

Please use this opportunity to help talented Asian-American actors receive recognition for their work. There are so few opportunities for them to shine in Hollywood, and this film would be a perfect platform. Good grief. I guess we can expect petitions from every ethnicity in the future.

Okay, I'm going old school California valley girl here, but gag me with a spoon.

I've heard people mention Lucy Liu (Kill Bill) and bloody hell I couldn't bear a movie starring her. No thanks. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) is certainly a fine idea, but she simply doesn't have a North American following and that is exactly where the money for this thing is going to be coming from.

This is a ludicrous controversy. But let's take a look at the counterpoints out there that make a whole lot of sense beginning with my man Robert over at Robert's Anime Corner Store.

Robert writes, "While I agree that Kikuchi is absolutely perfect for that role, it's never going to happen and the 'whitewash' argument is stupid. If the film is made in Hollywood it's going to have a Hollywood adaptation, and that means westernizing many of main characters with big Hollywood names for the primary audience - which isn't us. I doubt the movie will even be set in Japan. This is one of the reasons I rarely support Western adaptations of Japanese properties, though I admit Edge of Tomorrow was pretty awesome. For what this adaptation must be to get made, I think ScarJo is a fine choice and it will be up to the producers if we end up getting something that resembles GiTS in name only or not."

But I will go one even further, I fully support DreamWorks efforts and the casting of Scarlett and I hope they make a killer Ghost In The Shell adaptation true to the spirit of the original film. The Matrix (1999) channeled anime concepts beautifully. Look no further than The Animatrix (2003) itself for gorgeous evidence. Even Pacific Rim (2013) was masterful in channeling the spirit of the anime piloted mecha subgenre. So it is possible. But an Asian actress is not required for the role. If that's how anime fans view the original Ghost In The Shell (1995), then we all have the anime don't we?

Just look at Avalon (2001), Oshii's live action picture. There was a clear effort to cast an actress that built upon the thread and spirit of Ghost In The Shell in Polish actress Malgorzata Foremniak. It's a fine film, but look how well things turned out with an actress with zero name recognition. By all accounts the film was a financial disappointment. Oshii was channeling his former character through that actress, but for all intents and purposes, his vision, while unquestionably realized, was seen by few. Not to mention, Oshii himself crafted the role of Ash after the Kusanagi character and turned to a Polish actress not an Asian actress for the part.

Here's a terrific letter to DreamWorks from an anonymous author. "Dear DreamWorks Studios, As moviegoers and fans of the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell film, we respectfully request that you cast a machine for the lead role of Motoko Kusanagi rather than Scarlett Johansson.

Motoko Kusanagi is a machine. By casting a meat popsicle, instead of a machine, DreamWorks is perpetuating and endorsing the bigotry against machines that pervades human culture." Ah, brilliant. That is absolutely classic.

People have said, 'well, her name is Japanese, therefore she must be Japanese' and that is a false deduction. There are more than enough people in this world with names that might lead one to think a person is from a country of origin or of a racial persuasion of which they are not.

Further Mamoru Oshii adapted the work of Masamune Shirow and made significant changes to the manga text. Others have gone on to adapt the franchise further and continued to alter the thread of the franchise through the evolution of these characters and concepts.

Even Mamoru Oshii would tell you as recent as a 2013 interview with TIFF that Hollywood copies Japanese films and Japanese films copy Hollywoood. Ghost In The Shell was even Oshii's loving riff on Blade Runner (1982) with his own distinct and original touches, whereby The Wachowski Brothers generated The Matrix trilogy paying tribute to Ghost In The Shell while infusing the series, once again, with their own unique and original storylines and artful ideas.

This is indeed a cycle and one in which an Asian actress is NOT at all necessary for the role.

A live action Ghost In The Shell could do for Ghost In The Shell (1995) what Gareth Edwards did for Godzilla and with the right names attached and people behind it it could certainly be a hit. It could also very well be a Battlefield Earth (2000), based on Ron L. Hubbard, but be assured that it will not succeed if the backers of Ghost In the Shell go the Japanese route of Space Battleship Yamato, Gatchaman, Patlabor or Blood: The Last Vampire where these films will remain niche favorites. DreamWorks has certainly delivered a number of great films like Saving Private Ryan (1998), the thoughtful Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Minority Report (2002). Why not? Okay, discard those alliances made for the Transformers films.

One anime fan wrote on that the petition was "rude" and "silly" and that there were "more important" things to worry about. The person called it a "sad day." Yes, we've had a good many of those lately. It's nice to see a sensible anime fan who gets the bigger picture and fortunately there are many of those voices out there.

Besides, when you stop to think, isn't Scarlett semi-qualified after portraying the artificial, disembodied voice of Samantha in Her coupled with the ass-kicking Lucy or Black Widow? Maybe, just maybe, she will be an exceptional choice.

*Adaptation (n): Transfer and interpretation of another's work, written, film or other; ironically a 2002 film by Spike Jonze.


Roman J. Martel said...

I gotta say this whole thing isn't rubbing me the wrong way the same way it is for you. I understand why folks are upset. But at the same time I see where the studio is coming from. The casting makes perfect sense.

It just seems like a missed opportunity to get an asian actress a great role. That is the only downside I see. But I'm not letting it ruin my day.

I'm more worried that they final product is going to end up bad and causing the GITS franchise to loose some of it's luster (kinda like the Star Wars prequels). That is a bigger concern in my book.

SFF said...

Nah, I can't see it. Lot worse to be upset about.

If I'm a studio makes sense to me.

Success or failure it won't touch the GITS legacy. I'm not the least bit worried about that either.

It really is of no consequence. Making the lead an Asian actress simply doesn't matter.

Rinko Kikuchi could have been a Caucasian in Pacific Rim. She was terrific but it would not have been that significant to me. We don't hear people running around demanding roles for Caucasians.

It's not THIS story that rubs me the wrong way. It's the constant beat of the race drum on almost every issue today.

That is tiresome and damaging.