Ghost in the Shell and Whitewashing Meme

Ghost In The Shell’s Identity Crisis: Did Whitewashing Really Kill It?

Ghost in the Shell was originally written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow, which followed Major Motoko Kusanagi and the counter-cyberterrorist organization Public Security Section 9. It deals with sociological issues, the consequences of technological advances in AI and the philosophy of consciousness and identity. But the film adaptation from Hollywood had its own identity crisis.

For months, Scarlett had to defend the film against whitewashing criticisms and said, “I think this character is living a very unique experience, in that she is a human brain in an entirely machinate body,” Johansson said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “She’s essentially identity-less … I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously.”

Paramount even blamed Ghost in the Shells failure on whitewashing controversy. The film cost $110 million to produce and only earned $62 million worldwide after it’s release over the weekend. GOOD! This proves that having a huge Hollywood actress doesn’t mean you’ll make a lot of money even if you whitewash entire cast.

Paramount's Ghost in the Shell promotional poster

“We had hopes for better results domestically,” Davies told CBC News. “I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.”

Yet, some people are defending the film of this whitewashing argument and have pointed out that anime characters are drawn with western features. While the original filmmaker Mamoru Oshii says the role of The Major not exclusively Asian, the outcry and backlash that Scarlett Johansson would play the Major plagued the film’s press tour from diehard fans might have ruined its success.

A very interesting post by Julian Abagond pointed out that Japanese do not draw themselves as white, but Westerners (“Americans”) see themselves as the default human being when the characterizations aren’t ambiguous or implied. “If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.”

Ghost in the Shell Review

He goes on to break down how the Japanese are drawing themselves.

Japan, however, is not and never has been a European-dominated society. The Japanese are not Other within their own borders, and therefore drawn (or painted or sculpted) representations of, by and for Japanese do not, as a rule, include stereotyped racial markers. A circle with two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth is, by default, Japanese.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Japanese readers should have no trouble accepting the stylized characters in manga, with their small jaws, all but nonexistent noses, and famously enormous eyes as “Japanese.” Unless the characters are clearly identified as foreign, Japanese readers see them as Japanese, and it would never occur to most readers that they might be otherwise, regardless of whether non-Japanese observers think the characters look Japanese or not.

The white model might be considered an ideal Western beauty; the Asian model would not. If you look at Japanese fashion, man top fashion models like Koyuki or Jun Amaki have the same idealized features of anime characters.

Could it may have been because of the high cost of obtaining the film rights to the original manga and anime? What about the low ratings and reviews of the film? 46% on Rotten Tomatoes 6.8/10 from IGN and 52% from Metacritic?

SPOILER ALERT: Major was told she was a refugee named Mira Killian but is actually a Japanese runaway named Motoko Kusanagi and the terrorist she was chasing, Kuze (Michael Pitt), was Hideo, an old friend who was abducted by Hanka and was a failed prototype.

One of the pivotal moments which should have tugged at your heartstrings was when Major reunited with her Japanese mother. It felt awkward and cringeworthy when it should have been heartfelt and emotional.

It seemed like Scarlett didn’t know how to process these emotions, maybe because she’s never grown up in a Japanese household, and had to deal with the cultural issues that Asians deal with growing up. Or maybe it was the director, Rupert Sanders, who is also white, trying to direct a woman who never dealt with these issues and had never faced or even considered them himself for the film.

Or was it really whitewashing and a lack of response from millions of fans to have an Asian actress hold the lead role? What do you think? Should Ghost in the Shell have tanked or should it have been a success? Leave a comment below.

Facebook Comments