Opening The Shell
Entertainment

Opening The Shell

How the controversial casting in the adaptation of "Ghost in the Shell" exposes issues deeper than the surface of the skin.

18

A couple of weeks ago, two new film trailers for live-action adaptations were dropped online that set audiences worldwide into a frenzy. The first was for "Beauty and the Beast," set to release in March 2017, and the second trailer for the upcoming "Ghost in the Shell." The second trailer for the upcoming "Ghost in the Shell" incites a great deal of controversy.

On the outset it appears like your typical blockbuster blunder that further validates the #HollywoodSoWhite brand: an iconic Japanese 1995 anime adapted to the silver screen with the lead heroine, Major Motoko Kusanagi, portrayed by American actress Scarlett Johansson. The entertainment industry has consistently shown the public its penchant for celebrity-name power, standing by the tactic that attaching well-known actors works as a powerful magnet to draw in a tremendous financial benefit for the production. This emphasis inevitably surpasses their desire to cast more culturally appropriate actor for the role, leaving the impression that they have learned little from the consequences after the 2016 Academy Awards fiasco.

For those who are not acquainted with the original animated film, directed by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell takes place in a post-cyberpunk world, following the members of Public Security Section 9, a task force lead by Motoko, who work to thwart incidents of corporate corruption, crooked officials, and malicious cyber criminals in the fictional Japanese city of Niihama. At this point in time, computer technology has advanced to such a point that a vast network permeates every aspect of life. Humans can uplink their minds to technology and directly interface with the internet via a cyberbrain. People can also upgrade parts of their body with more advanced prostheses and, in some instances, get a full prosthetic body or “shell” making them more cyborg than human. This is the case of Motoko, who had to undergo this severe transformation after a traumatic accident as a child.

Now don’t get me wrong, I personally think Johansson is a walk-on-water goddess who can do no wrong on screen and will forever be the pinnacle performance of Black Widow. Yet I completely empathize with those who feel that this choice in casting tarnishes the legacy of this story, or even believe that the live-action adaptation shouldn’t have been an American production at the onset. I can think of a long list of exceptional Japanese actresses such as Rila Fukushima (who in fact is actually in the movie as a supporting role), Rinko Kikuchi, and Karen Fukuhara (who recently starred as Katana in Suicide Squad), all of whom more than qualified to do the character justice. Naturally, social media outrage ignited when a side-by-side picture comparing Motoko with Johannson in costume was released, even prompting a move to boycott the film in its entirety. Yet with all these rebukes of racism, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation, there might be another crucial side to the issue that we are missing.


After World War II, Japan was a completely decimated and impoverished shell, still recovering from the devastation of the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States loomed as a constant presence in its national affairs, mandating total demilitarization while simultaneously working to reshape the government into a more democratic system. At this point Japan poured what little resources remained into its manufacturing industry in an attempt to jump-start the economy – specifically making products that targeted American markets. For example, Japanese toymakers began designing new toys that incorporated features from Disney-style cartoons. It was during this period that comic artist Osamu Tezuka used the drawing techniques of both Walt Disney and Max Fleischer in developing the “anime eye," the rounder eye shape you see in the majority of Japanese manga (comics) and anime characters that makes them look more gaijin (foreign, foreigner). Using this cross-cultural art form he created the series Astro Boy, the first Japanese animated show that received translation and distribution in America. In essence, Japan culturally appropriated from the nation that had asserted its authority over it in order to rebuild itself. It never abandoned its identity; instead it fused it with foreign elements, morphing it into something both familiar and dissimilar.

When "Ghost in the Shell" was made in the nineties, Japan was poised as an economic powerhouse. The nation was defining itself in new ways through images, information, and designer items. Computers, cars, walk-mans -- everything trendy and hip emerged from this nation. Its prowess in advanced robotics and advanced communications propelled the nation once again into a world leader status. This fundamentally unique relationship between man and technology combined with themes of globalization and individuality strikes at the very core of the storyline in Ghost in the Shell, making it an intrinsically Japanese story. Even the Japanese word ゴースト(gosuto, i.e. “ghost”) is colloquial slang referring to a person’s own consciousness. More specifically, Motoko’s last name, “Kusanagi,” references a legendary sword of the Imperial Japanese Regalia.

At the same time the movie is just as connected to Western culture. In fact the title "Ghost in the Shell" was a theoretical concept about the human cognizance originally coined by Gilbert Ryle and further investigated by Arthur Koestler in “Ghost in the Machine” and Rene Descartes in “Evil Demon” – all three of which were well known European philosophers. Many filmmakers have commented that Mamoru Oshii incorporated cinematography techniques taken directly from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner released in the late eighties. Even Andy Fain, the head executive of the British production company that financed the original film, stated in the nineties that the story was meant to “create a seamless blend between East and West." If that was its original intention, some might argue that Scarlett Johansson would be a suitable fit as the cyborg heroine.


There are plenty of instances where you can note Hollywood’s blatant disregard for cultural and ethnic diversity (Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto in "The Lone Ranger," Tilda Swinton as a Buddhist monk in "Doctor Strange," Emma Stone as a half Hawaiian, half Chinese American in "Aloha" to name a few) which is why greater steps need to be made to hold directors and casting agents accountable for their decision making process with regards to films of a different cultural or ethnic subject matter so that due respect is given. More often than not, people who saw the side-by-side image of Johansson and Motoko immediately launched into outrage-mode without first exploring the context or scope of the story itself. Consequently amongst this knee-jerk reaction online to whitewashing and cultural appropriation, people missed the bigger picture: "Ghost in the Shell" presents a unique, hybridized perspective on the search for identity, individuality, and what makes us truly human. Yes, it is important to understand that a film adaptation is based on a different interpretation of the story, but it is also important to remember that this powerful multidimensional story's impact extends far beyond the surface of the skin. Should any of it become lost in translation – you are really left with nothing more than aesthetic shell of a copy.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Swoon

119 People Reveal How The Pandemic Has Affected Their Love Lives, And Honestly... Relatable

"I haven't been able to get out of the 'talking phase' with anyone."

The reality is, there's no part of life the pandemic hasn't affected. Whether it's your work life, your home life, your social life, or your love life, coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc on just about everything — not to mention people's health.

When it comes to romance, in particular, people are all handling things differently and there's no "right way" of making it through, regardless of your relationship status (single, taken, married, divorced, you name it). So, some of Swoon's creators sought out to hear from various individuals on how exactly their love lives have been affected since quarantine began.

Keep Reading... Show less
Entertainment

7 Things You Need To Know About Our NEW Bachelorette, Tayshia Adams

Could THIS be the most dramatic season in "Bachelorette" history?

Bombshell news coming from Bachelor Nation today, Tayshia Adams is replacing Clare Crawley as the bachelorette!

Rumor has it that Clare found her person early on in the process and did not want to continue with the process of leading other men on throughout the season.

Keep Reading... Show less

The NBA is back, and for basketball fans, like myself, it has been the BEST news we have heard since COVID-19 shutdown play indefinitely. I mean, come on, we need to see if James Harden can once again perform so well he has back-to-back 50 point games, Kawhi can lead another team to the championship title, and whether Giannis is going to be back-to-back MVP... among like 500 other things running through our heads!

In the midst of all of the amazing statistics and records that these players are breaking, though, we also just love the NBA because well, there are some pretty good looking guys out there. Here are the 19 hottest NBA players (in no particular order) you would totally let slam dunk on you now that the NBA has returned.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Everything You Need To Know About Macronutrients, Because A Diet Should Be More Than Calories

Pay attention to what you're eating, not just how much you're eating.

Plenty of people are familiar with the "calories in, calories out" (CICO) method of dieting which can be used for losing, gaining, or maintaining weight. This method relies on calculating a person's total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) to ensure that they are not overeating or undereating to achieve their desired weight. TDEE considers a person's height, weight, age, gender, and level of activity to determine what their caloric intake should be — some calculators can factor in body fat percentage as well. When I used a TDEE calculator online, it said that my TDEE would be 1,990 calories if I was trying to maintain my weight, but are all calories created equal? I'd argue that they're not.

It might seem obvious to some of you that 1,990 calories of macaroni and cheese are not healthy at all compared to 1,990 calories of varied foods (fruit, veggies, meat, bread, etc.).

Keep Reading... Show less
Swoon

Just Because You're Asked To Be In A Wedding, Doesn't Always Mean You Should Say Yes

If you can't invest time, money, and YOURSELF, maybe say no to the offer for the bride's sake!

Being in a wedding is a really big commitment. I personally think if you've never been in one before, you don't understand the time, money, and energy that goes into being a part of it.

Keep Reading... Show less

- Though as a little girl, I had the silkiest, softest hair that would get compliments everywhere I went, since I turned about thirteen I've since had coarse, dry hair no amount of deep conditioning masks or sulfate-free shampoo could fix.

- I started using the Raincry's Condition Boar Bristle Brush several months ago, and while I noticed that my hair had been softer, silkier, and shinier than it had ever been, I didn't make the connection because I never thought a simple hairbrush could make any difference in my hair texture.

- I will be the first to admit that I thought it was ridiculous to spend nearly a hundred dollars on a hairbrush, but this one eliminates the need for me to use any heat tools or styling products on it.

- I put some oil or a serum in my hair when it's wet, brush my hair with the boar bristle brush once it's dry, and end up with the lowest maintenance, shiniest hair I've had since I was 8 years old.

@raincrybeauty

Keep Reading... Show less
YouTube

Bingeing a romantic comedy is always a good idea, and during this pandemic, these movies bring us one of the only elements of romance we can get. Through all the break-ups, obstacles, and struggles in our love lives, romantic comedies have always been there to make us laugh and keep us company while we cry.

While we love these movies for the beyond gorgeous male love interests, the female protagonists are still the ones we always remember. Although rom-coms are far from reality, it is always fun to imagine what our life would be like if a cinematic studio was behind our love life. So what does your favorite romantic comedies say about your dream guy?

Keep Reading... Show less

Whether you're in an unhealthy relationship currently, you know someone who is, or you just want to have these numbers saved just in case it could one day save someone's life (if not your own), this article is for you. Here are three numbers to save in your contacts ASAP so you can always be safe, both physically and mentally, in every relationship.

Keep Reading... Show less

As any poor college student, a little kick of caffeine for less than a dollar has always sounded great to me. So, naturally, AriZona Iced Tea has been a go-to for as long as I can remember.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

Dear Closeted Latina,

You were never alone.

Remember how the Latin world got rocked when Ricky Martin came out?

Keep Reading... Show less

If you're anything like me, you're probably anxious about going back to college. The uncertainty of nearly everything is stressful and makes it difficult to prepare for going back to campus. Take it one step at a time and remain calm! If nothing else, take a look at this list of six essentials for living on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic! You got this!

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments