I know some anime fans and some people of Asian descent will hate me for saying this but, I really don’t get all the fuss over Scarlet Johansson’s casting as Major in Ghost in the Shell.
Before I go any further, let me explain that I am a non-Asian American who agrees that Hollywood has really given Asians and Asian-Americans a bum rap. In movies, people of Asian descent are either non-existent, relegated to background characters, made fun of or killed off. And their cultures and traditions are stolen and reused for other ethnic groups. I find it so laughable how celebrity after celebrity keeps calling out the current president for being racist yet fail to see the racism of the industry they work in (quick, when was the last time you saw a Hollywood film where a person of Middle Eastern descent wasn’t a terrorist? No, Aladdin doesn’t count.) If you want to learn more about racism against Asians in Hollywood, here’s some articles by Jana Monji over at rogerebert.com (although I don’t agree with everything she says).
Another thing I’d like to add before I move on is that I’m not an anime or manga fan. I’m not familiar with the Ghost in the Shell franchise so I wont go into details about the setting and characters, just what I’ve learned through Wikipedia.
But back to my original statement. Why do I have less issues with the live action Ghost in the Shell than, say, the mostly white voice cast of Kubo and the Two Strings?
Because Scarlet looks like Major.
In America whenever a cartoon gets a live action adaptation, audiences expect the actors chosen to bear a resemblance to the cartoon character they’re playing. My biggest issue with the recent Beauty and the Beast remake is that Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans looked nothing liked the characters of the beloved animated film I grew up with. They weren’t even attractive enough to play Belle, Adam and Gaston convincingly (Emmy Rossum would’ve made a better Belle. At least she looks like her and can sing). By contrast, Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci looked like Speed Racer and Trixie respectively and nobody complained of “whitewashing” when the live action Speed Racer was released in 2008. So why are people now complaining when a white woman takes a role of a white-looking character created by Japanese men?
Rei Kashino from the romance manga Mars (right) and the actor who plays him in the film (left).
Notice the keyword I used: white-looking. This is an aspect of anime that always struck me as odd. Despite being an art-form created by the Japanese, the characters of anime always have the same European features: white skin, various hair colors ranging from blonde to purple and big, round or square eyes of different colors. Even their clothing at times will be European in origin. This isn’t limited to anime and manga. Video Games made in Japan will also depict their characters this way (Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, even Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts) and again, I ask: “why?” Do the Japanese hate the way they look? Do these features appeal to them? I decided the smart thing to do was to ask a fan and so I turned to my anime loving brother for information. He told me that most of today’s anime is influenced by Osamu Tezuka and Astro Boy, a franchise that introduced the anime aesthetic. Tezuka designed the characters as a homage to American artists like Walt Disney and Max Fleischer and the the style has been that way ever since. Perhaps its time for the Japanese animation industry to break the mold and start drawing their characters to resemble the people of Japan so that if and when Hollywood (or any other studio) makes another live-action anime adaptation, they’ll (hopefully) give the roles to Asian actors.
Update: it appears Mamoru Oshii, the director of the 1995 animated film, agrees with me.
Do you agree? Should the part of Major been played by an Asian actress? Is anime fine the way it is or should it change? Sound off in the comments!