The upcoming live-action adaptation of anime and manga Ghost in the Shell has been dogged by accusations of white-washing Asian characters. With the release of a first picture of Scarlett Johansson in the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi back in May, fans — particularly in the West — claimed the film's casting was not faithful to the franchise's Japanese roots. Now, for the first time, an individual involved in the film has responded to these accusations.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Ghost in the Shell producer Steven Paul argues that the story is not inherently Japanese, but international — something that is reflected in the casting. Paul told the publication that the film is set in an "international world" (the original manga took place in the fictional Japanese city of Niihama), and stars Japanese, Chinese, English, and American actors.
"I don’t think it was just a Japanese story."
"I don’t think it was just a Japanese story,” Paul told BuzzFeed. "Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.”
Paul says that the company that first published the manga were involved in the making of the film and very supportive of it. "I think we’ve done the manga comic great honor," he says. "As I said, the fans will be very happy, because there’s a great respect that’s been paid to the manga." Paul adds: "Obviously, there’s some new imagination, as well. I mean, like anything, when you’re making a movie, you’ve gotta bring your own."
"There’s a great respect that’s been paid to the manga."
He also notes that Johansson's character will be referred to in the film simply as "the Major," rather than by her full name in the original source material: "Major Motoko Kusanagi."
As The Verge's entertainment editor Emily Yoshida explained back in May, issues of racial representation in Japan aren't as simple as they might appear in the West. "Japanese audiences, unlike American audiences, don't understand Motoko to be a Japanese character, just because she speaks Japanese and has a Japanese name," writes Yoshida. "This speaks to the racial mystery zone that so much anime exists in."
However, this is not to say the casting of Johansson is not without its problems. Yoshida: "Ghost in the Shell is the product of and response to decades of physical erasure and technological alienation [...] It's as timely as ever, but it feels wildly inappropriate for an American studio and the British director of Snow White and the Huntsman to pick it up and sell it back to us."