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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Ghost in the Shell movie review: more like ghost in the meh-chine

Ghost in the Shell red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Trite characters, very well-worn clichés of SF cinema, and a mystery that is completely transparent. All about production design, and even that is familiar.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big science fiction fan
I’m “biast” (con): not much of an anime fan
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

No, I have not read the manga by Masamune Shirow. I have not seen the 1995 animated film. (I’ve seen Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.) I have not seen the 2002 animated TV series. I have not seen the 2013 animated web series. I have not seen the 2015 animated film. (All of these originated in Japan, and fit solidly into the genre of anime, a particular subcategory of storytelling of which I am not much of a fan.)

And that’s fine. Generally, it’s a neutral matter, whether or not a critic (or a civilian moviegoer) has consumed whatever source material gave birth to a movie; either is a valid experience of a film, and anyway, most people who see a film adaptation will not be familiar with the source material, particularly when it comes to books or comics, which have much smaller audiences than movies do.

“It’s the corpse of thoughtful science fiction cinema. Multiple causes of death.”

“It’s the corpse of thoughtful science fiction cinema. Multiple causes of death.”tweet

In this case, though, it might be an actively good thing that my first Ghost in the Shell experience is this Hollywood mounting, the first English-language telling of the story. Because my brain was not able to fill in everything that is missing from the plot and the characters, which is just about everything, and I could see clearly the precise sort of disappointing failuretweet it is. As I have said many times before, a movie needs to stand on its own, and this one does not. It would seem to require that the viewer be intimately steeped in, at the very least, either the original manga or the 1995 film (and maybe even then it won’t work; I’ll be curious to hear what GitS devotees make of this new movie). Me? With no such background info, I was bored by its trite and shallow characters, insulted by its retreat into very well-worn clichés of SF cinema, and bewildered by what is supposed to be its mystery yet which surely is completely transparent to everyone watching. (Except when it makes no damn sense at all. “The virus has spread,” someone says with alarm. Wait. Virus? What virus? Where has it spread to? Why is this bad, again?)

There was much consternation — and rightly so — about the casting of a white Western actress, Scarlett Johansson, in the central role here, of a character who is Japanese. Turns out, this is the least offensive thing about Ghost in the Shell.

A movie needs to stand on its own, apart from its source material, and this one does not.

It is sometime in the nearish future, in a sprawling and neon-drenched Japanese city, and Johansson (Sing, Captain America: Civil War) is Major, a human mind in a machine body — we can tell because Johansson walks stiffly except when she has to do some sexy cyborg ass-kicking, when suddenly she moves with smooth sleekness. She works for a rather nebulously defined law-enforcement agency called Section 9, which hunts terrorists or something; whatever they do is cool, though, the movie swears, and involves a lot of Major in a long black trench crouching on rooftops glaring out over the city, and also running around and bashing bad guys in what is meant to be either a skintight bodysuit or the actual shell of her cyborg body; Major might be naked, and ScarJo might as well be, heh heh.

(Um, so, yeah: Her name is Major. That was her rank in all the source material, wasn’t it? Just go with it, or whatever. There’s a bit where she’s surveilling bad guys and she says over her radio, “This is Major.” I thought she was saying, “This is major,” like, “There’s serious criminal shit happening here.” But it turned out not to rise to even that minimal level of intrigue.)

“Who’s the wiseass who thought a high-tech Rubik’s Cube was a good use of our resources?”

“Who’s the wiseass who thought a high-tech Rubik’s Cube was a good use of our resources?”tweet

Director Rupert Sanders, in his second feature after Snow White and the Huntsman, is obviously much more interested in signifiers of cyberpunk cool than in what any of it actually means. He was a director of commercials before he turned to movies, and he is doing nothing but selling here, or trying to: robot geishas, 50-foot-tall advertising holograms in the street, robots smoking cigarettes (no lung cancer for them!), and downloading your brain into a mechanical body, which seems awesome because you don’t feel pain even after beating the crap out of bad guys and getting shot in the process, and you’re repaired superquick. I think there is supposed to be some deep and troubled brooding about What That Means: something something identity, blah blah blah individuality,tweet oh noes cerebral hacking! But all we get are a few ostensible signifiers of “deep and troubling” — lots of furrowed brows, for one — which makes no sense in what tiny context there is here. Are we meant to be geeked by the idea of downloading our minds into robots, or freaked out? The movie cannot even take a stand on this. It somehow wants it all, and it doesn’t even know why. The best that might be said about Ghost in the Shell is that it accidentally highlights the problem of geeks embracing ideas that are potentially problematic. But the script — by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler — isn’t anywhere near self-aware enough to realize that that is what it might be doing.

Director Rupert Sanders is much more interested in signifiers of cyberpunk cool than in what any of it actually means.

Instead we get a “mystery” about scientists at Hanka, the company that made Major, turning up murdered, and how maybe Major wasn’t told the truth about how her brain ended up in a robot (I’m shocked; shocked!). Someone Who Knows tells Major not to take the medication the scientists told her to take. Oh, really? Is the medication they told her was doing a Thing instead doing a different and entirely nefarious Thing? “I don’t know who to trust anymore,” says Major, like a thousand other characters have said in a thousand other movies in which There Is Something Going On. And we never know why we should care. Supposedly it’s encapsulated in the fortune-cookie wisdom of “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do defines us,” as if what we do doesn’t become memories that define us. I guess that means that it isn’t, in fact, a problem if a diabolical corporation steals your memories, and everything is fine after all?

If only as much attention had been paid to plot and character as was paid to production design.tweet And even that seems to have been developed thusly: “Give me Blade Runner, Sanders surely said, “but, like, times a million.” Which does at least have the awesome effect of reminding me how great Blade Runner is, and that I really should watch it again soon.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

red light 2 stars

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Ghost in the Shell (2017) | directed by Rupert Sanders
US/Can release: Mar 31 2017
UK/Ire release: Mar 30 2017

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, threat)

viewed in 3D IMAX
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Tobias

    “(Um, so, yeah: Her name is Major. That was her rank in all
    the source material, wasn’t it? Just go with it, or whatever. There’s a
    bit where she’s surveilling bad guys and she says over her radio, “This
    is Major.” I thought she was saying, “This is major,” like, “There’s
    serious criminal shit happening here.” But it turned out not to rise to
    even that minimal level of intrigue.)”

    This is the moment where I would like to hug you and tearfully stammer ‘Thank you! Thank you! I thought I was alone!’…

  • clayjohanson

    The original 1995 movie is pretty good, but I find that it gets a bit preachy and overphilosophical — animated monologuing — and therefore boring near the end, as though they were having trouble wrapping it up. Partly this may be due to Japanese-to-English translation difficulty; partly due to just general overgeekiness and a sense of “this is SO deep” on their part.

    I’m not expecting this new version to be any better — I just want to let my retinas swim in the visuals and enjoy a bit of cyberpunk, even if the story is dense and somewhat incomprehensible. I’ll be seeing it in IMAX 3D and I expect I’ll buy the Blu-ray 3D later on.

  • Tobias

    Oshii’s 1995 film was remarkable for its visuals, soundtrack and imagination, but thematically, while interesting, it was nowhere near as deep as some fans think it was.
    That said, compared to what this live action version has apparently turned out to be, it was the goddamn Marianas Trench.

  • RogerBW

    It’s easy to make a film look “deep”; just hint at more than you put in, and make sure there are major plot points thjat go unexplained. Doctor Who did this very well with Ghost Light (1989), and pretentious fans argue to this day about just what it Means.

  • RogerBW

    I entirely agree: a film needs to stand on its own. I’m something of a fan of this world (bits of it have been done better than others, of course; the Stand Alone Complex series is probably the best by my lights), but I try never to be an unquestioning fan: if the film is bad, then it’s a bad treatment of something I know can be and has been done better, and that annoys me. Unlike something like Jupiter Rising where it’s just bad but I had no reason to care about it.

    Generic Media Corp may own the rights to Ghost in the Shell, but that doesn’t mean I have to approve of everything they put out under that name; they don’t own the Ghost in the Shell in my head.

    Clearly for some people the fact that this is an Official GitS Film will mean that they have to support it, and they will cause themselves to believe they like it. I hope I never suffer from that much orthodoxy.

    (And yeah. Kusanagi Motoko is her name, Major is her rank and sometimes her nickname, in all the other instances of this world I’ve met.)

  • Jonathan Roth

    Watching this on it’s own isn’t a big issue, since the movies, Stand Alone Complex TV series, and new ARISE miniseries are not consistent with each other, either. I think “Major” is her rank in the comic and films, a nickname left over from her military past in Stand Alone Complex, and then just a title in ARISE.

    That said, one of the many elements that skeeves me about this production is the idea that the Major is a recent (and unwilling) cybernetic conversion. In the films and TV series, the Major has been a total conversion cyborg since she was a child, and has adapted to become a cybernetic and hacking prodigy.

    It’s a very different exploration of identity; How has a lifetime of experience shaped me, vs. coping with recent trauma. Also feels too similar to the “rape as catalyst” trope.

  • dionwr

    I disagree, but I’ve always been the dissident on this one with most of my friends.

    MaryAnn, your description of this film sounds *exactly* like how I see the original film. It was all confused plotting, silly characters, and cyperpunk/Blade Runner visuals out the yin-yang, with EVERY possible scene of the Major’s anime breasts. (My buddy, Amy Thomson, said it was the first breast thriller she had ever seen)

    If Spinal Tap had decided to remake Blade Runner, I thought it would look just like Ghost in the Shell.

    Sounds like this is a faithful remake, and I’d already decided I wasn’t going.

  • Danielm80

    Based on this discussion, I’d say the story is about some blind men and an elephant. But one constructive thing has come out of the remake: It’s convinced me to watch the original, after all these years, and decide for myself what I think.

  • Gamewrex

    The supposed “white washing” thing is a non-issue. It’s not relevant as the character is not Asian, Caucasian, or of any other race. She’s a full-bodied cyborg that is arguably not even human anymore and that’s a major major detail of her character that is so painfully overlooked. But that hand-wave aside, it doesn’t excuse the rest of this film.

    The thing is– this was the perfect kind of anime to be adapted to movie. It’s a story that DOESN’T require any reference to any form of source material. Every GiTS telling, be it written, in movie form, anime, etc. is its own story, told independent of everything that came before. The 1995 GiTS movie never once references the manga or any previous adaptations and is able to tell a complete story in its run-time. Same for the following anime, which never once referenced the manga or the movie.

    This is supposed to be a story that you CAN tell without needing to rely on an audience having seen any previous material. It’s a story that drops you into a futuristic world, introduces you to its set of characters, sets up a crime mystery, and then just continues on in a way that allows it to focus on the more meaty, philosophical sci-fi aspects. But this movie doesn’t do that. It makes the same damned mistake as every Hollywood adaptation, where it treats its audience like idiots, assumes they know everything, and then wastes time on action scenes at the expense of any humanity OR gets bogged down in exposition at the expense of actually showing a story.

    And that’s annoying as this isn’t a story that requires that. This isn’t something where a writer would have trouble packing it into an hour and a half film. But there were problems many of us could see coming before the movie even came out. For one, rather than focus on the more heavy philosophy, the directors wanted to pack in “action, action, action!!!”… because audiences of sci-fi apparently just can’t be bothered to use their brains. That was the first clue this was going to be awful, as Ghost in the Shell is ultimately heavily philosophical and brainy. This can come at the expense of action at times but it’s necessary and worthwhile. Yet from early on, the director expressed doubt that his viewers would be interested in that and that’s immediately where this thing went off the rails.

    Secondly, the story was utterly predictable. They went with the cookie-cutter “evil corporation creates cyborg so they can control her for their nefarious purposes” conspiracy, ala Lucy plot we’ve seen a dozen times. The problem is… that’s not GiTS. In every iteration, Motoko was willingly turned to a cyborg after a major accident she suffered as a child. And there was no conspiracy to her backstory. Her backstory honestly makes up so little as to be irrelevant. She got in an accident, became one of the first to undergo cyberization, joined the military, joined the police. That’s it. The rest of the story is her grappling with her humanity as she solves cases and tries to figure out who or what she is in the here and now in a world where the very idea of a personal identity is debatable. That’s a part of the meat of GiTS.

    But this movie sacrifices that to give us the most generic, safe Hollywood plot we’ve seen a million times over. There’s no nuance. Hell, there’s not much subtlety or nuance to most of it. And putting aside that for a series like this, that in and of itself is a HUGE crime, it just makes for a bland story overall. For instance, the “bad guys” are just bad guys. They’ve no real complicated motivations as you see in every version of GiTS, where there is effort to try to humanize, or at least explain why the villains are doing what they’re doing (hell some of them were downright likable to where you felt bad for them in the end). The side characters aren’t all that interesting or layered. Everything is just…. yawn.

    Ultimately, this movie was always going to be a disappointment because right from the outset, it was too safe, too derivative, too afraid to push the envelop or make its viewer think or present a story worth getting invested in or take any kind of risk that might make it less marketable but more meaningful. But from the moment of its conception, that’s exactly what the original GiTS did, and if an adaptation refuses to model that then… it’s not an adaptation worth doing.

    As an aside, though you’ve stated you’re not an anime fan, I’d encourage you to at least go and view the 1995 movie. As I stated earlier, it doesn’t require you to familiarize yourself with the anime, manga, or any other supplementary material as it’s a totally stand-alone story that does an excellent job of showing what GiTS is about. At any rate, considering this movie was what inspired the Matrix and a lot of Sci-Fi that has come after, it’s worth giving a shot at only a few hours run-time.

  • Elwood

    I liked the original okay, and really liked much of the 2002 animated series, which seemed to understand the preposterousness of it all and embrace it knowingly to a great extent. Not sure when I’ll get around to seeing this. This is one of the areas where TV has surpassed the movies: Compared to Humans or Westworld or even Battlestar Galactica, what can you possibly do with these themes in 2 hours that doesn’t come off as shallow and trite? To some extent I’m losing faith in the big screen, Ghost in the Shell could be an immensely satisfying 8 to 10 hour limited run series. Granted there are some ideas that lend themselves to the two hour format, but they require narrative economy and an understanding of what they’re about and what they’re trying to accomplish. A lot of the genre films that have been critical failures in recent years just feel like they’re missing things that would make them better stories – but if they included everything they’d be many hours long, and best consumed on Netflix. Or maybe not, but in this case, I liked the animated series more than the original movie, and I really feel like I’d enjoy a live action series that took a few hours developing who the characters are and building the world, before getting to the obvious mystery.

  • Elwood

    Yeah, the way I remember it (admittedly it’s been over a decade), her adjustment was that she used to be military and was getting used to being a cop, hence everyone calling her by her military rank. But she was a cyborg because of a terminal illness as a child or something like that. But using such an unorthodox background would have made it difficult to use such a trite plot, I guess.

  • David_Conner

    I think the final episode of The Prisoner is the ultimate example of this phenomenon.

  • Captain Megaton

    It seems the remake re-wires the guts of multiple GitS stories into a Hollywood actioner/superhero/origin story/franchise blockbuster frame and then paints the GitS visuals over the top.

    Despite the evident sincerity of the cast & crew in their efforts to make something of high quality, I just keep wondering “who thought this was a good idea?”

  • Captain Megaton

    I saw it a couple of years after it came out in 1995 and thought it slow and muddled. It’s subsequent status as a classic seemed over-rated to me. Re-watching it last year it holds up much better than I remembered however.

    It’s not so much that it’s “deep”, not is the action or even story especially great, but as a portrait of some basically decent people trying to cling to their humanity in a metal, corporate, electronic world it is a powerfully engaging work.

  • Matt Clayton

    From the sounds of your review, it seems like a hollow, watered down version of the 1995 film. The original wasn’t perfect, but it was thought-provoking and intriguing amidst the violence and nude shots of Major Motoko.

    It’s a shame. I thought Scarlett Johansson’s involvement would’ve ensured a decent script was at hand, but alas, no.

  • Pinkk

    I can say, I found the first movie of GitS, so boring, I have yet to finish it, as I’ve always fallen asleep during it.

    The show (Stand Alone Complex) I liked however.

    While I haven’t seen the movie yet (will this Friday), I have some thoughts on this review. One, Anime is not a genre. Sci-Fi is a genre. Anime is just the medium.

    Next, the white washing, there was none. Anime often has white looking characters with Japanese names. Just because the series was created in Japan, does not mean the character is asian.

    Also, the one thing with GitS, is the body is a cyborg. She could look like anything (she often looks white in the animes). Are we going to say it’s white washing, if they make a Naruto movie and cast a white person to play the role of the blond haired, blue eyed ninja? :p

    As for the rest, I was kinda expecting more flash vs more substance, which is what you seem to be saying. A little sad on that part, but still seeing it :)

  • Tobias

    “Anime often has white looking characters with Japanese names.”
    They are not ‘white-looking’. They are ‘anime-looking’. You are just projecting your own assumptions for what a ‘default’ human being looks like onto a stylized medium created outside of your own cultural comfort zone.

    Read the following article:

  • It’s not relevant as the character is not Asian, Caucasian, or of any other race. She’s a full-bodied cyborg

    She is a full-bodied cyborg who *looks* Caucasian. Why would a Japanese company do that?

  • One, Anime is not a genre. Sci-Fi is a genre. Anime is just the medium

    There’s lots of debate online about whether anime is a genre, and I think it is. You are free to disagree, of course, but this is not a matter of fact but of opinion.

    She could look like anything

    The headline of this essay says everything:

    If Anime Is ‘Racially Ambiguous,’ Why Do We Always Cast White Actors?

  • Jurgan

    I guess that was a Thing in 90’s anime. Just look at Evangelion.

  • Jurgan

    That could be interesting if they explored it- maybe something about racial self-hatred? Something like “Japan was remade after WWII in America’s image, so now we try to look like Americans?” I heard someone once theorize that anime characters have such big eyes because Japanese people have slitted eyes and are jealous of Westerners (I don’t know if they were joking). But that would require putting in work to tie that theme into the story. I’m sure the only reason is that Scarlett Johanson is the most popular female action star in the world and she would draw ticket sales.

  • Danielm80

    Imagine if an American director made a science-fiction film suggesting that large numbers of black people want to turn themselves into white people. I’ve seen the idea explored in comedy sketches (including the satirical “White Like Me” on SNL), but if you took it seriously, it would be horrific on multiple levels.

  • Dent


    The original film was about an artificial intelligence that gained sentience and was taking over cyborgs (which were extremely prevalent in that film) to complete tasks and because it wanted a body. The cyborgs it takes over lose parts of their memory and have other memories irreparably corrupted. This is generating a panic within government and the general populous. The Major is never out for revenge or uncovering conspiracy, she’s just doing her job. She has much in common with Harrison Ford’s character in Blade Runner in both her demeanor and her place in the story.

    As far as white-washing goes, anime characters that are Japanese usually have black hair. White characters are almost always blond. Black characters (if they exist) almost always have big lips and play comical roles.

  • Bluejay

    I wanted to share a couple of excellent pieces from the Verge, which explore how whitewashing plays out in the movie as well as anime’s very complicated relationship with race and representation.

    The review (which includes spoilers for an outrageous plot twist that doesn’t really make the whitewashing issue any better):


    And this piece, worth reading in full:

    Ghost in the Shell and Anime’s Troubled History with Representation

  • Bluejay

    According to some other reviews I’ve read, her name in the film is actually Major Mira Killian. (Maybe it’s not said often enough for the name to stick with the viewer?) In any case, whether the name is just shortened to “Major” or westernized to “Mira Killian,” the erasure of “Motoko Kusanagi” definitely isn’t helping the whitewashing look any better.

  • Bluejay

    Something like “Japan was remade after WWII in America’s image, so now we try to look like Americans?”

    See the second link here. It’s a fascinating and complicated history.

  • Pinkk

    Interesting article, though I feel it lies/exaggerates to try to make it’s case.

    Though, I never thought that anime was racially ambiguous (though I’ve heard it said, that’s what they do) or created for white people (this article is the first time I’ve ever heard that statement).

    In the case of GitS, even GitS’s creator loves and says Scarlett is perfect for the role. That’s the creator saying it. Despite what entitled American’s think (which last I heard, those Japan are not upset with the casting, this being a purely American/White European issue). :p

    Also, I base it solely on the look as a whole. Look at Naruto. Blonde hair, blue eyes, white skin. :p Would one expect them to cast an asian for the role, just because it’s an anime?

    What of other characters, that the background says they’re German, but they have a Japanese name? :p

    To answer some of it’s questions though. Why did they cast Scarlett over Chloe (love her myself) or Jackie? Name recognition would be my guest as to the real reason, over “She’s white.” With a movie like GitS, I feel they want some name recognition, to try to sell more tickets.

    Makes me wonder if the Chinese/Japanese people claim they’re asian washing white characters played by asian characters all the time in movies made in China/Japan though.

  • Pinkk

    Disagree. Never once did I think Shinji (Neon Genesis) was white. I felt he was of asian descent. I thought Rei was of Asian descent. Despite both having white skin (one having blue hair and red eyes).

    When I look at Naruto however, I think white. :p

    However, if we go with the idea of projecting. Then we can look at Avatar. Main character looked white and bald to me the whole time. Nevermind he isn’t even from Earth. Yet lots of people seem to think “Martial arts and bald must mean asian descent, even though the movie doesn’t take place on Earth”

    Notice the article doesn’t take that into account. :p

  • amanohyo

    The filmmakers attempt to bring the name Motoko Kusanagi back into the picture near the end, but it feels more like a grudging concession to fans than an organic unfolding of the story. The sad thing is that although the Major (or Major) can apparently understand Aramaki’s Japanese perfectly and it’s possible to become fluent in a foreign language in a matter of seconds in this universe, the Major and everyone else in the movie mangles the pronunciation of her own name.

    As far as Whitewashing goes, that’s the least of this movie’s problems. The script is awful – it’s as if someone watched the original two films and thought, “I want to keep all the action scenes exactly the same but dumb down the rest so that a child can understand the plot.” It’s not as if the original films are that mindblowing or complex – the filmmakers just have zero respect for the audience’s imaginations and intelligence. Infodumping is rampant – it probably makes up a good third of the script. The manga and original films have a similar issue but there’s no reason to copy bad habits.

  • amanohyo


    The most disappointing part for me was that they cut out the creepy ending of the original – that slow pan back from the Major’s new body is one of the best shots. My favorite scene in the original is the when the Major tries to pull the hatch off of the Spider Tank, her body fails her, and then she allows herself to be shot by the sniper after Batou takes out the tank. It’s much more moving to see a protagonist that has been established as a badass use all of their abilities and technology and come up short. Logan is a recent movie that illustrates this pretty well.

    One of the reasons I really like the second movie (Innocence) is because its plot serves as a critique of the Japanese fetishization of youth and child trafficking in general. The only things this film takes from Innocence are the dog, which is still cute don’t get me wrong, and the creepy Geisha robots. The visuals are on point at times, but I really wish there was some kind of brain in this hollow shell of a movie. They didn’t even have the guts to let the Major merge with the Puppermaster (Kuze).


    I was expecting a subpar, generic action movie like Aeon Flux or Lucy that had little connection to the original film, but this is actually worse. The filmmakers dumbed down an already fairly simple plot just to tie together slavish recreations of every major (heh) action scene, and the copies either suffer in comparison (the opening sequence and spider tank fight) or at best, feel stale and overly familiar (the raid scenes and water fight). The result is a movie that is so afraid to stray from its source material in the action scenes and so worried that the audience might not be able to follow its decades-old sci-fi ideas, that its dialogue consists of nothing but spoonfed mediocrity that ends up boring both GitS fans and newbies. Someone was snoring loudly throughout the second half of my showing, and no one woke him up because the sounds he was making were more entertaining than what was on the screen.

  • Tobias

    Okay, this is really not worth a discussion, but
    a.) You do realize that Japanese people do not have skin color any different from Europeans? Nor do they, to answer another poster, have “slitted” eyes.
    b.) Avatar is not an Anime, but a Western animation. However, the simple fact that all of the characters were – by other than visual means – strongly marked as non-European would have informed any intelligent person’s casting decisions.

  • Jurgan

    Don’t they, though? Oh, I’m sure if you told a black person “you secretly want to be white,” they’d be deeply offended. But look at things like hair straighteners and skin-lightening creams and you see there’s clearly an impetus to look “more white.” The black women who are considered most attractive by the media are people like Halle Berry or Beyonce, who are relatively light-skinned. I just googled the phrase “Dark Skinned Women,” and half the hits are about how they are considered less attractive than lighter skinned women. There’s something in the United States’ culture that encourages black people, especially women, to look more white. And black men have to be super calm and reserved, because shows of anger would play into stereotypes about violent black men. Look at Barack Obama- he couldn’t really talk about racial issues without being accused of pandering to black people. Or consider the way “talking ghetto” is seen as a sign of unintelligence, when AAVE is just a dialect like any other. There is definitely an undercurrent in our culture that says “black people should try to be more white,” and many black people find it easier to go along with that than fight against it. A satirical sci-fi film could be made about black people getting to put their minds into white bodies and enjoy the privileges of whiteness. It would be horrifying if taken seriously, but that’s the point of both sci-fi and satire: Exaggerate a problem with society to the point that it’s horrifying, and then the audience steps back and says “so why am I okay with a real world that’s only slightly better?”

  • amnohyo

    The oddest line in the first piece is “Zatoichi star Kitano brings an almost effortless presence to every scene he’s in.” I know what the author is saying; Kitano always looks like he’s putting almost no effort into his performances, and the author mentions this fact to positively acknowledge the attempt include some Japanese representation in the cast. However, Kitano’s presence sharply reveals the racial fault lines in the film. The fact that he is the only character to speak Japanese in a universe that is clearly heavily inspired by East Asian culture feels very odd. If Major has a built-in Babelfish, why do they make her mother speak in broken English near the end? Surely Major could understand her mother’s native language even before she recovered her memories? All of these little inconsistencies remind the viewer both of the financial constraints put upon the film (plot/characters being oversimplified to appeal to a wider market) and the superficial appropriation of the look of the original.

    If the thesis of the film is that our actions rather than our memories define us, why does the entire plot of the movie revolve around Major trying to recover her true memories? Why does the film hew so slavishly shot by shot to every action scene of the original if not to take advantage of the memories of the GitS fans in the audience? There’s no coherence or overarching structure to the ideas – even the actors often don’t feel like they’re in the same movie or living in the same world (some of this is due to wildly varying levels of acting ability – SJ comes up noticeably short, both literally and in the talent department).

    These authors and most others seem to feel as though the casting of Johansson doomed the film from the get go. After seeing it, I disagree. There are ways that casting Johansson could have worked, but it would have required a much higher level of dedication to constructing a consistent and believable world. Let’s face it, the plots and dialogue of the vast majority of the various GitS products are clunky and forgettable. The Major and other members of section 9 are boring, shallow characters. The primary hooks of GitS are the visuals and the world building at the foundation of those visuals. If the filmmakers had not largely ignored that foundation, the casting could have been a non-issue. They might have even thrown another little dump of info onto the mountain and mentioned offhand that “even here in Japan, most people choose a synthetic body with Caucasian features.” The fact that they didn’t even coach the cast on how to pronounce Motoko is a huge tell that their priorities were not in the right place. It’s a shame – they had a chance to improve on and fully flesh out an interesting world, and they ended up making something less real than paint on a cel.

  • Bluejay

    There’s something in the United States’ culture

    It’s not just US culture; the bias that “light skin is better than dark skin” is common in many countries, and there are controversies around skin-lightening in Asia and Africa as well. (See here and here for starters.) Partly it’s because of the ubiquity of Hollywood films and the white standards of beauty they’ve bombarded the world with for decades. Partly it’s the history and legacy of colonization, where the lighter your skin was the likelier it was that you’d have access to respect and opportunity. Partly it’s entrenched cultural attitudes linking skin color to assumptions about class and education. It’s a whole mess of intersecting things.

    I agree that this would be an excellent topic for science fiction to explore seriously. The challenge is to do so with the aim of consciously critiquing it, rather than just thoughtlessly reinforcing it as this film seems to do.

  • Pinkk

    I know Avatar is western animation and not anime, but it was the point that people would say “They’re asian or they’re that or this.” when the show didn’t even take place on earth.

    It’s be like saying Lando (from Star Wars) is from Africa. He’s not. As Africa isn’t in the Star Wars galaxy.

    However, having seen the movie, it’s a non issue and never should have been whined about. It’s shown that before the shell, she was Japanese in human form. So, the whining about the shell is just that, whining.

    Which makes it great for this type of movie, if it’s a success, as they can recast her when needed and just call it another shell.

    But still, no one has ever told me of a great Japanese actress to take the place of Scarlett who could bring people to the seats. :/

  • There’s nothing like the story you describe here.

  • Yes, that is her full name. But it’s only mentioned a few times. Mostly, she just calls herself “Major,” and others call her “Major.” She is never “*the* Major.”

  • You can keep naming people who are okay with this. It will not change the fact that many, *many* people are not okay with it, or that Hollywood — which, for better or for worse, sets a cultural tone around the world — has a *huge* problem with diversity, and with whitewashing Asian characters in particular.

  • amanohyo

    I can’t speak for every Asian American obviously, but in this particular case, the casting of SJ didn’t bother me. As you say, the Major is a full body cyborg and could in theory look like anything. In that sense, I agree with you.


    Assuming the movie had a competent script and consistent acting (which is doesn’t), the reason the whitewashing became an issue was they way it clashed with the world building (or lack thereof). This world is clearly heavily influenced by Eastern culture – Aramaki speaks Japanese and his employees understand him perfectly. And yet, when we meet Major’s mother, she only speaks in broken English, and no one other than Aramaki seems to have any connection to any aspect of Asian culture, even the Japanese characters. Major doesn’t even know how to pronounce Motoko after she regains her memories.

    You mention movies made by China/Japan, so I’ll use one to try and clarify. There is a Jackie Chan movie called Rumble in the Bronx that supposedly takes place in the titular city (filmed in Canada). Imagine if everyone in the movie except for one white character spoke in Cantonese, including residents of New York and multiple white supporting characters, all of the most important characters were Asian, and Jackie, upon meeting the white woman who raised him, forced her to speak in broken Cantonese despite the fact that he understood English perfectly. It feels weird, and it pulls you out of the movie.


    You don’t show visuals of a city that’s been heavily inspired by East Asian culture, and then pretend there are no traces of that culture in the language and mannerisms of the characters. That history would leave something behind that would differentiate it from a generic modern day American police procedural – a bit of slang, music, customs, traditions, something. Blade Runner made a weak attempt to acknowledge this almost 35 years ago by tossing in a few bits of Chinese culture, and Firefly followed suit. This film borrows the look of the original, but doesn’t understand that those visuals sit on the foundation of a consistent world.

    The characters and plots of the various GitS products are mostly bland and forgettable. I remember and enjoy them because of the visuals and world building. The characters in this movie don’t feel like a believable result of the world they inhabit. The Major is incoherent with everything around her: the world, the other characters, her own past. If she was the only character to suffer from this, it would be an interesting and possibly rewarding choice, but everyone in the movie feels this way. It’s that disconnect between world and character that makes the casting of SJ feel like a poor choice to me, not because she’s white, but because her performance isn’t Asian enough for the world she supposedly lives in.

    And of course that still doesn’t address the plodding pace, superfluous infodumping, and inconsistent performances. Pilou Asbæk outacts everyone, and Binoche’s performace, while good, feels like it belongs in another movie (The Girl With All the Gifts maybe). SJ is given some truly awful, cheesy lines and has the toughest job obviously, but she can’t pull it off, not because she’s white, but because she’s not robotic enough. If they used a professional dancer body double in every action shot and only used SJ’s face in close-ups a la Black Swan, it might have turned out better.

  • Dent

    Does she even fight a quadropedic stealth tank?

  • Bluejay

    $7 million opening night, beaten by Beauty and the Beast ($13 mil) and Boss Baby ($15 mil). So much for casting a big-name white actor to draw in those crowds.

    Of course, trust the studios to take away the wrong lesson from this (either “no one wants to see female-led films” or “no one wants to see films adapted from Asian sources”).

  • RogerBW

    Well, given that “films adapted from Asian sources” usually means “remade with everything distinctive filed off to fit through the Hollywood meat grinder”, I’d be glad to think there wasn’t an audience for that.

  • amanohyo

    You are correct in assuming that all the distinctive, weird parts of the plot have been filed off; however, WETA did a good job with the effects – if anything, it is too faithful to the unique look of the originals, often evoking similar feelings of unease and occasional awe that those films do, albeit to a lesser degree since those images and ideas have been disseminated throughout popular culture for decades. It’s just disappointing to see good visuals and actors go to waste. The whitewashing could have been acknowledged in a careful, thought-provoking way that tied neatly to the themes of memory, identity, and artificiality. There actually is, as I’m sure you know, an audience for dumb action movies out there – this is just a poorly executed dumb action movie that thinks it’s smart because either no one on the writing team has read/watched any scifi in the past forty years and/or they assumed that no one in the audience had either.

  • amanohyo

    Whitewashing stories with Asian characters is a disturbing trend, and the casting of SJ certainly didn’t do this project any favors, but as the review states, this movie fails on almost every storytelling front. I don’t recommend watching this, and I certainly don’t recommend rewarding the filmmakers by paying to see it, but please be careful not to follow the same logic that you criticize in Hollywood execs by placing all of the blame for the movie’s failure on the casting of SJ.

    If an Asian American actress was playing Major Motoko Kusanagi, it would be a step in the right direction when it comes to the history of whitewashing, but without additional significant changes, this would still be a failure artistically and financially. Get Out and Moonlight are a good indications that what we ultimately need are an Asian or Asian American writer and/or director along with an increase in Asian casting. I understand the frustration though – we should certainly fight to remain in stories from our own countries of origin as a first step.

  • I had to Google to find out what that means. And: no, she does not. But she does have some sort of invisibility cloak built into her body, which she can turn on and off as needed.

  • please be careful not to follow the same logic that you criticize in Hollywood execs by placing all of the blame for the movie’s failure on the casting of SJ.

    I think Bluejay is saying the opposite, actually: The rationale for casting SJ was that she would bring in big crowds, and that has not happened.

  • Bluejay


  • amanohyo

    Ah, my mistake. The studio(s) assumed that SJ would bring the crowds (probably after seeing the success of Ex Machina and Lucy), and you are pointing out that this did not happen, and that there was therefore no reason not to give an Asian or Asian American actress a chance. I apologize for the misunderstanding.

    I’m afraid you are correct about the conclusions that will be drawn. Some powerful people might even decide that the reason the movie failed was that it was too faithful to the original film and/or “too Asian,” both of which are untrue. Sadly, it’s the typical Catch-22, because if they had cast an Asian actress, the failure of the film would be blamed in large part on that decision.

  • amanohyo

    I feel similarly when it comes to favoring the series over the feature films. The Fuchikomas/Tachikomas are the most thought-provoking (and entertaining) characters in the GitS universe, and they always seem to be excised from the films, probably in an attempt to maintain the stereotypical gritty, neo-noirish cyberpunk tone. Even taking the attempts at character development in SAC into account, the Major and all the other members of Section 9 are all fairly bland and one dimensional with the possible exception of Batou. That said, I think that the themes of artificial intelligence, identity, and transhumanism could be explored in an interesting, in-depth way within the span of a two or three hour movie. It hasn’t yet been done successfully, and I doubt any studio will ever attempt it in a big-budget action flick like this one, so I understand your skepticism – but don’t lose hope. Some little indie filmmaker will pull it off someday.

  • Pinkk

    People in Japan were polled and had no problem with it.

    Japan, which made an anime that had a cast of Germans, went and made a live action movie with the characters acted by Japanese actors.

    Ever think it’s not the world that has a huge problem with the movies, but rather some people who need to try to rile up others to it?

    Not to mention, you saw the movie. They didn’t white wash the character. The main character is in a cybernetic body. A body that can look like anything. They didn’t turn the character in Jane Smith. No, they said she was a Japanese girl who was put into a cybernetic body built by a corporation. Which is fully in line with the anime.

  • Reese1379

    You’re right most of us would have read the books or similar to be familiar with the concepts. Any book-into-film ever made is going to be disappointing. For the precisely the same reason you didn’t much like or understand Ex Machina, the fans will like this movie, because the main character is a synthetic organism and we get to see all her parts. As for the made up controversy over casting a non-Japanese in the part, the fans would have the same answer, she isn’t Japanese she’s a synthetic organism and we get to see all her parts. Perhaps you should take a niece or nephew, or non-binary equivalent, with you the next time you have to review one of these sorts of movies.

    Like a lot of bad Science Fiction (which I latterly find repetitive, banal and unreadable), it’s not what the reader finds therein but what he/she/ze (?) brings to the process, as in it’s ninety percent the imaginative input of the reader. As Douglas Adams would have put it in the opening paragraph of some Scifi parody, ‘The sky was blue and the sun shone down onto the monorail that ran like a silver thread and disappeared into the primordial canopy. With a crash of thunder the C-Beam ship entered the atmosphere .. etc’. There that’s the opening paragraph done, didn’t take long :)

    “Ex Machina movie review: damselbot in distress” Jan 2015


  • Reese1379

    @disqus_gwmz5F7YYX:disqus .. (joke alert)

    How dare you not experience solidarity with the cultural injury done to the Japanese by US imperialist patriarchal hegemony :)

  • Bluejay

    People in Japan were polled and had no problem with it.

    Whitewashing is an issue for Asian-Americans, not for Asians in Asia. People in Japan (including the anime’s director, yes, I know), or China, or other Asian countries, are already very well-represented in their own media. They get to see stories about themselves all the time. Their perspective is very different from Asian-Americans, who have been denied roles and made invisible and erased from Hollywood’s stories (even stories about ourselves) for generations. Keep in mind that this film is an AMERICAN production, by an AMERICAN studio, with an AMERICAN star in the lead role. And it fits right into the pattern of American films choosing NOT to cast an Asian or Asian-American actor as the lead — even in a story so clearly suited for it.

    They didn’t white wash the character. The main character is in a cybernetic body. A body that can look like anything.

    That’s technically true. And yet, no surprise, the filmmakers choose for that body to be that of a white actor. If the shell can look like anything, why can’t it look Asian? For some reason, there is ALWAYS an excuse to choose a white actor over an Asian one. You think the plot revelation excuses Johansson’s casting, when actually it just makes the whitewashing insultingly explicit: a Japanese woman is erased and replaced with a Caucasian face. It illustrates perfectly the erasure of Asians from the stories that Hollywood tells.

    Ever think it’s not the world that has a huge problem with the movies, but rather some people who need to try to rile up others to it?

    If you don’t care about the issue, then you don’t care about the issue. No one’s stopping you from enjoying the movie. That doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t affect real people quite deeply.

  • Pinkk

    Let’s see if this problem still exists next year, when Rosa Salazar plays Alita, in the manga/anime turned Hollywood film. A non Japanese (she’s Cuban) playing the main role of a series developed in Japan.
    Will we hear “White washing!” then? :p

  • Bluejay

    While it’s nice that a woman of color has been cast, it still perpetuates the problem of Asian faces being absent from Asian-inspired Hollywood stories. I hope you can understand why Asian-Americans, and their allies, are frustrated about this.



  • amanohyo

    Just a slight clarification to MA’s answer – Major does not fight a stealth tank, but the scene you are thinking of does take place. The set up, rhythm, and final result are just heavily altered. Every action scene of the original film is represented. Despite obvious attempts to match the original scenes, often shot for shot, I found the live action re-creations to be far less visceral and graceful. Your mileage may vary.

  • Pinkk

    I totally understand it, if it was a legitimate case.
    Jubilee from the X-Men for instance should totally be played by a Chinese actress (whether half or full is not an issue) and Heather McComb (white actress) was not the right choice back in the day at all. Note also, would love an X-Men movie trilogy that focuses more on her and other X-Men >_>
    But that’s besides the point…the point is, that was a legitimate case! WTH were they doing with Jubilee casting? (Not that I blame the actress Heather). GitS was not. In fact, I think it’s great with Scarlett, because no one ever bothers to think how it can be great for sequels (if it did well)…like…next we cast an Asian or African or whoever and it will still make sense within the movie! :)
    However, I know those same group of people are full of it :p They said the black actress who played Shayna in Jem and the Holograms wasn’t black enough and it was white washing :p
    Then go on to say, hey, maybe cast this half white half Asian actor to play the part of Iron Fist, a white character, like it’s not the same thing they complained about when it came to casting for Shayna.
    Bet that made all the half blacks out there feel great.
    Not to mention, no one has yet to give me a Japanese actress with enough popularity to have the studios hedge their bets on to play the role. Most can’t even name me three (let alone one) Japanese actress popular in Hollywood.
    They also haven’t gone on to explain to me, why white actors in Japan aren’t crying about Asian washing, when it comes to Japanese casting just Asian actors in their anime to live film adaption of Attack on Titan which had mostly Germans. :p
    It’s come to me to think this is an American/Canada (who doesn’t seem to cast many Asians either btw and Canada has a larger Asian population than America) and maybe some whiney Euro’s.
    So, my point really is, if it sticks to the character as is, I’m happy. Major didn’t deviate from the character with Scarlett playing her and the creator of Major said as much. Any complaining otherwise is non-fans and people just looking to moan about something they still can’t give me a list of well known Japanese actresses :p

  • Danielm80

    None of the actors who played Spider-Man were big stars when they were cast in the movies. Christian Bale wasn’t a household name when he was hired to play Batman. The lead actors in Avatar weren’t huge celebrities and, arguably, aren’t even now. Jennifer Lawrence was an acclaimed actress when she filmed The Hunger Games, but she was something of a question mark at the box office. Hollywood seems to be willing to take a risk when the performers are white.

    Also, you might want to read this interview with actresses of Japanese descent:


  • Bluejay

    In fact, I think it’s great with Scarlett, because no one ever bothers to think how it can be great for sequels (if it did well)…like…next we cast an Asian or African or whoever and it will still make sense within the movie!

    Except that they will never, ever do that. If there is a sequel, it will be with Johansson — because of casting decisions made OUTSIDE the movie’s story, influenced by social biases that favor white actors over minorities.

    no one has yet to give me a Japanese actress with enough popularity to have the studios hedge their bets on to play the role. Most can’t even name me three (let alone one) Japanese actress popular in Hollywood.

    Rinko Kikuchi is one. But the reason there are few popular Asian actors in Hollywood is because they’re never given good opportunities in the first place. How can you BECOME a popular star if Hollywood never casts you in starring roles? So it’s a vicious cycle.

    As Danielm80 says in his comment, Hollywood is willing to take a risk on unknown performers when the performers are white. None of the main three actors in Star Wars (either the original or Force Awakens, take your pick) were well-known actors when the film came out. Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt were not huge stars when they were cast in their first Marvel movies.

    And as the poor opening weekend box office for GiTS shows, casting a megastar like Johansson is no guarantee that the crowds will come. So there’s no reason not to take a chance on an unknown Asian actress — or even a moderately known one, like Kikuchi. In fact, audiences might come BECAUSE they’ll be seeing someone new, different, and exciting. You don’t need an already-famous star if you have a good story and good actors.

    They also haven’t gone on to explain to me, why white actors in Japan aren’t crying about Asian washing, when it comes to Japanese casting just Asian actors in their anime to live film adaptation of Attack on Titan which had mostly Germans.

    Are there a lot of white actors living in Japan? Do they represent a substantial community of German immigrants to Japan, who feel they haven’t been represented well in Japanese media? I doubt it. But if that community exists, then they absolutely have the right to complain, and maybe they should start.

  • Bluejay

    *correction: My Force Awakens example is faulty, because there are two minorities in the cast. But taking a chance on minority actors is just a recent and still-too-rare phenomenon. But it’s clearly paying off, since films with diverse casts are doing very well at the box office. More studios should pay attention.

  • Pinkk

    The whole article came off as “I was never going to like it due to Scarlett being cast”
    Wow. I guess I watch to many shows, I knew all of them before hand :p Christian Bale…American Psycho! Equilibrium! Pratt? Parks & Recreation! Jennifer from Bill Engval (sp?). Tobey? Knew him already from films, but did not know Andrew (or the new one Tom) who seem to be picked more for the age and maybe smaller paychecks.
    However, you did just name three actors who can act. Can any of these Japanese actresses act?
    Also, I didn’t want Patrick Stewart as Prof X. There they turned a New Yorker into a Brit :p And only because he was a fan favorite for the role due to Star Trek and being bald :p Before him, fan favorite was Telly Savalas :p
    Also, as for risk with X-Men. There was no risk. It was not a high budget movie. 75million on a film wasn’t considered blockbuster risk even back then.
    Also, the movie even explained her look. Nope, can’t accept that, because I must have a Japanese actress.
    Also, let’s look at names I’ve seen tossed around. Chloe Bennet. Not Japanese, but is half Chinese. However, she looks white, and I know there’d be some sort of comment of white washing with her, because people did it with Shayna in Jem and the Holograms, when a half black actress was cast.
    Then we also see comments of “Cast Asians as Asians!” then followed by “Well, cast it as that minority is perfectly fine.” So obviously, it’s not a matter of casting against race with comments like that. :p

  • Pinkk

    Never heard of Rinko Kikuchi. Asked over 15 people just now, no one has heard of this actor (with a name like Rinko, it’d be a bit memorable).
    And I never said casting a megastar was a guatantee, it is however something those financing a film will look at.
    Just like when they miss cast Terry in Spawn. I like DB Sweeney, but I was not happy with them casting him as Terry, a black man in the comic. Which was explained as “If we cast him as black, it turned it into a black movie and the backers wouldn’t risk the bigger budget.”
    Notice however, I’ve given examples of white washing and wasn’t for it :p GitS was not white washing, because the character is a cyborg and the creator himself said “She’s perfect for the role”
    Goes back to people just calling white washing on something because they feel it should have been something else and I pretty sure, most of those people who cry out “White washing” likely didn’t watch GitS before the movie anyways, so they’re calling this out on nothing but a look at the wiki :p

  • Danielm80

    Most of your comments are so far off-topic that I’m not going to respond to them, but I will point out that Telly Savalas died in 1994.

  • Bluejay

    Never heard of Rinko Kukuchi.

    Really? You’re missing out.



    GitS was not white washing, because the character is a cyborg and the creator himself said “She’s perfect for the role”

    You keep circling back to the same argument you made in the beginning. I’ve already responded to your points and linked to articles addressing the issues in depth. If you’re not convinced, then you won’t be, and there’s no point to further debate.

  • Pinkk

    And you don’t think people were casting the comics before then? Never read a Wizard? :p Seriously, comics and casting for would be comic book movies was happening long before the movies were actually made. :p

    Little sides topics, but totally right. It’s only bad to change race if it’s white, but change the Japanese created character (Alita) to Mexican and it becomes “Yay for casting a non white!”

    It proves the point. :p

  • Pinkk

    I’m not convinced because it’s a lie.

    “I can’t take this actress serious in the role because she’s not Japanese”

    Yet, who was one of the names spouted off to maybe be used instead? A Chinese. Guess what, Chinese isn’t Japanese.

    Not to mention “Changing Asian casts is bad!” “Battle Angel Alita was cast by a Cuban!” “Oh, well, that’s okay.”

    Nope. Invalidates the whole argument :p

    However, okay, seen her in Pacific Rim, but seriously, I wouldn’t consider her a Hollywood actress of any sort of name recognition. Which is the criteria I asked for. :p

    Sounds like you pretty much have to watch Japanese movies to know of her.

  • Bluejay

    Guess what, Chinese isn’t Japanese.

    We can argue over whether it’s appropriate in terms of history, culture, politics, etc, but it’s a different set of problems than whitewashing. Casting an Asian of one nationality to play an Asian of another nationality is STILL better than casting a Caucasian (or other non-Asian) to play an Asian. Just like casting a Nigerian to play a Kenyan is better than casting a Caucasian to play an African.

    Not to mention “Changing Asian casts is bad!” “Battle Angel Alita was cast by a Cuban!” “Oh, well, that’s okay.” Nope. Invalidates the whole argument

    Who is saying those things? No one here is saying that. And no one in the wider media is saying “Oh, well, that’s okay” either. I literally sent you two links of people saying it’s still a problem, and here’s a third (see last paragraph). And a fourth. You seem to be arguing with imaginary people.

    I wouldn’t consider her a Hollywood actress of any sort of name recognition. Which is the criteria I asked for.

    And I’m arguing that it’s unnecessary criteria, and I’ve already explained why.

  • People in Japan were polled and had no problem with it.

    Irrelevant. We’re talking about representation in American culture.

    A body that can look like anything.

    And it looks white. “White” is not raceless.

  • Any book-into-film ever made is going to be disappointing.

    That’s not true. Many books-to-films work just fine.

    For precisely the same reason you didn’t much like or understand Ex Machina

    This suggests you didn’t read or didn’t understand either of these reviews.

  • why white actors in Japan aren’t crying about Asian washing,

    Because this isn’t about Japan, as has been explained to you several times now.

    It’s clear that this is not a matter than concerns you. You are not going to change our minds about this problem, though.

  • Also, the movie even explained her look.

    No, the movie attempted to justify its own whitewashing, and just made it even more offensive.

  • Pinkk

    Representation in the American culture? Where Japanese make up .4% (that’s less than 1%) of the population? Okay, let’s go with that…

    Takeshi Kitano, Kaori Momoi, Yutaka Izumihara, Rila Fukushima

    Ever wonder if it’s the lack of Japanese population in America that keeps the roles from going to (as we’ve shown) almost no known Japanese actors/actresses?

  • Danielm80

    If the filmmakers could find multiple Japanese actors to appear in this movie, why couldn’t they find a Japanese actress to play the lead, in a film that’s based on Japanese culture?

    Oh, right, it’s because they needed a big-name star, even though lesser-known actors routinely star in Hollywood movies.

  • amanohyo

    You are correct when you say that it’s unlikely that a big budget tentpole action film would be made without a bankable well-known white actor/actress in the starring role. From a purely financial perspective, the decision to cast SJ makes sense, although I hope you can understand the frustration some Asian Americans feel when they see one of the very few potential “breakout” roles that have a finite chance of going to an Asian/Asian American actress once again going to a white actress instead.

    You are also correct in noting that there are no Japanese-American actresses with the level of name recognition of SJ or JLaw or even MiJo. All Asian Americans combined make up only a little over 5% of the US population, so this lack of representation from a single country is not completely surprising, although I suspect that far fewer than one in twenty big name Hollywood celebrities is Asian American. I would also ask, and I hate to use these examples because I dislike these movies, how many Americans knew who Zhang Ziyi (or even Michelle Yeoh) was before CTHD? How many knew who Lucy Liu was before Charlie’s Angels? Heck, how many Asian-Americans knew who Rila Fukushima or Tao Okamoto were before The Wolverine?

    Finally, you’re also correct when you say that technically, since Major is a full body cyborg, she could look like anything or anyone. In theory, all of the characters could look like anyone. The main villain, side villain, head scientist, and secondary scientist all happen to look white, while most of the nameless dudes and ladies with almost no lines getting beat up and shot just happen to look Asian. Oh and there’s one prostitute who happens to look like a light-skinned black woman, but who knows, maybe she’s been augmented and she’s actually a white man? It’s the future – anything is possible… except racism, that doesn’t exist anymore because Beat Takeshi is the boss and Togusa and Saito have cameos.

    All of your points explain the possible causes of the whitewashing, but they don’t justify it. The city that these characters live in appears to be heavily influenced by Asian culture. The robogeishas, the yakuza, Aramaki’s Japanese, the holograms and signs – these are surface trappings, window dressing in a movie that asserts that all it takes is a name to become Japanese.

    Being Asian or Asian American means more than having an Asian name. Remembering who you are means more than walking away from a grave. You don’t spend an entire movie chasing your true memories, history, and identity and then claim in the final moments that they don’t matter, that they have no bearing on who you are. The filmmakers deliberately obscured the face of Motoko, they hired Rila Fukushima to be the model for a robogeisha mask that is destroyed in the first scene, they forced Major’s mother to instantly accept that her daughter is now a white woman, begging the audience to accept it too. No. These lazy, clueless attempts just rub salt in the whitewashed wound.

    The horrible thing is, the director is clearly a huge fan of the original movie. He obviously thought a lot of the action scenes and city shots looked really cool, and I’m sure he thought he was being very progressive by casting Beat Takeshi and tossing in the Motoko connection. Casting SJ was logical from a money standpoint, but in this particular story taking place in this particular city with this particular script, it just doesn’t work. People can justify and rationalize it till the cows come home – speaking as one of the least politically correct Asian Americans I know, the whitewashing in this thing is blatant, pervasive, and made painfully obvious by the final act’s awkward attempts at rationalization.

    So, as MJ and Bluejay stated above, we’re at an impasse. You don’t believe whitewashing is an issue in this case. Other people believe it is. Neither side is going to convince the other that they are wrong. Putting all that aside, did you think it was a good movie? What did you like or dislike about it? What aspects, if any, did you think needed improvement? Clearly the ending was changed in an attempt to leave the door open for a sequel. As an avid fan of financial justification, do you think it deserves a second chance?

  • Bluejay

    You are correct when you say that it’s unlikely that a big budget tentpole action film would be made without a bankable well-known white actor/actress in the starring role.

    No, that is NOT correct. The “bankable well-known” part is provably not a studio requirement (as long as the “white” part makes the studio comfortable). Do I really need to list all the action/sci-fi/fantasy/superhero/YA-adaptation films and franchises whose lead actors WEREN’T household names or guaranteed box-office draws prior to the films’ release? Not to mention all the “stars” who have NOT become box-office draws in films unrelated to their big franchises?

    Studios don’t just hire existing stars; they MAKE stars. They’ve shown they’re comfortable with putting lesser-known or unknown actors in their tentpole films. They just use the “bankable” excuse to justify casting white actors over minority ones.

  • Danielm80

    In the past 15 years alone, the conventional wisdom has jumped back and forth—possibly several times—between “The age of the big movie star is over” and “We can’t sell this movie without a big star.”

  • Bluejay

    I think the “we need a big star” mentality has always been a crutch, and has never proved consistently true. And it’s led to a lot of expensive, star-driven flops — MADE expensive, in part, by having to pay all those big stars their big salaries.

  • Pinkk

    They found Japanese actors to appear in the movie, why should they have to find one to play the lead? What if they couldn’t? What if they found one, but didn’t consider her a good enough actress?

    One actress mentioned (one from Pacific Rim) I wouldn’t have called a great actress from her one performance in PR.

  • Pinkk

    First, as a parent, let me say, I disagree with you. I don’t feel they forced Major’s mother to instantly accept that her daughter is now a white woman.

    Her mother just found out her daughter was alive after believing she was dead for over a year. Believing she killed herself. No. There is nothing in my mind that feels she had to force her to accept. A parent wouldn’t care at that point. They’d be thankful their child is alive. Unless they’re racist perhaps, but that’s a different story and one I don’t feel fit the mother.

    I can say I knew Michelle Yeoh before CTHD (Super Cop) and Lucy Liu before Charlie’s Angels (but not much before it). No idea on the others before The Wolverine and one of them did not come off as acting well. In fact, Michelle Yeoh I thought of as a Japanese Actress, but I just feel she’d be considered told old (whether rightfully or not) for the role.

    My biggest complaint about the cry of white washing, is it’s first said “Japanese part! Should be played by a Japanese actor!” (Which btw, in a lot of futuristic animes/mangas, one of the things to notice is Japan becomes culturally diverse.) However, then people forgo the Japanese aspect and go Asian. As if Chinese is the same as Japanese. Notice how people through out the name Chloe Bennet for the role, though she’s half Chinese and doesn’t even look Asian. So, it can’t be a matter of looking the part, just a matter of “Do I want to accept you are asian for a part I consider should be asian.”

    I thought the movie was a B+ Visuals were good. Anything better than we’ve seen before? No. Doesn’t stop them from being good. I thought the acting was good, I wanted to see more of the rest of the squad and really enjoyed Batou and thought the actor really looked the part for him and loved his interaction with the Major (Scarlett) that I would love to see a sequel that focused more on these two, get to know the other actors/characters better on screen for the squad (which would then give the Japanese actors more screen time to get known), with more action than this one had, which is what I felt was the one failing of this film. People were going in expecting more action, imo. While it’s more memorable than other films, I also wouldn’t call it the most memorable film ever either.

    As an avid fan of financial justification (:p), unless it’s international box office starts growing more. No. Not that I wouldn’t want to see more myself. I love the cyberpunk genre. I also love seeing action movies going with a female lead who can pull it off :)

    However, it’s 100million plus budget and small returns, doesn’t equal say, Resident Evil’s 40million budget, that brought back triple.

    Now, if the international box office takes off (I doubt the domestic will) and it makes that triple, totally justifiable imo (I believe Hollywood is starting to look at international boxoffice and not just domestic for signs of success) and a chance to improve it.

    Could even be a chance to pass the torch from Scarlett to a Japanese actress either in the middle or at the end, as she takes on a new body. Would allow the 3rd in the trilogy to risk it and see how it goes, but I would hope for good acting skills.

  • Danielm80

    She’s won multiple awards and been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Some people think she can act.


    But your belief that there’s not a single Japanese woman in the U.S. with any significant acting ability is noted.

  • Pinkk

    Actually, the shows your poor reading skills. I said I didn’t think her acting in PR, the one movie I’ve seen her in, wasn’t that great.

    Unless you’re telling me, actors can’t have off films, or all actors who are nominated are the best actors and best actors always?

    Didn’t even say there’s not a single Japanese woman in the US who can’t act. I said not a well known one.

    Not all well financed movies are going to want to take risks with no names, like Star Wars did (which had it’s name to back it up).

    Good try though :p

  • Bluejay

    They found Japanese actors to appear in the movie, why should they have to find one to play the lead?

    Wow. You’re just never going to get it.

    What if they couldn’t? What if they found one, but didn’t consider her a good enough actress?

    Yes, because clearly it’s next to impossible to find a Japanese actress who has the skill, training, and sheer talent to even approach ScarJo’s performance as an emotionless cyborg.

    “Couldn’t” very often just means “didn’t try hard enough.” Studios conduct exhaustive worldwide searches and auditions all the time. If studios can find the exact right boy to play Harry Potter, or the exact right girl to voice Moana, they can find the exact right Asian actress to play the Major.

  • Bluejay

    Not all well financed movies are going to want to take risks with no names, like Star Wars did (which had it’s name to back it up).

    Yes, because in 1976 “Star Wars” was already such a popular brand that the studio was convinced people would show up to the 1977 release just on name recognition alone.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Given the fact that Michelle Yeoh appeared in a Bond movie a few years before CTHD, I would have thought that her face was a bit more familiar than that. Then again I’ve never seen Super Cop.My bad.

    For what it’s worth, Lucy Liu, who not only appeared in the popular TV series Ally McBeal but also appeared in a Mel Gibson movie, seems a weird candidate for pop culture obscurity.

  • amanohyo

    I looked up the ratings for Ally McBeal – Wow, I had no idea that show was that huge (I didn’t watch much TV, but I do remember my teenaged friends talking about it a lot). Not exactly an action role for Liu, but then again, neither was her role in Charlie’s Angels. I guess you could call her a household name.

    When it comes to Yeoh, of course any fan of HK action movies in the 90’s knew who she was, but I think Tomorrow Never Dies was released after CTHD so she wasn’t really know among non-film buffs until CTHD took off. Putting my poor choice of examples aside, my point still stands – it would have been possible to select a lesser known Asian American actress with a solid track record.

    Look what happened with Pilou Asbæk. I doubt anyone other than hardcore GoT fans had ever heard of him, and he turned in the best performance of the movie. The filmmakers could have surrounded a newcomer in the Major role with a couple better known costars to hedge their bets if they were worried about star power. Unfortunately, SJ may have been attached from the get-go. I suspect the pitch was: Ex Machina + Lucy + Matrix (which is funny because the pitch for The Matrix included footage from GitS) = guaranteed moola.

  • amanohyo

    The only recent action movies with 100+ million dollar budgets that had relatively unknown actors in the starring roles I can think of are The Lone Ranger and possibly John Carter, although I suppose one could argue that Taylor Kitsch was somewhat known from FNL. Those are not encouraging examples. If we go way back I guess we could include Sandra Bullock in Speed, Portman in The Professional, and Sigourney in Alien. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I hope that I am, but it seems unlikely that a studio would place an unknown actor in the starring role of a modern, tentpole action film. I would be happy to hear of successful counterexamples.

    You are correct to note that the justification for this practice is flawed, as big name stars grossly inflate the budget and do not guarantee financial success. Hopefully, more studio execs will recognize this. I suspect that for some of the wealthy people who finance films, pride plays a role, and they would not be as satisfied supporting several smaller financially successful films if they were unable to namedrop a superstar. One thing’s for sure – there’s a lot of money being left on the table due to outdated, illogical reasoning.

  • Bluejay

    Hamill, Fisher, Ford, Reeve, Weaver, DiCaprio (not a global star before Titanic), Jackman, Maguire, Garfield, Craig, Bale, Beckinsale, Radcliffe, LaBoeuf, Bana (in Hulk), Worthington (in Avatar), Evans, Hemsworth, Pratt, Cavill, and the entire primary cast of LOTR. None of them global household names prior to the release of their big sci-fi/fantasy/YA/action films. (And not all of them have become household names afterwards.) And if the counterargument is “Well, the character/story was already a popular brand” (which isn’t the case for all those films), then that’s even less of an excuse; GiTS was already a legend among anime fans, much as LOTR was a classic among fantasy fans before the films came out.

    And yes, John Carter flopped, but so what? The argument isn’t that films starring non-superstars never flop. The argument is that filmmakers are perfectly willing to cast non-superstars, but less willing when they’re minorities, especially Asians. Which of course is a vicious cycle, because you can’t get better-known if you’re hardly ever considered for roles to begin with.

  • Danielm80

    It’s almost comical how many successful franchises have been built around little-known actors named Chris. (I’d add Pine to the list.)

    I’m really curious to see who Joss Whedon casts as Batgirl. I’m wondering if the studio will insist on a big name when the main character is female. (Maybe they’ll pick someone named Emma, the female version of Chris.)

  • Pinkk

    In 1976, they didn’t trust the movie to do well :p Sure, it’s a big name now. Back then? There’s a reason George had to go back and do his Special Edition, and it wasn’t just because the tech wasn’t available.

    It had a bigger budget than other movies that year, like Smokey and the Bandit, but Encounters of the Third Kind had almost double the budget.

    James Bond in that year had a bigger budget. The Deep had a bigger budget.

    Not to mention, George liked to cast non big names. Look at his prequels, he didn’t go with big names there either. :p That’s George.

  • Pinkk

    Harry Potter? You mean how they ignored anyone who wasn’t British? Yup. World wide casting there. :p

    Right Asian actor to you, is American Asian. Which just reading a recent article, Japanese preferred the idea of Scarlett the white actress over an asian who isn’t Japanese, which you’ve seemed okay with, or an American-Japanese who would likely know nothing of their culture.

  • Pinkk

    They’re still not Japanese actresses though, so for all the white washing complaints, they still wouldn’t do, because they’re not Japanese, they’re Chinese.

  • Danielm80

    British culture, and the culture of boarding schools in England, was an important part of the Harry Potter stories, and they found talented actors who were familiar with that culture, many of them previously unknown. The folks who made Ghost in the Shell could have done the same thing.

  • Bluejay

    Harry Potter? You mean how they ignored anyone who wasn’t British?

    The character was a British boy, so they looked at British boys. I’ll let you think about how that applies to GitS. Maybe you’ll get the connection.

    Japanese preferred the idea of Scarlett

    I’ve already explained why the perspective of Asians in Asia might be different from the perspective of Asians in America. Whitewashing is an American issue and it applies to this film, which is an American production.

    an asian who isn’t Japanese, which you’ve seemed okay with

    I’m more okay with it than a non-Asian,and I’ve already explained why.

    an American-Japanese who would likely know nothing of their culture.

    As opposed to Johansson, who is obviously an expert.

    You don’t know any Japanese-Americans, do you? Your ignorance of what they would or wouldn’t be “likely” to know is insulting.

    You’re arguing in circles. I’m done with you here.

  • Bluejay

    George liked to cast non big names. Look at his prequels, he didn’t go with big names there either.

    And it didn’t hurt his box-office one bit. This isn’t a point in your favor, you realize. You seem to be losing track of your own argument.

  • Pinkk

    It didn’t hurt my argument at all. *eyeroll* My argument is that investors don’t want to invest in the movies without a name to go with it.

    However, give me more examples please. :) Top of your head? Movies out of nowhere that made lots of money without big names.

    Avatar? No (and it had it’s gimmick of the best 3D any movie has ever had). Titanic? No. Harry Potter? It’s main cast was filled with unknowns, but the teachers weren’t, plus it had the books in it’s favor more than anything. Same with a lot of popular books made into movies.

    GitS however, was not a world wide phenom of a manga.

    Let’s also look at it. Do you think the movie would have done as well with a no name? Doubtful. I’d say the whining about white washing .

    And it all still ignores the fact that both the right holders to GitS and the creator think Scarlett is perfect for the cast and even the creator said he was influenced from the Europeans with GitS.

  • Pinkk

    GitS was a caucasian cyborg.

    However, since you were okay with going with Harry Potter is British, so they looked at British boys. Let me guess, you were not upset with the casting of Michael B Jordan as the Human Torch (white character). You were not upset with Henry Cavill cast as Superman an American created and now Icon?

    As for the Scarlett comment, that’s exactly why they were happy with her *eye roll* Because her being white meant it made for sense for her not to know their culture.

    And yes, I know Japanese-Americans (not many) I know even more Chinese-Americans. I know even more Mexican-Americans. I know…omg…I grew up in San Diego and never once went to a school in a predominantly white community.

    What I do know, is even my non white friends think white washing is crap and just whining from people. Not to mention every non white male loved the casting Scarlett and it was the only reason they even entertained the idea of going to the movie.

    So…you’re right…we should be done with this, as you’re an idiot who assumes to much and you know what they say about people who assume…

  • Pinkk

    Now see, that just goes in the complete opposite direction that’s been stated.

    Those British actors who were cast, were actually from the UK area.

    Japanese born and raised in America are not the same culture as those born and raised in Japan, as it’s already been stated, since white washing is just a complaint people have here and interestingly enough, only in reverse, so it’s hypocrites anyways.

  • Bluejay

    you’re an idiot

    Ah, the ad hominems are out. You got nothing left.

    Keep digging.

  • Bluejay

    Let me guess, you were not upset with the casting of Michael B Jordan as the Human Torch (white character).




    YOU won’t get anything out of these links, but other readers might. And calling it “hypocrisy,” as I know you will, just shows how little you understand context.


  • Pinkk

    If that’s all you got out of that whole point, you had nothing left. Sorry, going to think that of anyone who just assumes crap like that which was stated.
    Don’t agree with something, especially when it isn’t the case (as it wasn’t with GitS and I did say I agreed to it when it was the case as it was with Jubilee in Generation X) and insult someone as not having friends? Only one thing to think of them. *shrug*

  • Pinkk

    1) First article right off the bat…casting white for a part that is historically and/or written for a person of color. The Major wasn’t. Maybe you should actually WATCH the source material instead of the movie and go “Anime means Japanese”
    Next…I like how it says the Jewish creators are white, when Jewish people tend to say “I’m not white, I’m Jewish”
    Also, the last example of the article is a wash. Not having a family member’s murder solved sucks no matter the race.
    2) Is nothing but an argument based on one’s feeling and not one of fact at all.
    It even goes on to talk about complaints about casting white people as ancient Greeks when ancient Greeks texts talk about being fair skinned and blonde. :p
    3) Another article that just says “It’s not the same thing.” Nothing new and no real defense of their statement.
    But as you said, this is just an American (so likely Canada as well) are the only ones who get this, when your own posts state how it doesn’t make sense.
    It’s okay for Japan to cast all Japanese in Attack on Titan, when the characters are German, because there aren’t a lot of German actors in the country.
    Though, looking at the numbers, .4% (less than 1%) of the US Population is Japanese. So, let’s guess that’s half male and half female. So .2% of the population is Japanese female. Now, how many of that .2% of US population, do you think is an actress?
    Now with that, let’s remember there’s only about 135,000 (SAG membership and AFTRA membership and this doesn’t account for any overlap, so we’re giving a generous number here).
    Assuming (big leap her) that the SAG and AFTRA has .2% Female Japanese list of actresses to match the population of Japanese Females, that gives us 270 to choose from. This doesn’t take into account that they all aren’t likely in the age range they’re looking for, have the look they’re looking for (by that I don’t mean white, but this being Hollywood…considered good looking) or that just because they’re registered, they may not be a great actress. :p
    Notice how the Japanese actresses most never heard of complained about Scarlett because she wasn’t Japanese? What we didn’t get is any indication they even tried for the part.
    At least when it comes to Iron Fist, a white character in the comics, and people complaining about white washing (it wasn’t), we do know, Asian actors tried out for the part.
    Likely the same for GitS, considering this wasn’t a movie right owned by Scarlett to cast herself, so auditions had to happen.

  • Bluejay

    It even goes on to talk about complaints about casting white people as ancient Greeks when ancient Greeks texts talk about being fair skinned and blonde

    Ancient GREEKS? LOL! You really don’t understand anything you read, do you?

    Have fun knocking down your straw men.

  • Pinkk

    You obviously didn’t read those articles you linked. It mentions it in the last part about God’s of Egypt. Of all movies, I can’t believe that was the one they had to throw their argument on.

    However, face it, the articles were weak. White washing is bad, but race bending (white washing in reverse) is okay. Okay! So show me a WW2 movie were Hitler is played by Denzel Washington and Eva Braun is played by Ming Na, so we can get the subtle differences the actors that movie can bring about.

  • Bluejay

    You obviously didn’t read those articles you linked. It mentions it in the last part about God’s of Egypt.

    Nope! Oh, this is awesomely hilarious. *YOU* obviously didn’t bother rereading the article to check your facts. Keep digging that hole.

    And even if it WAS talking about Gods of Egypt, it still wouldn’t explain why you all of a sudden started ranting about casting for ancient GREEKS. Mix up your ethnicities much?

    Your obtuseness has gotten boring. Ciao.

  • amanohyo

    I brought up Liu and Yeoh as examples of actresses who were not household names among Americans before getting their big break in a major action film. They were poorly chosen on my part as Tonio pointed out, because Liu was apparently well known from Ally McBeal and Yeoh of course was a huge star in Hong Kong cinema that had the potential to generate buzz in the foreign box office and among kung fu flick fans.

    However, since you bring up the possibility of them being given the role of Major, I suspect your predictions are correct. There would be complaints that they did not hire a Japanese actress. That said, the movie was actually filmed in Hong Kong so Yeoh would not be too out of place with a few tweaks to the script. Unfortunately, she is too old to play the role without the added cost of CG face smoothing. The studios briefly considered using CG to make SJ’s face more Asian, and they were willing to produce artificially young versions of Arnold and Jackman in recent films, so it wouldn’t be completely out of the question I suppose. Liu is just wrong for the role, regardless of country of origin.

    Also, there has to be some kind of starting point for Asian casting in order for it to become more acceptable. I wonder if Fresh off the Boat would exist if All-American Girl had not paved the way. In FotB, Randall Park, a Korean American, plays a Taiwanese American. As flawed as this is, this is a better situation than if they had rewritten the character to be white a la David Carradine in Kung Fu.

    There will always be critical people asking for more authenticity – that doesn’t mean the baby steps go unappreciated. I remember being inspired by Gedde Watanabe’s portrayal of Long Duk Dong as a young Asian boy. As cringeworthy and stereotypical as he might look in retrospect – at the time he was one of the few Asian characters in mainstream American films to have any kind of romantic subplot at all. In the 80’s, even getting a comic relief or martial arts role was a big deal for an Asian actor.

  • Pinkk

    I read them all. You think they limited the white washing to just asian? ha! Learn to read!

  • Pinkk

    I’m not against risking a major role on an unknown. I’m not against casting the wrong Asian for an Asian role.

    The points where really just back to what is and isn’t white washing. Major’s body isn’t asian. So white washing isn’t a factor. Also, anime/manga does not mean asian characters. Full Metal Alchemist and Attack on Titan are animes that have german characters as the main characters. By many of the comments thrown about, they should still be cast as asian, because it’s anime. :p

    Casting a Chinese as Japanese wouldn’t bother me, but it does go against everything people have said, when they complain about not casting Japanese, but then go “Oh, well, cast Chinese.” Chinese is not Japanese. :p

    As for the casting an unknown. I’m fine with it. I’m also not the one risking the money on the movie. Which was the only part of that comment. Yes, some are willing. Some are not. It’s like people don’t read up on castings of movies. Sometimes it’s a matter of them wanting the well known name over who might be a better choice.

    Of course, just because they’re well known, doesn’t mean they’re wrong for the role.

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