Yesterday I reviewed the new Ghost in the Shell live action film (which you can read by clicking right here!). I talked a bit about whitewashing and the film itself. I honestly didn’t feel that the film was whitewashed and the scenes that got people into thinking that the film WAS whitewashed actually just made sense to me in the context of the film.
I’m going to be speaking on the Ghost in the Shell live action film a bit including what is pissing people off – so if you haven’t seen the live action film I would recommend not reading this. I’m also going to be talking about the anime film, the differences between the two, and why I liked the live action film so much more.
I want to first talk about the look of anime/manga. If you look at the comics or cartoons you will notice that most of the characters have a wide eyed look. This wide eyed look isn’t drawn on all anime/manga but a lot of it. It seems that while the look had been around previously it became widely popular with Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. Long known as the “Godfather of Manga” it was Astro Boy’s popularity that artists drew inspiration from.
Growing up in the eighties I watched a ton of anime including Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Voltron, and Robotech. I loved how the animation looked and instantly realized that this animation was different than other cartoons I watched…say Pac-Man, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and later GI Joe or Transformers. The word ‘anime’ was nothing that I ever heard and I had no clue that these cartoons came from Japan. Maybe I was too young to realize or I just didn’t care. I just knew that these cartoons were different.
I knew that Star Blazers was different because the cartoon actually told a story. I had to rush home from school and watch the cartoon because I knew it was episodic. It told a story and I could not miss an episode or I would miss a part of the story. Also as an early comic collector I realized that you didn’t need each episode or comic but it helped if you wanted to know an overall story. This was solidified by Robotech’s Macross saga. I was pretty pissed if I missed an episode because it was so essential to watch every single one. If you missed just one episode it was like you missed a huge part of the story. I realized very early that if the cartoon had “that look” (the anime look) it usually meant that there was a bigger story than Decepticons just looking for Energon Cubes each episode.
Do anime/manga characters look Japanese? No. Not at all. The wide eyed look is very different than what a Asian actually looks like. I’ll put the picture above of what both the Major and Batou look like in the comics/film and what their movie counterparts looks like. Do they look the same? Yes they do. So why is it a big deal that these characters be Japanese when the actual cartoons look so much like the actors? Is it because of the location of where everything takes place? If the anime/manga happens in Tokyo does that mean that the characters must be Japanese because they are Japanese in the anime/manga…but only look anglo because of manga’s wide eyed look?
For years Warner Brothers has talked about a live action Robotech movie. Now if they make a Robotech film should the cast be Japanese? The Robotech saga comes from three different anime that was rewritten to be one huge cartoon for American audiences. The most famous part is the first part which comes from the anime The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. When Robotech was localized to the US many things changed including plots and character names. Parts were cut out for American audiences because they believed it would be too much for us kids. A character like our protagonist pilot Rick Hunter was really pilot Hikaru Ichijyo – a Japanese man. As a kid did I know Rick Hunter was Japanese? Of course not. He looked like a young American kid and he had a very American name in Rick Hunter. So when Warner Brothers makes Robotech the film in…five years should they make the character Hikaru or Rick? Should he be American or Japanese? Or does it even really matter as long as the Robotech story is told? If Tyler James Williams is cast as Rick Hunter will people be upset that a black man is playing a white man? That a black man is playing a Japanese man? Will it matter at all? I’m sure everyone will be upset no matter what because there is nothing better to do than bitch about things on the Internet.
As I mentioned in my review yesterday I had once tried to watch the Ghost in the Shell anime movie and had turned it off. After watching the live action film I decided to sit and finally give the anime another shot. I was quite surprised at how different the live action film was from the anime. I almost felt like the anime threw you right into the action – like if you hadn’t read the Ghost in the Shell manga you could almost be a little lost. The live action film almost had an origin like manner to it. You understood in the film where Major came from. Who put her together. Why she was put together. How cybernetics affects the entire world. How Batou came to get his cybernetic eyes. That was all included in the live action film where the anime is pretty much a straight ahead story of The Major hunting down The Puppet Master.
The Puppet Master is basically a sentient program who, in the end, wants to merge with Major to become a whole new entity. In the live action film Kuze (Michael Pitt) is hunting down the scientists who created him. Major, hunting Kuze down, comes to find out that Kuze is just like her – a cybernetic organism with a human brain. But Major also comes to know that Kuze is hunting those who created him because he was abandoned. He was actually stolen from the streets, murdered, and put into the robotic host body. So was Major. When she comes to learn the truth those behind her creation set out to kill her as well.
Which story is better? For me I like the live action movie because there is a purpose. The anime is good guy hunts bad guy and something happens in the end. In the live action movie there is actually an antagonist who has end goals based on what has happened to him. What happened to him majorly impacts the story. Because what happened to Kuze and the Major happened to about 90 other kids as well. And none of them survived. There is major implications about the experiments that made Major a success and now, after she learns that, she needs to decide what to do with this information.
Having never read the original manga I have no clue which is closer…the original anime or the new live action film. In the end it doesn’t matter because I’ll take each film based on what actually gives me the better story. The live action film, by far, gives a more complete story than its anime counterpart. Some may vehemently disagree on this but in terms of a three act structure the live action film is much more compelling.
Near the end of the live action film the Major learns that she was a runaway named Motoko who was taken by Hanka Robotics, murdered, and then became Major Mira Killian. What has some fans (and activists) up in arms is that fact that Motoko was a young Japanese runaway who then became the Anglo robot Scarlett Johansson. This, they say, is the ultimate proof of whitewashing. Making a Japanese teenage runaway into a white woman robot.
In the film we see a majority of the Hanka Robotics scientists and managements as Anglo. From Dr. Outlet (French actress Julitette Binoche) to Hanka head Cutter (British actor Peter Ferdinando) to scientist Dr. Osmund (Canadian actor Michael Wincott) we see many who work for the corporation as….white people. The story takes place in Japan so maybe many are to believe that everyone who works for this robotics company should be Japanese.
Someone please tell me who originally started, owned, and operated Tokyo’s Sega Enterprises? Is every company in America owned by Americans? From corporations to Mom & Pop stores there are many, many American businesses that surely aren’t owned by Americans.
Is there a point? Yes – the point is a company can be in Tokyo and not be owned by the Japanese. Could the non-Japanese robotics company make a whole bunch of robots that look Anglo and not Japanese? Of course they can. Actually they can make whatever “shells” they want to. The ones that “survived” just happened to look like Scarlett and Michael Pitt.
People had HUGE PROBLEMS that Major was a Japanese runaway turned into a white robot. I think it is controversy for the sake of controversy as what I saw on-screen seemed to mesh with what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. Is the character in the Ghost in the Shell anime Japanese? Of course she is. The character isn’t Killian. She is simply Major Motoko Kusanagi. But that is the anime. It is not the $110 million Hollywood production.
When Ghost in the Shell’s anime director Mamoru Oshii talked to IGN this month he said of the live action film, “What issue could there possibly be with casting her? The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply. In the movies, John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, and Omar Sharif, an Arab, can play Doctor Zhivago, a Slav. It’s all just cinematic conventions. If that’s not allowed, then Darth Vader probably shouldn’t speak English, either. I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie. I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics.”
I’m sure there are many out there who will disagree with myself and disagree with Oshii. The subject seems to be a very sensitive one and those who will continue to cry out “WHITEWASHING!” will do so not just because of Ghost in the Shell but the treatment of minorities in Hollywood whether they be black, Asian, Indian, etc. Could the filmmakers have made the story work with a Japanese woman playing the lead in the Ghost in the Shell film? Of course. Was it wise to cast a big name actress like Scarlett Johansson in a huge budget film? Of course it was. Will the film survive the backlash to make a profit? Possibly…but only just. Taking into consideration the budget plus marketing the film will only turn a profit when all revenue streams are taken into consideration including worldwide box office plus home sales including digital sales.
I wonder if the same crying of whitewashing will occur if a white person is cast as Rick Hunter in the Robotech movie? When a white person is cast as Keith from Voltron? When a black actor is cast as Kaneda in the American version of Akira?
If it is the Internet I’m sure people will bitch about something.
As for the live action Ghost in the Shell versus its anime counterpart, I will still stand by my assertion that the live action film does a better job telling a more complete story in the Ghost in the Shell universe. Having just watched both films for the first time (as I had shut off the anime halfway through years ago) I can honestly say that the live action film just better builds the universe and explains more to the audience. Disagree if you want to – but watch both films side-by-side and make the comparison. Don’t just go off because you are a HUGE fan of one and want to bash the other. I’m sure some may still do so anyway…but I’m glad I gave Scarlett’s Ghost in the Shell a chance. I had a great time with it.