On Monday I posted my Ghost in the Shell review – which you can read by clicking here.  After that I wrote a piece on the Ghost in the Shell live action film, the anime, anime localization, whitewashing, and why the live action film was a more complete film – you can read that by clicking here.

I woke up this morning to find that The Hollywood Reporter had published a piece where four Japanese actresses talked about their feelings on the live action Ghost in the Shell.  In the article the four actresses (Keiko Agena (Gilmore Girls), stage actor/writer Traci Kato-Kiriyama (PULLproject Ensemble), Atsuko Okatsuka (co-founder of the all-Asian, mostly female Dis/orient/ed Comedy tour) and Ai Yoshihara (The Sea of Trees)) all lay out their feelings on the whitewashing of the film, Japanese culture, and how the film “got it all wrong.”

Now there’s nothing wrong with opinion.  There is nothing wrong with four Japanese women who have lived immersed in Japanese culture sitting there nitpicking about what the “film got wrong”.  Among their arguments are:

  • Japanese people worship white people (which is why there is no controversy over this film there in Japan).
  • It’s cringe worthy that two “white people” (Michael Pitt and Scarlett Johansson) call themselves by their original Japanese names.
  • A Japanese mother wouldn’t allow a stranger in the house.
  • Japanese people don’t hug.
  • Japanese people look down at the ground.
  • A Japanese daughter who ran away would feel shame and wouldn’t look at her mother’s eyes.  She’d look down.
  • Everyone in the world understands Japanese even though only one person (Beat Takeshi) speaks it throughout the film.
  • It makes one of the actresses feel more messed up about her own beauty standards.

Here is the problem I have with their arguments:

Stereotyping: Saying that the Japanese love white people and therefore they are okay with “the whitewashing.”  Not that they like the film but loving white people is the reason they have no problem with it.  Plus Scarlett Johansson is very pretty with a great body so it makes them feel less because they don’t have that body.  These aren’t the films problems – these are their own body issues.  These arguments are all filled with Japanese customs (which also, in America, can be stereotypical) yet they have no problem, in turn, stereotyping their own culture.

Customs:  They talk A LOT about different Japanese customs and how they aren’t prevalent in the film.  This being a sci-fi film set in the future with a much more diverse population it is understandable that different customs could have gone by the wayside.  Japan is a nation full of customs.  It always has been for many centuries.  But in a science fiction film set in the future isn’t it plausible that customs like not hugging may we westernized and hugging could be more prevalent?  That a grieving mother looking for companionship may actually let some stranger in?  That a robot who doesn’t understand her past nor remember it may look into her mother’s eyes?

Technology: Everyone understands Japanese in Japan.  The actresses all wondered about this.  Now they did postulate that the technology embedded in humans could allow them to understand Japanese but that this is something they had to guess because it wasn’t explained in the film.  EXCEPT this was actually explained in the film.  In the beginning of the film where the robot geisha were walking around (the actresses also had a problem with robot geisha) scientist Dr. Osmund (Michael Wincott) tells how his daughter learned French in mere seconds thanks to her robotic enhancements.  In this world it is established that if you are an enhanced person you are then able to understand language in a blink of an eye.  It is almost like they were too busy coming up with gripes to actually pay attention to the first TEN MINUTES OF THE FILM.

What’s the problem with all of this?  It is controversy for the sake of controversy.  It’s nitpicking things out of a science fiction film.  If this was a historical piece I can see nitpicking the shit out of it.  But this is THE FUTURE – WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

All of this has certainly affected the box office gross. Paramount, who made Ghost in the Shell, saw the $19 million domestic box office and weren’t too happy. Paramount’s domestic distribution chief Kyle Davies said this, “We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.”

For me it is mindboggling.  Maybe it is my problem because I see simple answers to the gripes everyone is bitching about.  Maybe it is because in watching the live action and the anime films back to back I saw the live action film as more complete.

And again…maybe I see controversy for controversy sake.

Take Gilmore Girls actress Keiko Agena.  I love Keiko.  I love Gilmore Girls.  I love Keiko’s character Lane Kim.  But you know what?  On the Gilmore Girls Lane Kim isn’t Japanese.  The character is Korean.  Should the world beat up Keiko because a Japanese girl is playing a Korean girl?  Is the world going to gripe because Keiko stole a role that should have gone to a Korean actress?  I don’t think so.  But according to what these actresses said I would say most certainly that a Korean should have played the part.  That the part was stolen from a Korean actress.  NOT ALL ASIAN PEOPLE ARE THE SAME.  Chinese people aren’t Japanese and Japanese people aren’t Korean.  I’m pretty sure Keiko was ecstatic just to be a part of a big television show and actually get to show off her acting ability – even though she was a Japanese actress playing a Korean girl.

I’m pretty done on this subject.  The film really hasn’t been given a chance thanks to a whitewashing controversy and critics bashing the crap out of it.  Audiences didn’t show up and that’s a shame because most people are going to miss a very decent sci-fi movie.