While some fans are disappointed that no Japanese actress was cast as the lead, many expected it in a Hollywood production, and others say it fits the themes of the original manga.
The casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the Paramount/DreamWorks adaptation of Japanese anime hit Ghost in the Shell has drawn accusations of “whitewashing”and sparked fierce debate on social media across the Western world. But in the home of the manga and anime cult classic, the reaction to the media firestorm was mostly surprise as many Japanese had already assumed that the lead role in a Hollywood version of the story would go to a white actress.
While there has been criticism and some resigned disappointment expressed by online commenters at the fact that a non-Japanese actress was chosen for the role, even there the reaction has been somewhat muted and distinctly lacking in the vitriol spewing forth elsewhere.
The original manga, written by Masamune Shirow, was published in 1989 by Kodansha, which licensed it for Mamoru Oshii’s seminal 1995 anime feature, a number of Japanese spin-off films and anime series, and most recently for the Hollywood live-action version.
“Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast,” Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division at Kodansha’s Tokyo headquarters, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place.”
He added: “This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” Yoshiba recently returned from a visit to the New Zealand set of the movie, where he says he was impressed by the respect being shown for the source material.
Many ordinary Japanese manga fans are also nonplussed at the outrage over the casting. “If you want a Japanese cast, then a Japanese company should make the film in Japan,” said long-time manga fan Tetsuya Kataoka.
Interestingly, the casting of an Asian-looking actress may have avoided the “whitewashing” accusations and likely placated some fans in Europe and America, but provoked a worse reaction in Japan.