How Ghost In The Shell’s Director Feels About The Whitewashing Controversy

Ghost In The Shell

The casting of Scarlett Johansson as The Major in Ghost In The Shell provoked a furious backlash, as Motoko Kusangi, the lead character in Masamue Shirow's original manga and the legendary 1995 anime that the upcoming blockbuster is based on, was Japanese. At the trailer launch for Ghost In The Shell that was held in Tokyo, which I was lucky to attend alongside other reporters, director Rupert Sanders was quizzed about the furor that surrounded the casting of Scarlet Johansson, and he stood by his decision.

After being asked to respond to the criticism of Scarlett Johansson as The Major in Ghost In The Shell, Rupert Sanders remarked:

I think whenever you cast someone, someone's going to be critical of it. To me, I stand by my decision. She's the best actress of her generation, and I was flattered and honored that she would be in this film. So many people that were around the original anime have been vehemently in support of her because she's incredible, and there are very few people like her.

It's not surprising in the least that Rupert Sanders feels this way. As he rightfully points out, Scarlett Johansson is the biggest and most bankable actress in the world right now, while she has been a mainstay of the mainstream for the past 15 years after her earliest roles in The Man Who Wasn't There and Ghost World, both of which were released in 2001. But what makes her perfect for Ghost In The Shell is during this time, she has been able to maintain a cyber-punk aesthetic that will lend itself perfectly to this film.

This is something that Rupert Sanders himself touched upon while at Ghost In The Shell's trailer launch in Tokyo. When asked why Scarlett Johansson was the perfect choice to play The Major in his version of the film, Sanders insisted that there are "very few actresses with 20 years experience with the cyber-punk aesthetic baked in," which Johansson has acquired because of her work in "edgy" films like Lost In Translation and Under The Skin. Sanders also went on to praise Johansson's attitude and toughness, which he immediately recognized as traits needed for The Major, too.

Over the weekend we got our first proper glimpse of Scarlett Johansson in action as The Major in Ghost In The Shell, too, as its trailer was released to a rapturous response from eager movie fans. You can remind yourself why by clicking below to watch the footage.

Of course it would be remiss not to mention the white-washing issues that have so far dogged Ghost In The Shell's production. Unfortunately Rupert Sanders comments don't do too much to dismiss these concerns. That's because we understand why Scarlett Johansson has been cast to lead Ghost In The Shell, but the question remains, because the 1995 anime was so distinctly and proudly Japanese, whether she should have been. While Sanders' version appears to have dropped the character name of Motoko Kusangi, as Johansson's character is simply referred to as The Major, Ghost In The Shell is still set in a futuristic Tokyo, uses Japanese iconography, and the trailer featured so any similar shots from Mamoru Oshii's anime that a side-by-side comparison piece has been released, all of which proves that the upcoming film is still heavily inspired and borrows from its source material, which is a seminal piece of Japanese pop culture. Except it seems when it comes to its leading characters, though, as its protagonist (Scarlett Johansson's The Major), main supporting character (Pilou Asbaek's Batou), and villain (Michael Pitt's Kuze) are all white.

Throughout the event in Tokyo, Rupert Sanders made sure to discuss that Ghost In The Shell had more of an international flavor than its predecessors. Plus, it would be wrong to come to a firm conclusion regarding the whitewashing claims made against Ghost In The Shell without seeing the final film, too, which the trailer suggests will be full of captivating visuals, impressive action, and a probing psychological quandary to keep it bouncing. We'll get to see if the film can answer these problems sufficiently when Ghost In The Shell is released on March 31, 2017.

Gregory Wakeman