In its native Japan, the futuristic Ghost in the Shell franchise spans comic books, feature films, TV series and video games. But fans aren’t necessarily happy about its latest evolution into a live-action Hollywood blockbuster. At issue is the fact that the main character of the original 1989 manga and the 1995 anime feature it inspired (newly available in a Blu-ray steelbook edition), cyborg cop Major Motoko Kusanagi, is played by Scarlett Johansson in the new English-language version. In the run-up to the film’s release on Friday, Ghost in the Shell — along with other recent productions like Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Netflix’s Iron Fist — has been cited as an example of Hollywood’s “whitewashing” of Asian characters.
Of course, Johansson already has one prominent defender in her corner: Mamoru Oshii, who directed the original animated feature, has given the actress his enthusiastic approval. Speaking with Yahoo Movies, Johansson suggests that the version of the character is defined by larger issues than her race. “This character is living a very unique experience in the fact that she is a human brain in an entirely machine-made body. Her search for her own identity… those are the things that make up this character’s experience.” (Watch our video interview above.)
Johansson’s castmates also emphasize the expansiveness of this iteration of the franchise. “When the story gets universal, I think you’re allowed to share it with the world,” remarks Juliette Binoche, who plays the scientist that helped create the Major. Meanwhile, costar Chin Han underlines that the cast and crew are out to honor the spirit of the manga in their adaptation. Nevertheless, as he reminds us, “The thing about adaptation is that it’s a natural evolution for any piece of great art.”
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