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Following on from her action roles in Lucy and the Marvel universe and her critically-acclaimed portrayal of an alien seducing a series of young men in Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson’s latest venture is as the protagonist in the highly-anticipated live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, a cult Manga series that began life as a comic in the early 1990s, before making its way to the screen as a critically acclaimed animated movie. A strong inspiration on the classic action flick The Matrix, the series centred around Motoko Kusanagi, a purple-haired cybernetic human that works as a law enforcement officer for the Public Security Section 9. More commonly known as the Major, the character followed in a long tradition of strong independent females in Manga and could be considered the archetype of such Hollywood heroines as Alice from the Resident Evil series.
Following numerous teasers, the first official trailer for Rupert Sanders’ interpretation has been released, which features Johansson prominently in a succession of action-oriented scenes to the sound of Enjoy the Silence, KiTheory‘s reworking of the Depeche Mode classic. ‘Bringing these pages to life is a kind of challenge,’ claimed the actress in a recent interview with Collider. ‘Because you can’t rip it off the page, it’s totally different. You’re playing it as a – it’s not really a person, but it’s a human brain, it’s someone who’s having this life experience. Which is very different from just ripping stuff off from the Manga…I think we’re very used to the idea of the future in an armageddon context or a post-apocalyptic kind of idea or it’s very stringent, like Spike Jonze did with Her. Everything’s kind of digitised and computerised and clean or absence of character. This movie, I think, it’s Rupert’s idea of, he described it to me as cities built on cities and the abundance of waste.’
Despite the anticipation surrounding the picture, the project has courted a certain amount of controversy over the last year due to what many have described as ‘whitewashing,’ Hollywood’s attempt to make every character caucasian instead of staying true to the source material. When the first image of Johansson was released in April it was followed by a barrage of criticism over the casting of a white performer in the role of Kusanagi, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Ming-Na Wen blasted the decision via Twitter, ‘Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.’ In the months that followed the filmmakers have publicly defended their decision to cast a white actress, with Sanders recently telling the Verge, ‘To me, you know, I cast very much from the gut and I think I was very lucky to be able to get an amazing international cast of people that I’ve always really wanted to work with. Scarlett was one of those people and to me there’s very few actresses who’ve had twenty years of experience, who have the cyberpunk aesthetic already baked in.’Back in July producer Steven Paul spoke to Buzzed regarding the growing backlash. ‘I think everybody is going to end up being really happy with it. They’re going to be very, very happy with it when they see what we’ve actually done with it, and I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed.’ He continued, ‘There are all sorts of people and nationalities in the world in Ghost in the Shell. We’re utilizing people from all over the world. There’s Japanese in it. There’s Chinese in it. There’s English in it. There’s Americans in it…I don’t think it was just a Japanese story. Ghost in the Shell was a very international story and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.’
In a summary of the whitewashing debate the Hollywood Reporter commented that, ‘Japanese manga and anime fans pointed out that similar ‘racebending’ casting takes place in reverse for domestic productions. Two live-action movies based on the Attack on Titan manga, also originally published by Kodansha, were released last year. The characters in the manga by Hajime Isayama were Western, but the cast for the movies was all Japanese. Meanwhile, some Japanese commentators on Twitter suggested that not too much attention should be paid to the physical appearance of the actress, because the dominant themes in Ghost in the Shell are the nature of identity and cyborgs used to host cyber-brains.’