November 24, 2016
"Ghost in the Shell" trailer
Yes, another movie I won't be seeing for a while.
Okay, I'll get to the trailer. But first this silly whining about Scarlett Johansson not being "Japanese." Silly because she's playing an android whose only "human" component is her brain, and has swapped "shells" more than once. Besides, phenotypic racial characteristics in manga and anime are highly malleable, to say the least.
It's true that casting Japanese as Japanese in Hollywood is a perennial problem. But in Hollywood, everything's ultimately about the box office, which also points to a perennial supply and demand problem.
As an Asian-American ethnic group, Japanese (1.3 million) lag behind Korean (1.7 million), Vietnamese (1.73 million), Indian (3.18 million), Filipino (3.41 million), and Chinese (3.79 million).
Except for the cream of the crop (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese actor with any kind of talent can get more and better work in Japan (and won't have to speak English). The reverse is true too, which is why (with rare exceptions) "Americans" in Japanese productions are so often played by Europeans who "look" the part.
So while Star Trek creates roles for Japanese actors, aside from George Takei, it has a hard time finding Japanese actors to play them. Thus we have Rosalind Chao in Next Generation (who doesn't look Japanese) and Linda Park in Enterprise (who more or less does) and John Cho in Star Trek (close enough).
I always wondered why they just didn't make Linda Park's character Korean. It's not like there was any continuity to preserve.
In any case, the setting of Ghost in the Shell is postmodern and post-mini-apocalyptic, taking place in a Japan that, like Los Angeles in Blade Runner, has become a polyglot tossed-salad of Asian cultures. So it's hard to hung up about the specifics of national identity.
Anyway, who's to say Johansson isn't Japanese? How many people know that Dean Cain (Lois & Clark) is a quarter-Japanese? (I didn't until I looked it up.) Risa Stegmayer (American father, Japanese mother), co-host of NHK's Cool Japan, doesn't look especially Japanese, especially seated next to the very Japanese Shoji Kokami.
Meanwhile, the very Japanese Hiroshi Abe plays a Roman architect in the Thermae Romae movies.
This anecdote by Peter Payne (who lives in Japan, where he runs an online store for otaku) is a good antidote to this plague of third-party offense-taking:
Once I was watching an episode of Alias with my [Japanese] wife, and there was a horrid scene in which some female spy went to "Japan" (which appeared to be shot in a sushi restaurant about ten minutes from West Hollywood), painted her face white like a "geisha" and proceeded to extract information from her target despite not knowing his language. I was livid that in the 21st century TV producers couldn't even come close to getting basic imagery right, but my wife was enthralled with it, laughing at each new hilarious plot twist.
It's always a good idea to make sure that those on whose behalf you are getting offended would actually get offended by what you think would offend them. Because they might not have the slightest idea what you are talking about. (See also here.)
As far as that goes, the great Takeshi Kitano plays Aramaki in the movie, which I do consider inspired casting.
But enough with that, back to the trailer.
Based on this small sample, it looks like the movie is using material from Masamune Shirow's manga (the girl-on-girl stuff), Mamoru Oshii's animated film (the opening sequences are an exact match), and the second season of Stand Alone Complex (directed by Kenji Kamiyama), in which the Major gets some hefty "shell" repair.
The live-action version also draws its existential moodiness from Oshii. Like Blade Runner, Oshii's versions are more psychological thrillers, far "heavier" than the manga. The same shift in tone can be seen comparing the Patlabor anime series to Oshii's Patlabor feature films.
Stand Alone Complex is a straightforward cybernetic police procedural.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Major Kusanagi has adapted to the needs of the director, the story, and the medium. Shirow's Kusanagi is a futuristic take on a Connery-era "Jane Bond." Oshii's is closer to Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty from Blade Runner, while Kamiyama's approximates Mark Harmon's Gibbs in NCIS.
Explaining why he broke with Oshii's interpretation, Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama quipped, "The first episode would be the final one!" People would get bored of watching a character search for her identity for half a year."
So far, I rank Stand Alone Complex and Solid State Society as the best of the bunch (the Tachikoma robots being no small reason why). Like The X-Files, the Stand Alone Complex seasons are tied together by season-long arcs, interspersed with science fiction stories that work well on their own.
But we'll have to wait a while to see where Hollywood's live-action version ranks in the franchise.
• Ghost in the Shell (manga) 1989–1990
• Ghost in the Shell (theatrical release) 1995
• Innocence (theatrical release) 2004
• Stand Alone Complex (TV anime series) 2002–2006
• Solid State Society (movie in the SAC arc) 2006
• Arise (OVA series) 2013
• New Movie (movie in the Arise arc) 2013
• Ghost in the Shell (theatrical release) 2017
And while we're on the subject, the Ghost in the Shell "Special Edition" DVD is for sale at Amazon for ten bucks.