Here’s another post on the “controversial” choice of Scarlett Johanssen as Motoko Kusangi in the forthcoming Ghost In the Shell movie. The problem is that when you can’t escape the cultish thinking and progressive grey goo that comes out of the modern university, you self drain any possibility of joy in anything.
First of all whitewashing has a long and varied history in Hollywood. It exists though for one big reason. Films need to make money, lots of money. The amount that a bomb, let alone, a block buster brings in would be good revenue for just about any business. A film though, has to have greatest chunk of it’s money up front, long before any revenue shows up. All that money has interest that must be paid one way or another. So the producers need some way to convince the money people that they don’t have a certain loser on their hands long before any money comes in from ticket sales. So it’s an easy decision to cast John Wayne as Genghis Khan. With Susan Hayward as the leading woman.
That’s because the amount of work for a movie is incredible. Look at what it took for a few seconds of footage.
The money people want to know who the major players are and if they will have the kind of draw that will justify their investments. Aside from Jackie Chan, there are very few Asian actors who have that kind of pull. To have that kind of pull you need immediate name recognition outside the limited film community. That’s something very few people have. Look, if the property is well known, the cast isn’t as big a concern, for instance, Lord Of The Rings or Harry Potter. But Ghost In The Shell doesn’t have that kind of popularity. So getting pull is vital.
So for the Role of Motoko Kusanagi, Johanssen makes sense in many ways. as the article admits.
In January of 2015, it was announced that Scarlett Johansson would star as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Paramount’s live-action adaptation of the beloved anime and manga franchise Ghost in the Shell. The reaction at the time was mild to positive — mostly because it seemed to make a lot of sense if we’re just talking about Johansson’s career. The actress starred in a slew of sci-fi roles that allowed her to delve deep into the relationship between a woman and her body and her consciousness: she was an AI turned omnipotent being in Her, a lonely alien turned carnivorous sexpot in Under The Skin, and a drug mule turned omnipotent being in Lucy. Her career was an IRL thinkpiece, and assuming the role of a cyborg supercop seemed like the next logical step.
Indeed, looking at the photo alongside the pictures of Kusanagi, the choice seems inspired. Except maybe the nose is just a bit too big. One thing that struck me was that Johanssen’s Motoko looked unreal. Which is perfect for a character that’s supposed to be a cyborg. If you have the felling that everything is not quite what it should be, that there’s something uncanny going on, that’s exactly what you want.
Of course her real issue inevitably emerges.
Whitewashing is very real, and the deficit of starring roles for Asians is one lane in the representation race that is stubbornly slow to advance. But in the case of Kusanagi, an anime character, it’s not as simple as Japanese or white. The issue of representation feels cozily easy to understand here in the US — you either are or aren’t represented — compared to the long history of self-erasure in post-war Japanese narratives. It’s a dense, depressing history, and by the end of it I probably will still come to the conclusion that casting Johansson was the wrong move. But perhaps — and this is just a guess — the Ghost in the Shell adaptation shouldn’t have been an American production in the first place.
She’s worried about cultural appropriation and social justice concerns. As well as racial purity. The same sort of thing that had people up in arms about kimonos last year. and just as misguided. First of all, it’s not as if there have been no Japanese adaptations of the original manga. After all there have been two anime movies, two anime TV series and yet another movie on the screens here in the states as we speak. Of all this is anime, a very developed industry in Japan.
Live action is more difficult. Especially if you are going for an international market. “Hollywood”(which actually an international industry of skilled people all over the world that the movie people have on their virtual rolodex) has raised the bar for production that it’s very hard for people outside the system to compete. Let alone get their films distributed widely enough that the costs can be justified. So Japanese movies tend to be fairly low budget affairs for the most part. The language and cultural issues keep Japanese filmmakers too far outside the system for anything else.
That’s especially true for a special effects film like “Ghost.” To do “Ghost” right is going to require a battery of practical and digital effects. These are crafts where the film you are currently working on builds on the films that have gone before. That’s an expertise that just doesn’t exist in Japan. There’s also the problem that a Japanese producer, more than likely doesn’t have the kind of rolodex to get the job done. I’ve seen the efforts and frankly they have a long way to go. So I don’t think that Japanese “Ghost” would work.
She goes on. Obviously she’s been through our wonderful American indoctrination systems and thus thinks that America somehow started WW2. And that the Japanese were oppressed, because, Asians.
After World War II — after two nuclear bombs and the forced demilitarization, an impoverished and war-torn Japan desperately needed to rebuild its economy, and it turned to toys. Using one of the only resources it found itself with a surplus of — discarded food tins from the occupying allied troops — Japanese manufacturers began making cheap tin models of American Jeeps. They became immensely popular among Japanese children whose families couldn’t afford expensive toys, and their popularity spread to the states, starting with returning GIs bringing home gifts for their kids.
Why American Jeeps? Why immortalize the vehicles of the country that defeated them? Well, they certainly wouldn’t be making Japanese vehicles — there was no more army to speak of, any remnant of Japan’s recent past as a military bully was being erased with embarrassment and shame. At any rate, this is where Japan gets into the business of selling the look of America back to it, and even doing it one better. After the toy cars started taking off, plastic figurines and dolls also rose in popularity, and Japan’s expertise in the kind of disarming cuteness we know today really began to get honed. The toys had to be adorable enough (or flattering enough to American post-war jingoism) that American children would covet them — pre-war exports of traditional Japanese dolls with straight black hair and narrow eyes had never seen much movement overseas. Toymakers saw the popularity of Disney-style Western cartoons and started iterating on them, gradually making the heads bigger, the eyes rounder, the features softer. For many years, one of the most common dolls in Japan were unlicensed plastic reproductions of Kewpie, a wide-eyed Caucasian baby with origins in a 1920s American comic.
First of all, It’s very unlikely that any toys were made from USED food cans. Because not only would that be dirty and messy, but it wouldn’t work. See, for something like a steel toy that is pressed the metal has to be fully annealed and workable. Otherwise the steel cracks rather than bending. The process for making one of those toy cars is to print the finish and then press the toy. Just like the cans here.
More than likely what happened was that the preprinted mill ends from can production were turned over, printed with the toys and pressed. That way saved the scrap from making those cans.
As for why Jeeps, well, Jeeps were A. cool, and B.EVERYWHERE. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s there was probably no vehicle more recognizable as the Jeep. Also, the pressed toy market predates the war and it’s likely that the manufactures started right up with their old customers once the war was over. Anyway, those old Japanese toys are wonderful and I wish that I had grabbed or held on to all the silly ones that I’ve seen over the years. Here’s some websites to check out.
As for round eyes, Japanese manga and anime were using rounded eyes before the war. Some of it was aping Disney as the propaganda cartoon below shows. The thing is that when you have to simplify the artwork like you do in manga and anime, making the eyes bigger helps to make the face expressive without making it more complicated and difficult to draw. This is important when you are drawing in a hurry. So having bigger eyes tends to works better for dynamic art forms. There’s no real oppression of culture, so much as adaptation to the needs of a new form.
She does have a good point here.
This is not a story of a country so in love with Magic America that it abandoned its own cultural identity — this is a country that culturally appropriated from the culture that had asserted dominance over it in order to rebuild itself.
Of course she follows it by lapsing into typical Progressive nonsense.
During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when Japan had not only made its comeback but was experiencing an unprecedented economic bubble (on the back of consumer electronics exports — toys to the rescue again) Japanese animation started to really come into its own as an art form. And as it shifted from its origins as a medium aimed at children to explore more adult themes, it turned its gaze toward the ground zero of this aggressive expansion. Tokusatsu (special effects) films like the Godzilla franchise had explicitly riffed on post-atomic anxiety, but anime melded that anxiety with the technoparanoia and existential musings of American science fiction authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. The ubiquitous image of the atom bomb is the inciting or concluding event; the fallout is technology. Innocent youths are caged in robot suits, powerful psychics are trapped in decrepit childlike forms. Technology alienates everyone: consciousness becomes unmoored, bodies become arbitrary and disposable, sex becomes less a biological function than a psychological dysfunction, the planet and its host of forgotten nature spirits cries out in agony….
As comic author Jon Tsuei pointed out on Twitter, Japan has a relationship to technology that is fundamentally different from the states, which is why GitS is so irrevocably Japanese. Technology was what Japan turned to as a means to assert itself as a world leader when military might was no longer an option. The wire-encrusted dystopias of ‘90s anime are the natural outgrowth of a country brought to its knees by nuclear warfare that threw itself into a tech explosion and is now slumping through economic downturn. And it’s an indirect American inheritance. America took away Japan’s army, tossed it some tin cans, said “Here, play with this, instead.” A half a century later, we have the PS4, Hatsune Miku, and sex robots. That’s better than comfort women, to be sure. It’s definitely better than nukes. But it permanently altered the entire question of national identity.
She can’t understand why these Japanese aren’t more upset over the whitewashing.
And then we get to the real point. her mother gave her an idealized vision of Japan and she can’t understand why the real thing doesn’t fit the vision. The thing is that the way that these people are responding is typical Japanese. Honestly, from what I’ve seen of Japanese entertainment, the quality of the acting is the important thing, not the race of the performer. Indeed, that’s exactly what they were concerned with.
I was born in Japan, but raised by my Caucasian mother in America. She had an appreciation for Japanese art and culture, and raised me on some very basic Japanese. But I remember her looking askance at anime, especially as it started to rise in popularity in the states in the early ‘90s. “Those big eyes? That crazy hair? They don’t look Japanese at all!” (Of course, the average anime character does look unmistakably Japanese, but in the same way a rococo painting in a gilded frame looks unmistakably French.) I knew I was supposed to be suspicious of anime, but as I grew into adolescence I found myself almost involuntarily drawn toward it. Not only did it have the seductive qualities of the forbidden, the lurid, the trashy — it was also one of the only pop cultural connections I had to a culture I had largely been severed from at birth.
I don’t know that I saw myself in most anime characters, though it certainly didn’t hurt that they tended to feature far more female protagonists than Stateside entertainments. I found myself strangely attuned to the rhythms and sensibilities of everything from Sailor Moon to Serial Experiments Lain to Evangelion. But I never had to visually deal with the fact that these magical girls and teen soldiers and melancholy robots were Japanese — culturally, yes; racially, no. It was enough for me to hear Japanese being spoken and Japanese culture being referenced to. But Japanese people — flesh-and-blood humans — had long since been removed from one of Japan’s chief cultural exports.
Here’s the key thing to remember. Manga and anime are not made for foreign audiences. That so many of us like it doesn’t change the fact that the media are made by Japanese, for Japanese. And both manga and anime are varied and diverse. There’s far more to the media than giant robots and magical girls. Sometimes you get mindblowing ideas and worlds that are incredibly deep. “Ghost” is one of the anime and manga series that does that. As for the race of the characters, well here a NSFW link to a bunch of Masume Shirow’s art. See if you can tell very much from that.
As I have posted before, Scarlett Johanssen could even go with red hair and it would fit the character. Kusanagi is more or less living in the body of a mannequin. Indeed, in the first movie that is actually implied in one scene and the original manga is even more explicit about that. That is when the major doesn’t change bodies completely. None of the other characters are necessarily Japanese either. With the exception of Togusa who is the normal of section 9
I frankly think that the young lady sees too much of herself in this spat than she does of anything that Shirow has created. How else could you finish up with this.
Ghost in the Shell is the product of and response to decades of physical erasure and technological alienation. It’s pop cultural fallout, a delicately layered croissant of appropriation upon appropriation. It’s as timely as ever, but it feels wildly inappropriate for an American studio and the British director of Snow White and the Huntsman to pick it up and sell it back to us. At the same time, Japan and the US have been stealing and selling images to each other for decades, and the result hasn’t always been awful. I would still argue, though, that the knotty history that leads to Motoko Kusanagi will be lost in translation. This isn’t The Matrix or Pacific Rim, this isn’t just a look and a vibe being lifted. This is the entire history of Japan’s relationship with itself, the US and technology, and without that, you’re left with nothing but an empty prosthesis.
At least, with the artist stil alive you can ask him his opinions.
In works such as Orion— which has elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto– and to a certain extent in Ghost in the Shell, you seem to be attempting to fuse science and technology with religion and spirituality. Is there a model you’re using for this?
士郎 Again, it’s not something I’m consciously trying to do, and I don’t have a specific model. But I do think that science and technology are becoming more and more like “magic.” In other words, the experts know what’s going on, but the average person doesn’t have a clue. To most people, things are becoming more and more of a “black box”; they just know that if they input something into the box, they’ll get a specific result. This is especially true of computers. You have to be an expert to know why certain things happen and to understand the principles involved, but the average person isn’t an expert. Most people just use computers because they’re convenient; they can’t explain the principles involved, so they in effect treat the computers like magic. This doesn’t mean computers are actually magic. The worlds of science and magic are obviously separate; but in terms of our consciousness and the way we perceive things, they are converging. That may be why, in my work, it may seem as though I’m trying to integrate sci-tech and religion, because both do seem to be converging.
The religious approach in my work is probably closest to animism. When I say “religion,” I don’t mean something controlled by some omnipotent “God”; I just mean “gods” in the sense of Nature. It’s like having a tsunami caused by an angry woman god, that sort of thing, almost a fable or allegory. If you see a dragon emerging from a pond, rising to heaven and then making rain fall, well, that’s like having water evaporate and later falling as rain; it’s the same phenomenon described in different ways. It has the same nuance for people observing the same phenomenon; it’s just arranged more “scientifically” in one way than in the other. In Orion, I tried to play with this concept.
FS Some years ago I did a great deal of research on the robotics industry in Japan, and I was particularly fascinated by an organized movement to fuse science and technology with religion, specifically with Buddhism. The Mukta Institute, which was led by roboticist Masahiro Mori and other scientists, for example, was trying to use Buddhism as a vehicle to stimulate creativity in research. Dr. Mori himself believes that by developing robots humans could better understand themselves and achieve Buddha-mind. Have you heard of this institute and by any chance are you a member of it?
士郎 No, but it sounds very interesting. Creating humanoid robots involves seeing how much you can replicate human structure, which in turn involves understanding what it means to be human. In that sense, current robots indicate that we understand basic human muscle and bone structure, that’s all. Recently, though, some people say that emotions can be explained through chemistry, so then the question becomes, if emotions are chemical, what are we? The fact that we think there must be something more than chemicals at work may indicate that there are other factors. So in that sense there’s room for a lot more research. When we add something using chemical reactions– such as some sort of new bio computer– to robots, then we’ll be getting a lot closer to humans… One problem with the Mukta approach might be that the Buddha nature is something very hard for humans to understand. Even if a robot could be created that recognized and understood Buddha-nature and tried to explain it to lots of humans, the question is, how many humans would be able to comprehend it? [laughs]
FS You have lots of robots– such as “Landmates” and “Fuchikomas”– in your manga. Where does your own interest in robots come from, and does your reputed interest in spiders have anything to do with your robot designs?
士郎 I don’t know why, but the heroes Japanese children first identify with in manga and animation all seem to be robots. This is true of characters like Doraemon or Arare-chan, and many others. As a result, most people have implanted in their heads the idea that robots are all-powerful friends, or pals. And that’s probably reflected in my manga. Also, if you go to factories in Japan today, the workers are almost all robots and this has a big impact on people, too.
If my robots look like spiders, it’s probably just because I like spiders. It’s also related, though, to the fact that until recently, until Honda developed it’s bipedal robot, bipeds were regarded as fundamentally unstable, and it was thought that the more legs, the more stable the structure, so most robots had at least four or six legs.
I used to spend quite a bit of time observing spiders. I was particularly fascinated by what we call “fly-catchers”– the “jumping spiders.” These are prowlers that don’t weave webs. They’re like robots. They may be thinking, but they’re life forms close to being robots with a goal programmed into them. They have a purpose. They carefully observe things, timing their attack. They seem quite intelligent.
FS The explosion in popularity of the Net in the United States is often said to have been a huge shock to Japan. Even today, despite huge efforts to catch up, Japan is said to be quite a ways behind the U.S. Since Ghost in the Shell and other manga of yours feature a highly networked future, do you think this is a reason for their popularity in North America?
士郎 I don’t know, but I suspect that my themes of networks and computers and network crimes seem very timely in America. In Japan, these things don’t seem so real, but in America, with the diffusion of the Internet, more people are probably interested in them.
It seems that in Japan, when people talk about the Net, it’s a still a little different than what people are talking about in the U.S. Perhaps we don’t have enough optical fiber laid, or perhaps the communications charges are too high. Whatever it is, the philosophy seems different. We also seem to have deviated some from the main advantage of the Internet, which is the idea that the maximum number of people should derive the maximum benefit from it.
FS In Ghost in the Shell everyone seems to be wired. When I look at people in Japan today, everyone seems to be wiring up, although in a different way than the U.S., mainly through PHS phones. Do you think Japan will evolve in a different direction in terms of the Internet?
士郎 Japan will eventually fall more and more into step with the “West.” Still, in Japan people have traditionally not put a lot of emphasis on specific expressions of feeling or declarations of intent. Instead, we tend to look at each other’s face and at the nuances of what is being said, and then try to determine if the other party is interested in doing business or whatever. Of course, the worst part of this emphasis on nuances and vagueness manifests itself in corruption among politicians and businessmen. But the traditions of communicating here are nonetheless probably more suited to telephones; telephones are better at transmitting nuances, you can read people’s nuances in the subtle intonation of their voice, and even by the time of day that they make their calls. With the Internet, this very Japanese style of interaction and of determining others’ intentions gets diminished. For example, when we have more images involved, everyone here will probably try to look really good in front of the camera; they’ll start posing. It may even be harder then to differentiate between people’s true intentions, or what we call honne, and tatemae, the surface intentions or reality. Ironically, it may be easier to distinguish between these with phone communication.
FS To many foreigners, Japan appears to be a very neat, orderly society, but the future Japan you depict in your manga sometimes seems very messy and complicated and multi racial and confusing. Do you foresee not only a variety of peoples, but also cyborgs and robots coexisting in Japan as fully functioning members of society…?
士郎 Ideally, everyone should be able to live where they want to, and in the multiracial sense Japan will probably become much more similar to the West. In terms of robots being an equal part of the mix, it would be great fun [laughs], but I don’t see it happening in my lifetime.
One problem would be, if a robot becomes so advanced that it can coexist on an equal basis with humans, is it really a robot? Perhaps it’s just a human made of different materials…[laughs]. Of course, you could argue that the robots that can’t think at all, the ones working in our factories today, are already coexisting with humans. When we get to floor cleaning robots, vacuum cleaner robots running around, and so forth, they’ll probably seem a lot more human-like. The real problem is when we get to true humanoid robots. What happens when the robot trips and injures the kid? Imagine the lawsuits…
FS One thing striking about Japan is the aggressive, optimistic attitude with which many technologies are pursued. There seems to be little of the deep-seated anti-technology sentiment that exists in the West, sentiment recently exemplified by the very articulate former scientist, Ted Kaczynski. Do you think an anti-technology movement will ever emerge in Japan?
士郎 I think the possibility of that’s very low. People here don’t seem to feel much stress from science and technology. Other issues– the education system, a belief that the legal system’s inadequate, or that the social welfare system isn’t developed enough– these are things that people worry more about. And of course, technology is ultimately only a problem in the way it’s used by people; it’s not a problem in and of itself…
FS Do you foresee a smooth integration of the technologies you depict in your manga– the nanotechnology, micro machines, advanced networking, and genetic engineering– in the Japan of the future?
士郎 I think they’ll be accepted without problem by the average person. The real problem will be the legal system. Japan’s ridiculously slow in this area, an example being organ transplants, which were argued about for ever and ever and just started to become possible recently. Whether it’s organ transplants or micro machines or cloning, it will take ages to cover these things in the legal system. But the average person will probably accept them very quickly.
People tend to want to think in the same terms here; Japan still doesn’t have much emphasis on what you might call “individualism” in West, so this means that if everyone has some neat high tech product you’ll want one, too… People want to be the same, which is a reason that the technologies can diffuse so fast and be so accepted. And it’s also a reason Japan may be one of the most lucrative markets in the world for new technologies. But on the other hand if there are any problems in the introduction of the technology, it means that everything stops. If everything goes okay, no problem.
It looks to me as if it’s a long way from the stuff in the Verge article. I’ve always found that if you are trying to understand what’s going on, that you should go to the source and discard any preconceptions if they don’t agree. Rather than looking for the latest politically correct construct, Ms. Yoshida should watch more anime, read more manga and really look at how things work. There’s no excuse in these days of total access for not understanding other than not wanting to understand. In my case I’m looking forward to the new movie.