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Some Thoughts on Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell

by Jon Tsuei

[Ed. note: This essay first appeared as a series of tweets on Jon’s twitter account and is being re-presented with his permission.]

I’ve been seeing a lot of defenses for the ScarJo casting that seem to lack a nuanced understanding of a Ghost In The Shell as a story.

The manga came out in 1989, the first film in 1995. An era when Japan was considered the world leader in technology. Everything hot in that era came out of Japan. Cars, video games, Walkmans, all of that. Japan was setting a standard.

This is a country that went from being poised to conquer the Pacific to being forcibly disarmed after World War II. They poured their resources into their economy. And as a country that was unable to defend themselves, but was a world leader in tech, it created a relationship to technology that is unique. Ghost in the Shell plays off all of these themes. It is inherently a Japanese story, not a universal one.

This casting is not only the erasure of Asian faces but a removal of the story from its core themes. You can “Westernize” the story if you want, but at that point it is no longer Ghost in the Shell because the story is simply not Western. Understand that media from Asia holds a dear place in the hearts of many Asians in the west, simply because western media doesn’t show us.

Ghost in the Shell, while just one film, is a pillar in Asian media. It’s not simply a sci-fi thriller. Not to me, not to many others.

Respect the work for what it is and don’t bastardize it into what you want it to be.

Jon Tsuei is a writer of comic books, a photographer, and a geek based out of California. He is the co-creator, along with Eric Canete of RUNLOVEKILL published by Image Comics. Follow him on twitter and Instagram.

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