On February 28, I saw a 15-minute sneak peek of the Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. From the announcement of the project, this has always been a bad idea. But the announcement of the cast and story has made things much worse. Most noticeably, Hollywood adaptations of Japanese anime have yet to be successful. Either their stories veer too far from the source material, the director isn’t a good fit or the casting makes no sense. You would think Hollywood would learn, yet here we are, on the precipice of another anime-adapted flop.

Here are the takeaways from what I have seen of Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell so far.

STORY

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The plot of this movie is nothing like anything in the original Ghost in The Shell films or shows. Don’t let a few of the philosophical conversations in the trailers fool you. It’s a hodge-podge of familiar elements from different parts of the series, but the philosophy and exploration of existentialism seem to be missing. Even the trailers denote this adaptation is nothing more than a revenge story. Nothing about the original Ghost in the Shell has been about revenge. Revenge is never a prime theme here.

What happens is, in her new Shell, Mira the white feminist Cyborg is forced to work for Section 9 by some omniscient character. According to the story, Mira is the newest and most perfect weapon. I guess this is what drives the revenge plot. She’s created against her will and made to do Section 9’s bidding. “They did not save your life: they stole it,” this quote is from the trailer said by Kuze (Micheal Pitt). That pretty much a tells you the whole plot.

This is just lazy writing.

Screenwriter Jamie Moss never planned on making anything smart, or close to the source material. I knew this. Yet, here I am, shocked at the nerve of it all. Why call this Ghost in the Shell if the only thing about the story you keep is the cyberpunk look and body swapping?

WHITEWASHING

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Well, yes it is whitewashed because Scarlett Johansson does not belong in the role of the Major, but man it gets worse. From the sneak peek footage I saw, it looks the Major is originally Japanese. Let me explain. It appears that the character is in a nearly fatal accident. This accident causes her body to be rendered useless, but her brain is the only thing that can be salvaged. So this Japanese woman whose brain is recovered is transferred into a body, or Shell, that just happens to be Scarlett Johannson’s new body. Now her name is “Mira.”

This is horrifying.

The “yellow face” comments hold merit because there is a scene that shows Mira awakening in her new body. That particular shot is suspect as Johannson looks… well… Asian. Even the cut of her eyebrows makes me side eye. However, nothing about the Major has ever screamed WHITE WOMAN. That is in the imagination of people who default to whiteness.

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So, not only has the role been whitewashed but they start with a Japanese woman and put her brain in a white body. So what does this say? It says that an Asian actress was an afterthought and that Asian visibility wasn’t valuable enough to carry this through to the end. This is made worse by Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) continuing to speak Japanese to her character at the beginning. Wait, what? I understand many non-Japanese folks can speak Japanese, but since her brain is that of a Japanese woman, she still retains her mother tongue. It’s just on the outside she looks white and is named Mira.

VISUALS

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(c) Paramount
That said, the visuals are stunning. I watched the sneak peak in IMAX 3D and was floored by the immersive world created by director Rupert Sanders. The look of the Ghost in the Shell anime is inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and the live action adaptation certain captures the look and feel of that film, with the grittiness of a PG-13 version of Robocop.

In this case, it has potential to win awards for makeup, costume, and visuals. But seriously, who gives a shit about all that if your intentions are racist, to begin with?

Although the visuals are fantastic, from what I know, the plot seems to lack vision. Also, the casting of Johansson is abhorrent, and putting the brain of a woman of color into the Shell of a white woman is unconscionable. I don’t see this ending well or this film being very successful in the U.S. and if you’re tired of whitewashing, then you will make sure it isn’t.

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69 thoughts on “Ghost In The Shell: Worse Than We Thought

    1. Funny, because the Japanese do the EXACT same thing with western creative/cultural/intellectual properties when they adapt them for Asian audiences and cast Asian actors. Where is the “yellow-washing” outrage?

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      1. Because Japan is 99.9% Japanese and the original version is usually available along side the adapted Japanese version in the Japanese market. Don’t forget Shawn that most American media is sent overseas unlike the reverse most of the time.

        The issue here with GitS (like Aloha) is that here in America, unlike Japan we have actors of varying races and ethnic backgrounds that can fulfill the background requirements of the characters. But in the case of Asian actors/actresses, they rarely get a shot outside of playing the bad guys, love interest or dorky sidekick that never gets the girl (or guy). Tell me why when it’s a white hero, studios always gotta find an “unknown” but when it comes to an Asian role they always default to Rinko Kikuchi, Maggie Q or John Cho?

        What’s pissing people off (besides the shitty rehashed Robocop script) is that the story is set in Tokyo (at least from what the trailers seemingly indicate) Aramaki, Togusa and the rest of Section 9 ARE Japanese AND seemingly the bad guys. And the final kick to the shin is that, going off of the writer’s review, Motoko’s Japanese brain is put into a white woman’s body (cyborg, true, but still). To many (myself included) this feels like Whitewashing with an Appropriation punch to the gut.

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      2. Fun fact about Japan: 95% ethnically Japanese. Doesn’t make for a very large pool of foreign actors for those roles.
        America? We’ve got a shitload of Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, Browns, Reds, a few indeterminately swarthy fuckers here and there…

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      3. Maybe go to Japan and see if its epidemic enough to make white Japanese residents complain, then.
        This kind of outrage isn’t coming from ‘Asian folk’ to ‘white folk’, its coming from Americans to other Americans, with some in both areas being Asian-Americans. They’re criticising their own people for practices they find distasteful and believe should be avoided.

        A problematic behaviour isn’t no longer a problematic behaviour just because others are doing it too. You don’t justify selling drugs because its OK in some other countries. The ‘they do it too!’ argument is a preschool level excuse.

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      4. How do you know the Japanese aren’t saying the exact same thing to each othet about that like we all are?

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      5. I find it amusing that all those so quick to condemn “yellowface” in Hollywood are quick to defend similar practices in Japan, and in doing so trot out the very same arguments that have historically been used to defend yellowface.

        For those arguing that “Japan has a homogeneous society”, consider that in 1930, the heydey of Hollywood yellowface, only 0.2% of the US population was Asian. Does that mean that yellowface was justified then?

        Given that one of the arguments against “yellowface” type practices is that they promote racial stereotypes and “othering”, surely such practices are to be condemned regardless of what percentage of the population the affected minorites represent.

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  1. I so si SOOO badly want to see this movie, but I feel like I would need a monumental shower afterward. Goddamn you, Hollywood assholes!!!

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  2. Yeah I knew this was going to be a real sh*t show. I also am not at all surprised that the plot was heavily dumbed down for American audiences.

    I first saw the original as a very young woman and it still took several viewings to wrap my head around some of the movies philosophies, so I knew that wouldnt be making its way into this movie becuz Americans arent considered smart enough to get it. But a revenge plot? really?

    And is anyone else really creeped out by the full length body stocking “look” of Scarlett Johansens robot body?

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  3. So a white woman goes out to seek revenge against Asian people for changing her without her consent.

    Fucking hell, this is just the plot of Lucy recycled. >_<

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  4. Special effects aside I won’t bother watching American GITS. Motoko Kosanagi is Asian. I want to see an Asian actress play an Asian female character. You piss on the spirit of the manga/anime otherwise. This is just a Black Widow movie without the rest of the Avengers.

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    1. I’m largely Native American, Euro, Caribbean and Jewish, but don’t look it. If somebody did a movie about Redbone Creoles with actual Reds in the role who look like me, unlike the so-called Creole woman in Interview With The Vampire, who was too white to be believable, I could identify.

      Just because I’m partly French, that doesn’t mean I’m automatically cliqueish with whites and don’t mind one playing people who should be yellow-skinned Afro-Euro-Natives. The woman in the film was more a Cajun.

      To minorities in this country, it’s a slap in the face to lose what little we have to whites who have everything and can easily give everything else to each other.

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      1. Just because they say nigga to each other doesn’t negate the damage done to a people. Aporopriating an abhorrent word to defang it is natural, an at first desperate response to negativity, like your kneejerk reaction in the style of “Oh come on, you got a black president, what are you complaining about?”, which is what you’re trying to do.

        Being a comfortable racial or ethnic distance from the subject has insulated you and made you complacent.

        Much furor had been made over Samuel L. Jackson playing Nick Fury, a white men, and I damn well GUARANTEE the same over Idris Elba up for Bond.

        You can sit in repose or steam in piss and vinegar over something you heard about and not feel the effects of it. The fact that a large number of non-Asians has taken up the cause means a lot more than just the Nihongo complaining. This is something that affects many people, so don’t go riding in on your racial high horse talking about POCs playing false victim.

        BTW, my lack of immediate response in the next few days doesn’t canote fear and cowardice. I simply have a life elsewhere.

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  5. Now I’m not saying that this film hasn’t been whitewashed as clearly it has, it only one side of the coin. What about the all Asian adaptation of fullmetal alchemist which is in the works? Edward Elric and the citizens of central city are clearly meant to be from Western Europe, and Ishvalans from the middle east. Or how about attack on titan where Misaka is supposed to be the only Asian person left alive but the whole cast is Asian? Yet because it’s not Hollywood no one says anything.

    People try to adapt films to resonate with their audience and while I’m not saying that it’s better that way as I’d love a faithful GitS movie or a proper adaptation of FMA/AoT, I’m just fed up of people shouting whitewashing at Hollywood and ignoring all other films. The way it’s going actors will only ever be able to play roles which describe them as a person, and no one will be able to adapt films to their own vision. If something is changed enough from the source why can’t it just be based on something, why does it have to represent the source exactly?

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    1. FMA has Japanese actors that are made to look European because they aren’t exactly brimming with Western talent that can speak perfect Japanese. There are so many amazing actresses who could have taken this role.

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      1. Also its not directly the same imperialistic attitude as Hollywood that taked other countries work and adapts it erasing the whole culture of the arts originsl form. Youre complaining about an adaptation of japanese work b yh japanese people. It could be problematic sure. But not tge same thing at all.

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      2. “FMA has Japanese actors that are made to look European because they aren’t exactly brimming with Western talent that can speak perfect Japanese”

        You do realize that these are exactly the same arguments that were used to justify Yellowface in Hollywood in the Studio Era, don’t you? Besides, have you ever heard Kikuchi Rinko’s English?!

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  6. Also just to clarify I’m not supporting whitewashing at all. And I think k the lack of disabled actors/actresses in the industry is abhorrent. I just don’t see why the focus is only on Hollywood when other countries’ film industries do it too, and that also needs to be brought to light.

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    1. The thing is that Japan is an ethnically homogeneous country. As a result, they can’t seek out and develop White talents even if they wanted to. America, on the other hand, is a racially diverse society with a large number of Asians. So Hollywood could in fact seek out and develop Asian talents if they had the will to do so. The problem is that Hollywood has no interest in seeking out and developing Asian talents.

      Basically, comparing Japan to the U.S. is like comparing apples to oranges. Two different countries with completely different demographics.

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    2. The difference between us and Japan is the entertainment and fashion industry outside Japan have influenced them enough you have Japanese women having eye surgery to widen their eyelids to look less Asian. They dye their hair to look Euro. Their anime obsseses on Euro values and things. They joined the Nazis and lost, but some anime fetishizes Nazi couture.

      In Vampire Girl VS Frankenstein Girl, some high school girls have a black American girls club, dressing like black girls, inflating their lips and darkening their skin in a grotesque manner. I’m partly black and consider that patently offensive, but that’s how they deal with things they don’t understand.

      They had a show called, I believe, That’s My Nigga, with a token black actor acting like a total sellout.

      The fact is, the Japanese never would’ve adapted GITS again because they already already have something like it, sort of: Avalon, also by Oshii, written and directed. Brilliant. I’ll watch that again.

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      1. Already beat you to the punch about Nihongo racism as humor and vice-versa, or didn’t you read my missive?

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    3. Are you capable of saying something actually coherent? Not only do you ramble incessantly, you REALLY need to spell check and use punctuation before I’ll take you seriously.

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    1. I was hoping someone would point this out. “Guys I saw FIFTEEN minutes, the start of the movie, AND THE WHOLE THING IS AS BAD AS WE THOUGHT BECAUSE RACISM.” And everyone is like “I KNEW IT.”

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  7. Why complain about the fact that it doesn’t hold true to the original existential thinking or character. Hollywood has yet to learn they don’t have to dumb it down to make it a hit (and make a lot of money) but just get inspired writers to write an imaginative script that stays true to the author’s vision.
    And by the way it”s seek peek. Use your spell check. Sad!

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  8. It’s all about name recognition and money. It was easier to fund the movie with a name Americans know. Yes many Americans are stupid. That is why these types of choices were made. Most people don’t make movies for the reasons you would like. They make movies to make money. The average American is dumb and half are dumber than that (George Carlin). They need those dumb dollars to be profitable and the rest of you intelligent people are just going to have to suck it up and use your imagination a little bit. Get used to it. I grew up in the 70s and 80’s. I thought when the internet was invented, in general people’s intelligence would skyrocket. You wouldn’t believe how things have changed. There will be a few smart films made for you in between the fast and furious movies. Enjoy them when you can.

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  9. Another bites the dust. I’m not surprised at all. They should have gotten a Japanese American but no they had to get an American

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  10. In the canon the major’s brain was transferred to a modified European sex doll …. her being “white” is canon it’s just with the psychological aspect of the story dumb down it comes off as whitewashing

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  11. Casting Asians for Asian roles is a no brainer. Hollywood needs to chill with the whitewashing. I’m so sick of this tired debate. It’s so easy to resolve. Just do it already. Hollywood wastes a ton of money each year on films that completely flop. They can afford to test the hypothesis that pairing ethnic roles to their respective ethnic actors won’t be a loss leader.

    I am, however, curious about why anime and manga illustrators stylize many of their Japanese characters to look ethnically ambiguous? I never understood this and as I don’t know enough about the genre from a cultural perspective to speak definitively on it, I don’t want to make any assumptions. But the thought often crosses my mind. Would appreciate some insight.

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    1. Why do you think that the Major in GITS is an “Asian role”?! It’s hardly self evident why “Asian” ethnicity is seen as essential to the character, given that a central premise of the franchise is the separation between body (“shell”) and soul (“ghost”). Besides, “Asian” identity is a US-centric concept anyway. People in Japan consider themselves primarily as Japanese, not “asian”.

      Don’t you think it’s a little patronizing to assume that Japanese authors can only write “Asian”/”ethnic” characters, that have to be played by actors of a particular ethnicity, while white western authors write “universal” characters, that can be played by actors of any ethnicity?!

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  12. It feels as though the writer had a prejudice against the movie before watching the preview. It also shows a lack of knowledge about the world where Ghost in the Shell takes place. Masamune Shirow explained that in the original manga, Kusanagi’s “shell” is a generic, mass-produced model with military upgrades. It’s not suppose to reflect any race. In the series, she has explained that she’s had the body of different races and genders before.

    The whole “mother tongue” complaint is so closed-minded and stupid. It is based on the assumption that Kusanagi only speaks Japanese. Or was the writer expecting broken Engrish?

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  13. It would have been funny when Hollywood would have chosen an Chinese or Korean American actor. Then we would have felt so PC, but in Japan they would have hated it because Chinese and Korean people are looked down upon.

    Anyway, the whole whitewashing argument is tiresome. Why does it have to be repeated over several paragraphs? Does this make the argument more valid? The fact they made it into a simplistic action movie. That’s the real problem imo.

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  14. I dont see what the big deal is, the character in the show looked awfully “western” to me… as dod MOST of the characters. So what is everyone conplaining about? The characters in the show DID NOT look asian, and if you think they did, you need your eyes checked!

    What is more outrageous to me is the bullshit revenge story adaptation, wtf?!? There is where the outrage should be, not this totally favricated far left hippie, “just scream racist” agenda…

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  15. Your jab about blaming blacks for how your relative feels is like blaming the Chinese for racial ignorance in this country. Makes no sense to anyone but you. And btw, intraracial slavery existed everywhere in antiquity, but the black Africans didn’t conquer entire continents and enslave the natives and continue to do so today through a combination of violence, economic depression and religion. My Cherokee people continue to suffer under the bs and broken promises couched in lies and racial division thrust upon them.

    This whole line of non-logic gets away from the thrust of this thread: people are sick of narratives in Asian cinema being hijacked and regurgitaed back to us with an Anglocentric patina on it.

    If that rubs your semi-Euro experience the wrong way, welcome to THE WORLD. I’m partly French, as I’ve stated before, but I don’t take LePen’s anti-semitic side, also being partly Jewish.

    If Scarlett Johanssen is any good in this role, she may very well be passable. And for the record, I regard ALL changes in character and circumstance equally.

    Will the movie be good? Maybe. Will I see it? I NEVER ONCE said I wouldn’t. What I said was I’d need to take a shower afterward. I like ScarJo to a degree, but I think she’s a misfit for this.

    Chief among my reasons is she looks dead, lifeless, and not in a robot body kind of way. Secondly, she, like many stars, has oversaturated the market with her face. Third and last for me is she, like Milla Jovovich, has roughly three facial expressions: blank, happy and pissed. How she sped past Thora Birch is beyond me.

    There will always be people who oppose a perceived slight against a people, and people like you who excuse it. We can all change. Well, nearly all.

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  16. Being not only a a partial POC, but transgender as well, I’ve learned to listen not only to what peopke say, but how they say it. Being a transwoman has somewhat hardened me to miscarriages of taste, not just judgement.

    What I can’t countenence is the perpetual ignorance trotted out by the well-meaning as well as the totally immoral. If you belong in any way to the former, join the thread for the right reason: changing the narrative for the better of the people, not the studio, rathet than just flaming on people because you can.

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  17. Cultural appropriation is not the same thing as racism. Be careful how you throw words around. They have specific meaning for a reason. To be clear, not defending the filmmakers decision; just criticizing the incompetence of your writing.

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    1. how do you know there isn’t a bigger meaning behind the reason why I used the word racism. I know the difference. I have read your writing. Its nothing to write home about.

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  18. Who is Michelle? For soneone keen on getting sources and facts (by the way which are wrong in this arricle too) you sure lack spell check. Also if you actually read the source material youd know that Masamune himself signed off on the film and Makoto’s skin graft tissue as seen in the manga can adapt to anything and any type of person and as well as any age as een in the end of the second film and a joke made in thr manga and anime about her resembling a weatern woman. Also Masmaune’world of GITS is not limited to japan its all a melting pot of post apocalyptic technowora and cou tries are pretty much not a huge factor.
    You are reaching harder than Luffy at this point.
    This is journalism.

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  19. “Also, the casting of Johansson is abhorrent, and putting the brain of a woman of color into the Shell of a white woman is unconscionable.”

    Er… have you seen the 1995 anime?! Kusanagi’s soul is put in three different bodies in that film. The first body has blue eyes and a prominent nose, and the second (the puppetmaster’s body) has blonde hair and blue eyes — all markers of foreignness in anime/manga. I fail to see why this shocks you so much given that it’s suggested by the source material.

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  20. It’s all about box office. Scarlett is a major movie star known around the globe. That’s why the part was whitewashed and given to her. Simple as that. It’s not racism on the part of the movie studio. It’s simply them being desperate to make a big profit. It’s easy to criticize them while hiding behind a computer screen. But put yourselves in their shoes. If the movie doesn’t make a certain amount of money, these people get fired. They’re not risk takers. They’re scared rich people afraid of one day not being as rich.

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  21. Personally I think any American GitS adaptation made without a Japanese *screenwriter* is destined to lose the authentic Japanese themes and ideas of the original.

    It would have been nice to have an Asian-American actress play the Major, just to get Asian-American actors more exposure, but with this screenwriter it was probably always destined to be a superficial, shallow interpretation of the original.

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    1. So do you think that Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (an adaptation of Macbeth) is “a superficial, shallow interpretation of the original” because it didn’t have a British screenwriter.

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      1. No, nor The Magnificent Seven or A Fistful of Dollars (or the original Star Wars!). Those were loose adaptations. GitS is a tight adaptation, and the biggest pitfall of tight adaptations is that they often imitate the form and look of the original, and piggyback off of its name and popularity, while not being able to retain the themes or characters of the original. There are exceptions to this (Ring), but it’s why almost all live-action anime adaptations (both American AND Japanese) stink.

        A better idea would have been to make an original IP that was an homage to GitS, the way Magnificent Seven was an homage to Seven Samurai.

        Frankly, this movie is so destined to suck that I’m kind of glad its inevitable flop and critical panning will hit Scarlett Johansson’s reputation instead of wrecking the career of some poor up-and-coming Asian-American actress.

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      2. I think the problem with doing a loose adaptation of GITS is that GITS (the anime) was itself heavily inspired by Blade Runner, and went on to inspire the Matrix and other western cyberpunk sci-fi.

        Thus a loose adaptation of GITS would be indistinguishable from the GITS-inspired cyberpunk scifi that already exists.

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      3. I didn’t see Lucy.

        I do think there was room for a movie about a personality-uploaded cyborg struggling with her or his identity, or an emergent A.I. trying to merge with cyborgs, etc. But why call it Ghost in the Shell? Why try to copy scenes from the original movie? It’s a terrible filmmaking strategy that has failed time and time again. But it’s almost necessitated by Hollywood’s risk-averse business model, where everything has to be an adaptation with a pre-existing IP attached.

        It’s also probably worth mentioning that Hollywood’s business model also relies more and more on the Chinese market every year, which might be an under-discussed reason for whitewashing. According to my Chinese friends, the Chinese public watches Hollywood in order to see white people, who are viewed as exotic and exciting. I asked my friends if the Chinese public would like to see Asian-Americans in Hollywood movies, and they responded with an emphatic “No”. I’m not sure how reliable their assertions are (Great Wall certainly seems to bear this out), but it certainly seems possible that China is at least partially responsible for Hollywood white-washing.

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  22. If I could say just three words to the supposedly racially sensitve, politically correct hypocrites in Hollywood, they would be ANNA MAY WONG

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  23. I’m a big fan of Japanese culture and people, though I don’t have a problem with Scarlett being cast because in anime, the characters always look Anglo. It’s visually more accurate to cast an Anglo in just about any anime role. That being said, I appreciate the mention about the philosophical aspects being changed. That was my favorite part of the movie (and a lot of anime in general) and I hate to see that being dumbed down for American audiences.

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