The art of “translating” a media property from one cultural context to another requires more than simple language transliteration. Translating works of art has existed from the moment people from different cultures encountered one another. But at what point does translating something for an American audience necessitate whitewashing as well? Today, we’re going to look at two animated properties available on Netflix — Yo-Kai Watch from Japan and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir from France — to determine at which point whiteness trumps cultural context when making a kids’ show more acceptable to American audiences.
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.
There is an old fairy tale popularized by Hans Christian Andersen as The Little Mermaid. I’m one of those odd first-and-a-half generation Vietnamese American immigrants, and tales of living in between spaces have always held my attention. The story goes that a little princess from a world under water wants to live on the land. She falls in love, exchanges her tongue for a pair of legs, and finds herself thrust into the unenviable circumstance of navigating a strange space where she literally has no voice. Ultimately finding no place for her in the world for which she had given up everything, she casts herself off the side of a ship into the ocean, drowns, and dissolves into sea foam. Victorian sentiments about Christianity and moralizing stories for children eventually got Andersen to amend the ending. This is more or less the state of Asian American identity politics. We’re always finding ourselves caught between “where we come from” and wherever we yearn to belong.
The buzz around the 2017 Ghost in the Shell film, among many other film and television projects of its ilk in recent memory, has ignited a bevy of thinkpieces about cultural appropriation and the nature of Asian American identity politics. The topic is complicated.
Wow, where to start with this trailer. It OPENS on a person in stylized Japanese esoteric garb to tell us how much we’re in that place Japan where things are weird. Who is this person? Don’t know, don’t care at all.
Then we get a pretty faithful live-action recreation of the original Ghost in the Shell’s elegant opening action sequence, pretty much nailing the point home that the only reason you aren’t aware of this seminal science-fiction already is because it didn’t have Scarlett Johannson in it, and now we fixed that for you.
Bruce Lee was a cultural icon who revolutionized martial arts films. Freddie Mercury was the front man for the legendary rock group Queen and considered one of rock’s greatest all-time entertainers. Both of these artists sadly left the world too soon. But, thanks to a Japanese Twitter account, their memory lives on through a pair of action figures.
My time in Japan is dwindling down fast so I have been trying to travel a lot. I went to Tokyo last week to check out a video game exhibit (more on that another time) but my friend informed me that there was a Sailor Moon exhibit over at Tokyo City View, the observation deck in Roppongi Hills. Being a huge Sailor Moon fan, I knew I needed to check it out for myself.
There’s been so much talk about Ghost in the Shell, Dr. Strange, whitewashing, yellowface, and underrepresentation I bet some of you out there are saying, “Man, I might be at my limit!” But wait, there’s more!
When the first look image of Scarlett Johansson as The Major came out, tons of people, Ghost in the Shell fans and regular movie fans alike, were dismayed that yet another opportunity to cast talented Asian actresses passed Hollywood by. Or to put it another way, folks were upset that Hollywood didn’t take the opportunity to advance itself into something better than it has been.
In 2015, Nerdist announced that the live-action adaptation of the famed Japanese anime had been revived by directors James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez. Battle Angel Alita, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action manga/anime written by Yukito Kishiro, is set in the 26th century and follows the female cyborg Alita, as she trains to become the world’s most deadly assassin. The latest report from the Robert Rodriquez/Jame Cameron production reveals that the filmmakers have their top three actresses for the lead role: Maika Monroe, Zendaya (who is the front runner), and Rosa Salazar. In other words: more bad news for Asian American actresses.
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.
Ever since I moved to Japan in 2011, I have been checking out Osaka’s (my current hometown) cosplay extravaganza, the Nipponbashi Street Festa. Every year around the end of March, hundreds of cosplayers, anime/video game fans, and photographers collide in Nipponbashi (aka Den Den Town), Osaka’s answer to Akihabara. Sadly, this was my final experience in witnessing this wonderful event as I will be moving back to the U.S. this summer.
As always, it did not disappoint.