A live-action adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s celebrated anime Ghost in the Shell may finally be happening—mostly because now a big star is attached. Variety reports that after some deliberation, Scarlett Johansson has signed on to star in the movie. With such a big name attached, DreamWorks executives hope, getting greenlit should be a lot easier.
Of course, there is some question over the casting of a white actress for the title role of Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese cyborg cyber-crime fighter chasing down a deadly hacker known as the Puppet Master in 2029.
The casting of a white actor as a non-white protagonist brings to mind when Keanu Reeves was considering the lead role in the live-action Akira movie (and the cast for Airbender, and the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, and…), especially when the Ghost in the Shell producers could have nabbed a rising star like Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi. There are other casting options that would better match the plot, though in this case the Variety article and additional online commentary point out that the presence of a marquee actress was necessary to get the movie project noticed at all.
Kusanagi’s visual appearance, while iconically female, does change throughout the series, and her personality becomes more and more disassociated with her physical appearance, so we’ll have to wait and see what the filmmakers intend in regards to honoring the origins of the character. In the author’s notes to his original Ghost in the Shell manga, Masamune Shirow explains that “Major Kusanagi is deliberately designed to look like a mass-production model so she won’t be too conspicuous.” The screenplay could run with that idea and have Motoko’s cyborg model be white, making the argument that Scarlett Johansson’s form represents a commercially idealized woman. Spike Jonze’s Her already did that with Johansson’s voice by depicting her voice as the desire-fulfilling operating system Samantha.
In any case, since the movie has yet to be funded or approved by Dreamworks, this remains speculation. We’ll have to wait and see how it unfolds.