Movie Lover

What the Flick: Scarlett Johansson is not Japanese

By Zaki JufriMovies - 09 January 2015 3:49 PM | Updated 26 June 2015

What the Flick: Scarlett Johansson is not Japanese

If you haven’t read the news: Scarlett Johansson has signed on to play the lead in the live action adaption of Masmune Shirow’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’.

While ScarJo fans everywhere might be happy that their beloved have scored a role in what could be an important movie this side of pop culture, hardcore otakus are crying foul.

Why is an American playing a Japanese role in a famous Japanese story?

It has been a familiar refrain: Hollywood appropriating Asian properties, adapting it and not respecting the source material or its creators and fans. 

ScarJo is playing Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg operative of the Public Security Section 9 in an interconnected futuristic world. The actress is reportedly offered US$10 million (S$13.2 million) to play the role in the Dreamworks movie directed by Rupert Sanders ('Snow White and the Huntsman' – really?).

So will ScarJo be up to scratch? 

Yes, we all know that she kicked butt as Black Widow in the ‘Avengers’ movies and in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’. She also played a man-eating alien in ‘Under the Skin’. Johansson can definitely hold her own as a crime-fighting half-human-half-robot.

Has Hollywood lost the plot by casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role in 'Ghost In The Shell'?

READ MORE: The evolution of Scarlett Johansson

This leads to another question: Isn’t there any Asian actress fit for the role? 

There’s Rinko Kikuchi (‘Pacific Rim’), Rila Fukushima (‘The Wolverine'), Tao Okamoto (‘The Wolverine’), Doona Bae (‘Cloud Atlas’), Celina Jade (‘Arrow’), Jamie Chung (‘Sucker Punch’) and Maggie Q (‘Stalker’). We wonder if any of these names popped up in the studio's list.

Why is Hollywood always putting star power or familiarity (in terms of western faces) ahead of authenticity? 

And it is not the first time either.

'The Last Airbender'. Not a great movie, this

Who could forget ‘The Last Airbender’ (2010), ‘Dragonball Evolution’ (2009) and ‘Speed Racer’ (2008) – all based on anime and manga, and all tanked at the box office.

Then there’s the long gestating live-action adaption of another iconic Japanese anime, ‘Akira’.

Guess who’s tipped to be in the movie?

Can you imagine an American actor playing the iconic Tetsuo Shima? Nope

People like Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Justin Timberlake, Chris Pine and Morgan Freeman. Yes. Morgan. Freeman.

Come on, Hollywood.

‘Akira’ is one of the most important and influential piece of science-fiction cinema and animation, next to ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

'Star Trek' alumni and Facebook meme star George Takei said that stating any decision to cast white actors in ‘Akira’ would offend both Asians and the fans of the original manga or animated film.

A recent movie that was in the news for all the wrong reasons was the contentious 'Exodus: Gods and Kings'. It's not manga or anime, but Ridley Scott received a lot of flak for casting western actors as Egyptians. It's not a great film either.

Let’s face it, when it comes to adapting anime and manga (or anything foreign), Hollywood just does a lazy and stunningly poor job at them.

'Edge of Tomorrow' is the rare good manga adaptation by Hollywood

The rare standout adaptation was last year’s ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, the time-travelling sci-fi actioner starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.

READ MORE: 'Edge of Tomorrow': A fun and smart action thriller

The movie is based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel and manga, ‘All You Need Is Kill’. 

It worked because it tears itself from the source material’s Japanese identity while still keeping to its original themes.

Another great one that has anime and manga DNA is Guillermo Del Toro's 'Pacific Rim'.

READ MORE: ‘Pacific Rim’: Monster magic

Clearly an otaku himself, Del Toro combines the best of Japanese pop culture and genre tropes – from 'Godzilla' and 'Ultraman' movies to mecha (giant robot) anime like 'Neon Genesis Evangelion' and 'Patlabor' – to create a truly original and imaginative movie that pays tribute and respects its sources.

‘Ghost in the Shell’ could work if it takes a leaf out of the books of these two films.


Zaki Jufri writes about the arts, entertainment, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture for inSing.com