Controversy has surrounded Ghost In The Shell’s casting of Scarlett Johansson since the moment she was first announced as The Major, its taciturn cyborg hero. Known as Motoko Kusanagi in the original anime and manga versions of the story, the character has generally been identified as Japanese, leading to accusations that Johansson’s casting was a whitewashing of a previously Asian part.
Now, the anime’s acclaimed director, Mamoru Oshii, has fired back at the controversy, saying he sees no problem with Johansson playing the character he once helped bring to life. “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” Oshii said in an e-mail interview with IGN. “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.” Oshii went on to name any number of actors who have played parts not of their ethnic origins (while glossing over the fact that many of the names he holds up have been similarly rebuked): “In the movies, John Wayne can play Genghis Khan, and Omar Sharif, an Arab, can play Doctor Zhivago, a Slav. It’s all just cinematic conventions. If that’s not allowed, then Darth Vader probably shouldn’t speak English, either.”
Ignoring the fact that Darth Vader speaks Galactic Basic, which just happens to sound exactly like English, Oshii went on to accuse critics of the new movie of being politically motivated. “I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it,” he said, “And I believe artistic expression must be free from politics.” He also noted that Johansson was cast simply because she was “the best possible casting” for the film, and encouraged director Rupert Sanders to change whatever he wanted about the original story. “If he doesn’t do so, there would be no point in remaking it.”