Why Am I Tired of People Complaining About Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (2017)

As someone who hated Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film, enjoyed his sequel, Innocence, adored Masamune Shirow’s original manga and the Stand Alone Complex TV series—that was far more accurate to the original manga than Oshii’s films, and all of the spin-offs, I don’t agree with and I dismiss criticism concerning the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the role of Motoko Kusanagi as whitewashing.

Ghost in the Shell is set in an alternate near-future where technology has advanced to such a degree that cyberization and body swapping are commonplace, when the consciousness of thousands of humans can be stored on the Internet, and where the line between artificial intelligence and the human soul is so blurred many individuals question the essence of life and whether they are truly alive or are just software.

The character of Motoko Kusanagi, a thirtysomething plus ex-Japanese special forces operative, has had a succession of industrially manufactured prosthetic bodies, albeit military grade, few or none of which were particularly East Asian-looking—that I have seen in any officially-licenced material, since a plane crash killed her parents and essentially destroyed her natural child body.

While it is possible, in the GitS universe, for someone to have an original, one-of-a-kind prosthetic body, that could imitate or extrapolate one’s original body, it’s far, far cheaper, far more convenient in terms of repair and anonymity for a government security agent to have either an off-the-shelf or commercially popular “appearance package” for one’s cyber body.

According to Wikipedia (in reference to the Dark Horse manga), Shirow gave Motoko a common cyber body for an additional reason: so she wouldn’t be harvested for rare parts. That makes sense. Real super spies don’t go driving across Europe in rare Aston Martins to attract attention from everybody.

If we were to think about the commercial aspects of what would be a popular cyber body, we have only to extrapolate from fashion ads and movies to imagine who people wish they could be: Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce, Cristiano Ronaldo, Idris Elba, Marilyn Monroe, Napoleon, etc. In the future of GitS, anybody with money can be Beyonce or Scarlett Johansson. Indeed, an episode of the Stand Alone Complex featured a woman who swapped her body for her ex-lover, Paz, a man on Kusanagi’s security team.

In a world where “Scarlett Johansson” cyber bodies could be as ubiquitous as Herschel backpacks or Toyotas, why shouldn’t a secret government agent like Motoko Kusanagi be played by Scarlett Johansson?

Advertisements