Scarlett Johansson’s live-action remake of the classic anime Ghost in the Shell is streaming now for free on Pluto. Amidst her success portraying Black Widow in the Avengers films, Johansson took on probably her most controversial role by stepping into the lead of this live-action version of the 1995 Japanese animated film. Her casting brought a firestorm of criticism against the film, likely hurting its box office receipts.
Scarlett Johansson stars in the film as Major, a cyborg super soldier who begins digging into her own past during a “near-future” time when humans and robots are becoming intermixed.
Scarlett Johansson stars in Ghost in the Shell, a movie inspired by the Japanese manga.
The original Japanese manga was written by Masamune Shirow, and the screenplay for this adaptation is by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger. Directed by English filmmaker Rupert Sander, the film features a cast including Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Chin Han, and Juliette Binoche.
The controversy for Scarlett Johansson came in the form of accusations of whitewashing—casting white actors in Asian roles. It’s a problem that has plagued other big-budget films like Iron Man 3 and Doctor Strange, which cast Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce, and Tilda Swinton, respectively, as characters who are Asian in their comic book depictions.
In the film’s favor was Mamoru Oshii, director of the original animated film, who said the accusations were baseless.
For her part, Scarlett Johansson said she took the role for the opportunity to star in a female-led franchise, and that she would never again take on a role that was originally non-white.
Backlash against Scarlett Johansson and the film distracted from the praise Ghost in the Shell received from critics.
But backlash against the film distracted from the praise it received from critics, who appreciated its score, cinematography, visual style, and performances. Of course, there was some concern with the whole idea of adapting a classic animated film into live-action (well before Disney made a cottage industry of the practice).
Still, anticipation was mostly high and filming began with Scarlett Johansson in February of 2016. The film was mostly shot in New Zealand from February to June 2016, though additional filming also took place in Hong Kong. The film was released in Tokyo on March 16, 2017, and in the US on March 31, 2017.
Scarlett Johansson is not used to starring in bombs, but this movie did not fare well. Though its production budget was $110 million, that number was likely disputed. With a worldwide gross of $169.8 million, it lost at least $60 million, though it might have lost as much as $100 million. making it a box office disaster.
Still, it stands as a singular moment—a big-budget, live-action remake of a well-known and widely-loved Japanese animated film. Of course, it’s always good to see Scarlett Johansson, even if her casting made a lot of people very angry. While the studio was surely banking on her incredible star power to bring the movie to a wider audience, it was that very decision that might have led to the film’s demise.
Fans of Scarlett Johansson will surely enjoy her work in this film, as well as the detailed look of the world Major is exploring and trying to survive. It also has a lot of great action, which is interesting to compare to the original.
For those who have never seen the Japanese original, it might be interesting, if not advantageous, before viewing the updated version. However one feels about the casting decisions, this does represent a singular moment in history.
Scarlett Johansson was not the original choice to play Major, with the role originally offered to Barbie herself Margot Robbie
Interestingly, Scarlett Johansson was not the original choice to play Major, with the role originally offered to Barbie herself Margot Robbie. But Robbie declined, preferring to take on her other iconic role as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, a choice she is not likely to have regretted. Johansson was clearly the next choice, and she certainly came with a more extensive action pedigree.
While the casting of Scarlett Johansson and other white actors in this film is likely to remain a cultural sore spot for many, the film is still exciting, interesting, and visually impressive. Both Johansson and the film industry in general have tried to do better since this film with regards to casting, much is yet to be done.
Still, this film is a singular, unique experiment that is still interesting to see. You can stream Ghost in the Shell free right now on Pluto.