Scarlett Johansson's casting in the forthcoming big-screen adaptation of formative Japanese manga Ghost in the Shell was met with fervent criticism. The release of the first photo of Johansson in character as Major Kusanagi prompted not only a public conversation about whitewashing in Hollywood, but also a petition to recast the seminal role with an Asian actor.
Despite the controversy, which was later fueled by damning reports that the studios ran CGI tests to alter the white actors' appearances to appear more Asian, the people behind Ghost in the Shell have kept mum. Until now.
In an interview with Buzzfeed News, producer Steven Paul clarified that the film is set in "an international world."
"We're utilizing people from all over the world," he said, referring to the film's diverse cast, which also includes Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Kaori Momoi, Rila Fukushima, and Chin Han. "There's Japanese in it. There's Chinese in it. There's English in it. There's Americans in it."
However, some argue that Ghost in the Shell's Japanese origins are imperative to the narrative -- that it's a uniquely Japanese story. As The Verge's Emily Yoshida explained, "The wire-encrusted dystopias of '90s anime are the natural outgrowth of a country brought to its knees by nuclear warfare that threw itself into a tech explosion and is now slumping through economic downturn."
Yet Paul, who grew up reading Japanese manga and is set to adapt another manga series, Lone Wolf and Cub, interprets Ghost in the Shell as a global story.
"I don't think it was just a Japanese story," he said. "Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That's why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it."
In keeping with the "international" approach, Paul confirmed that Johansson's character is now referred to as "the Major" in the movie and not Major Kusanagi.
Still, the producer is positive fans will enjoy his interpretation when they see the finished product. "I think everybody is going to end up being really happy with it," he said. "They’re going to be very, very happy with it when they see what we've actually done with it, and I don't think anybody’s going to be disappointed."
Ghost in the Shell is set for release on March 31, 2017.