Ghost in the Shell Roundtable with Japanese Actresses: Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka, Keiko Agena and Ai Yoshihara

Ghost in the Shell is not known for the bank it made at the box office its opening weekend but for the whitewashing controversy that has surrounded the film for its casting choices- namely, Scarlett Johansson as Major.

Simply put, it makes no sense that a film based on the manga and later anime of the same name, created by Japanese artist, Masamune Shirow would have little to no Japanese people in it. It’s mind boggling, really.

The Asian community was grossly under-represented in the film; which is certainly dismissive, insensitive and just plain stupid (amongst other things) on the part of the film makers, casting director, actors, etc.

So, The Hollywood Reporter invited four Japanese actresses: Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka, Keiko Agena and Ai Yoshihara to discuss the film and how it made them feel.

The quartet were brutally honest with their answers and discussed everything from whitewashing, misrepresentation, diversity and their experiences navigating through Hollywood.

*Please note that some of the answers to the questions contain spoilers for the film. So, if you haven’t seen it and plan to, please do not read any further.

When asked about how the film compared to their expectations Okatsuka said:

I wasn’t aware they were gonna explain the whitewashing. I thought it was just going to be an action film, no explanation, just go with the fact that it’s a future Japan with this robot cop. And then to be like, “Oh shit, I used to be a Japanese woman!” (Laughter) That was against my expectations.”

When the film’s twist was revealed, Agena told THR:

“That was the other cringe-worthy moment, when they called each other by their Japanese names. We’re looking at these beautiful white bodies saying these Japanese names, and it hurt my heart a little bit.”

In regards to whether or not the race of a director or screenwriter has in impact on the final product of the film, Yoshihara replied:

The actress who played the mom played a madam in Memoirs of a Geisha, and when I saw that movie I knew she was directed by white directors because she was totally playing an American b****. In Japan, we don’t act like that. The demeanor and body language was mimicking an American person. Any time a white director directs a Japanese movie, they’re always trying to get us to act American.”

When asked about whether they see themselves reflected in the movie, Kato-Kiriyama told THR:

“We still feel dispensable.”

Kato-Kiriyama also hit the nail on the head when discussing the economics of the filmmaking and how who is in the film doesn’t always correlate to huge box office numbers:

“If it was just about economics, they would cast Michelle Yeoh or Zhang Ziyi and just try to sell it to China. So I don’t ever buy it when people say it’s just money or economics. It’s more than that. You’re matching a certain desire as a white producer and director to this desire to please your shareholders and your investors.”

Okatsuka talked about the hurt behind the film at lack of representation and that it’s not uncommon for people to not care about it. She said:

“I don’t think people are curious about the hurt. That’s why organizations have had to start presenting hard numbers. “You want money? Here are numbers. The more people of color you put in something, the more people watch it.”

When asked about the comments made that people should see this as a step for women as a whole, the four women got very candid Kato-Kiriyama said: 

“It’s trying to get the conversation away from race yet again. Sure, it’s a great role for women. I don’t know if kick-ass white woman action stars is such a void, but even that aside, it’s trying to step over the dead body. That’s fine when there are empowered characters who are women, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re actually talking about race. Can we just stay here for a little bit?”

Okatsuka followed her colleagues words with

“When white feminists don’t know what to say about race, they go for the feminist thing. That’s what happened with the Women’s March. When women of color were like, “Will you be there, though, for the next march, when the next black kid gets shot? Will you be there when women of color need you?” they were like, “Wasn’t it great for women all around?”

Agena summed up everything with this:

Oh damn, oh shoot! Drop the mic! This is deep, y’all! My heart hurts.”

I hope that everyone has a chance to read this full interview and see just how affected Agena, Kato-Kiriyama, Okatsuka and Yoshihara were by this film, the institution of Hollywood and film making.

Even with the chance for negativity, Kato-Kiriyama is still hopeful. She said:

“We have to look ahead and be in the camp of folks who are pushing for more writers, directors and producers of color and of otherness: queer folks, women, women of color. It’s gonna be a really long game. But hopefully we’re at least advancing internally as a community from where we were in the ’80s when we were wanting to blame Gedde Watanabe for all the ills of our identity.”

I am glad the four women gave no-holds barred answers and reactions,  and really do hope that this will force Hollywood to take a step back and really look into the breeding ground of uniformity and lack of diversity they are still creating, even though they claim to be making strides toward being more diverse.

Be sure to check out the full interview at The Hollywood Reporter.

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