Without a big name attached to it this movie would never have been made in the first place. No star = no budget, no budget = shit cgi, shit cgi = why bother remaking it at all?
So no, nothing was lost at all by ScarJo taking that role because nobody, tea-making lady included, would have been cast for anything otherwise.
if there is any doubt left that this is the case, there is an interview with direct Rupert Sanders on Motherboard in which he basically affirms this point (I'll quote some of the relevant sections, you can read the whole interview here
Rupert Sanders wrote:All films of this scale are hard to get made because it is a huge investment. You put the production fee, and then the marketing fee, and it's a big investment. I think my passion for the project is what kept is alive. There were a few times when it could have died. And then getting Scarlett was very key to getting this film made. Without her, we wouldn't have made this film.
Q: When the trailers and clips of the film first began to drop, did you hope people would also begin to view the film's casting on its merits?
Sanders: No, not really. I think the controversy to me is…look, I obviously have put a lot of thought into this. I don't think there is any smokescreen that because you cast Scarlett Johansson in a role in a Japanese anime that is now not a Japanese anime but is an international film. I think Oshii said it best—she is a cyborg shell and she has no race, and he said Scarlett is the best person in the world to play Major. That was reassuring. She is not playing a Japanese person, she is playing a machine in a shell created by an American multinational corporation, in this case.
Q: You mentioned the film might have died at several points. Would this whitewashing controversy have contributed to that?
No. People weren't calling up [Martin] Scorsese when he was making The Departed and said 'Why aren't you using Asian actors?' He took an Asian film, and made an American and international film out of it. We have an incredibly diverse cast. We have cast members from Syria, from Zimbabwe, from Fuji, Australia, Denmark, from England, from America.
I think when people see the film, it is ultimately an international and global film starring a global lead. You need Scarlett Johansson if you are opening a film in Russia as well as in Tokyo.
The point that Scarlett Johansson is an actress will international
appeal is significantly important to understanding why the film found it financial support: though it's a Hollywood adaptation, it's one that has been advertised and screened in many parts of the English-speaking world (we had TV spots here in Australia and I won't be surprised to see another one before the end of the week) and will undoubtedly be subtitled in several other languages in the course of its run.
Also relevant are Sander's remarks about The Major's cyborg body: though I'd argue that it isn't so clear if this is the case in the film, he states that Hanka Corportation (the creators of the cyborg body) is an American multinational corporation. In the context of the story, I feel this sheds some light on the reason as to why the corporation would create a Cyborg body that has Caucasian features and then use that as the new body for a deceased Japanese woman: it was likely going to be an American body no matter whose brain was tested with it.
In the course of the story, Dr. Ouelet (an original character who is the creator of The Major's cyborg body, portrayed by Juliette Binoche) admits that The Major is actually the 99th test subject, and so far the only one to successfully accept transplantation into a cyborg body. I believe it'd be ... uneconomic for a corporation to design and create a fresh body for each experiment. And in that sort of sample size it's probably unlikely that all of the test subjects would've been the same racial background given the diversity of the setting. It's sensible for the American corporation to model their after themselves, and for Dr. Ouelet - who acts as a pseudo-mother figure for The Major, offering guidance about her memory-glitches, and tending to her wounds - it probably seemed natural to design a cyborg body that had a Caucasian appearance as she does.
I find this line of thought particularly compelling given that Kuze had also been a test subject, only, he had been seen a failure as his brain had been unable to fully accept the cybernetic body. Both Mokoto (the Major's original 'being') and Hideo (obviously, Kuze) had been homeless people who were killed by the Hanka corporation/Cutter and were used as test subjects for the experiments. Even though Hideo/Kuze is implied to have originally been Japanese, he too appears to have been inserted into a cyborg body with a Caucasian appearance - and as there's no suggestion in the film that the body he has isn't also the one he was inserted into, and nothing is said to suggest he had to scavenge another body (only parts for repair - and not that there'd be another body, as both he and The Major are regarded in the film as prototypes), it's fair to believe that Hanka corporations 'male' cyborg body is Caucasian for the same simple explanation.
In the movie The Major and Kuze are both prototypes, and as their predecessors were as well, I highly doubt the engineers would've bothered with individualizing the bodies beyond male/female while they were still testing to see if they could implant a consciousness into one.
The Hanka Corporation is implied to abducted people to use as test subjects, by the way - and so when I was watching it was pretty worrying that somewhere to the tune of a hundred people had been abducted and underwent surgery in which their brains were taken out of their bodies and inserted into artificial bodies against their will, with the strong possibility that they would not survive the process as it had never been attempted. And to me, that's scary - scarier alone than that body happening to have a different appearance than the one you naturally had when you were born human. I have to note that in The Major's case it's somewhat diluted as she had a year of adjusting to the lifestyle of the artificial body presumably without access to any memories of her life before the transplantation, and before she began to investigate those memories in any serious way.
Which brings me to the 'medicine' that The Major takes 'in order to keep her brain stable in the cybernetic body'. There's a scene in the first act when she tells Batou that she has to take it, otherwise her brain will reject the cybernetic body. But it's also said by Dr. Ouelet that the medicine keeps her code stable and suppresses the 'glitches' that occur in her vision from time to time, and IIRC the Doctor acquires consent from The Major to delete the glitch data. It's unclear if Dr. Ouelet is honest about this, though, and this is doubt is affirmed by Kuze who states that the medicine actually has a different purpose - to suppress the memories of her original life. The 'glitches' are the original memories of Motoko.
I'm aware that this is all a bit around the block on the new argument that the story actually 'whitewashes' Motoko by inserting her into an artificial body which is caucasian, suppressing her memories of her life in her original body, and providing her a name which is apparently anglo-saxon in origin. That is why I've been at pains to point out that, in the context of the story, the cyborg bodies - The Major's and Kuze's - likely would've probably been caucasian in any case because of the interests of the people who were creating it. I don't believe that the altogether different racial appearance of their artificial bodies is more serious of a concern than that they had been abducted, sedated for surgery against their consent, had their brains removed from their bodies against their consent, and had their brains inserted and connected to a cybernetic body which their biology would likely reject (or, in Kuze's case, struggle to adapt to) ... and on top of all that, if they survived the transplant, having their memories suppressed and being lied to about their past so that they would participate in what was essentially a extended test phase as a soldier/agent in Section 9.
That's what I feel is important to take away from this adaptation - the unprecedented violation of their humanity. (I have to say, in the original work and other adaptations I'd always assumed that The Major had wanted to acquire and/or willingly accepted a new cyborg body as a necessary part of her profession - IIRC in 2nd Gig, the Major did have cybernetic bodies when she was younger for medical purposes, and though I thought this film would toe that line, the films' story and interpretation of it is strongly compelling for the ethical questions that it poses. (It's probably a little too similar in that regard to the recent Robocop remake - that's what I thought of an hour or so after walking out of the theater - though it does a serviceable job of it all the same.)
One last point. Mokoto's original Mother (portrayed by Kaori Momoi) upon meeting the Major for the first time, is shown to have inklings about the Major's identity and IIRC remarks that the Major reminders her of her daughter. It did come across a bit awkward at first given that the Major has no physical resemblance to her daughter Motoko, but apparently she senses similarities to her daughter's nature in The Major. And might I mention that the Cat is immediately friendly to the Major? My point is that, if there's anywhere in the film that there's an inkling of a Ghost in the Shell it's here, and it's affirmed in the ending in the cemetery scene where Mokoto's mother embraces The Major as her daughter (and is later shown uncovering all of Motoko's original belongs, which had been covered when The Major first visited as her mother had been believed her to be dead) as she is alive: and that her daughter is alive and is with her is more important than that her daughter is in a different body speaks volumes about what actually matters in this film, and what doesn't.
I admit the above is ... in the vein of what we could call fanwankery
. These forums are (in)famous for that though (
), so I feel it's appropriate, at least to offer some insight into why things in the film are the way they are, and what that means for it.
If you can guess from what I've said so far, I feel the whitewashing arguments about this film aren't all that compelling. I can see where they come from, though in the end, I am inclined to agree with Sanders (and NemZ and MovieArtman by association) that this film - and any Ghost in the Shell adaption of this scope - would have unlikely have been greenlit in this day and age if not for the involvement of an internationally recognisable lead actress such as Scarlett Johansson. And as others have pointed out, it's difficult to identify an Asian-American actress - or Asian actress - in the appropriate age group to play the part and
with a similar level of broad appeal to sell the film to internationals audiences and to potential investors.
In that regard - and as I said in my remarks in the other thread - the film is the way it is and there ain't no changin' it, and so though it's undoubtedly weaker than the other major works in the franchise, I feel it's important to roll with it and if you find something to appreciate in it, that's great.P.S. for Mods - I notice that the past page or two has been bleeding onto the sort of discussion I anticipated in the 'Hollywood's Ghost in the Shell' thread. If you feel this post belongs there, feel free to move it.