This is an excerpt from a talk I’m preparing for Anime North about the Ghost in the Shell Controversy on May 28/17.
Last week I had a debate about the Ghost In The Shell Movie with a friend who was born in Asia. I’m born in North America, so I knew from the start that our views would be very different. She said that she didn’t see any problems with casting in the movie because once an American company buys the rights to a Japanese product, it becomes American. Since the majority of the population is Caucasian, why wouldn’t they cast a Caucasian person? I told her that it really bothered the fans who expected the studio to make better choices with casting Asian actors and keeping the story close to the source material. The debate went no where so we agreed to disagree.
It got me thinking as well, how do I explain this controversy to people?
The best way I decided, was to talk about food. An American restaurant owner goes to Japan and tries the best teppenyaki dish in a restaurant. He falls in love and decides to buy the recipe to bring back to America. Teppenyaki fans in America are super excited that this dish is coming! Chefs who specialized in teppenyaki in school want to cook this dish, but never have because the restaurant owner never had it on the menu. There is a lot of hype and the marketing people go nuts.
On opening night, critics come to the restaurant to discover that they are being served a hamburger with teppenyaki sauce. The owner didn’t employ the chefs that knew how to cook teppenyaki to help because he didn’t think the dish would be suitable for Americans. Instead, he called in the hamburger chefs who decided to just take the teppenyaki sauce and cover a hamburger with it. After all, hamburgers always sell, right?! Teppenyaki fans refuse to go to this restaurant because they know that they are only going to be served the sauce and not the actual dish. The critics shake their head at this missed opportunity at being served a real teppenyaki dish in America and that regular hamburgers tasted better without the sauce. Teppenyaki chefs are disappointed that their skills are being wasted. The owner defends himself by saying that teppenyaki can be cooked by anyone and they made a good choice by selling the sauce on a hamburger which always sells.
There are many sides to this story and at the end of the day, the owner missed a chance to distinguish his restaurant from other restaurants by serving a dish people were craving for. Of course, the teppenyaki in America was not going to be the same as the one served in Japan. It was going taste different and new. People in Japan would never see the teppenyaki in America as being “real” teppenyaki…ever…so why should they care that it be done properly or not?
Ghost in the Shell is a product just like teppenyaki which Americans tried to import from Japan. As Asian people continue to grow up outside Asia, this debate will happen again and again. The new generations of Asians want to contribute to the society they are living in currently, not the one in Asia which their ancestors left behind. They want to see themselves represented in the media they consume and believe in the fair, just society that they supposedly live in.
Avatar, Dr. Strange and Death Note all had opportunities for studios to touch base with audiences, but they blew their chances. The only thing for certain is that dollars matter. If more money can be made with changing casting choices and hiring writers that understand the original material, I’m sure things will happen. Until then, the internet will just keep exploding with disbelief!