When it was announced Scarlett Johansson was going to star in the live action adaption of Ghost in the Shell the media went in hard and very rightfully so. They reiterated the struggle of Asian actors in American films and noted the constant white washing of what should be Asian roles, but I think this casting choice actually makes sense in this film. Hear me out. The property, which takes place in a not too distant future spends a lot of time dealing with identity and how man’s marriage with technology has changed our concept of the soul or the “ghost” as they call it in the many incarnations and its relationship with the body. We quickly are introduced to the idea that in this time and place a body is simply a disposable container, a “shell” that can easily be swapped out and augmented with technology based on the needs of the user.
Major Motoko Kusanagi, whom Scarlett Johansson is charged with portraying, is someone who has had a complete body prosthesis. This makes her appear as simply as a beautiful woman on the outside, but her military issued body is packed with cybernetic upgrades optimized for both hacking and combat. Due to her massive cybernetic overhaul Kusanagi spends much of her time pondering her existence and if she is even human due to her absolute augmentation. She laments on this fact on more than one occasion that there is a chance she may not even be real, since the only thing left of her humanity is the white matter in her cyberbrain, which she has admittedly never seen. As a character there is a constant search by Kusanagi for what exactly makes us human and wondering has has man lost its humanity due to his technological bastardization.
The first feature length film was all about the consciousness transcending the body through technology, as Kusanagi hunted a hacker known as the Puppet Master. The hacker got the name for his method of hacking the cyberbrains of his victims and implanting memories or simply taking complete control over the unwilling host causing them to commit terrorist acts. The film ended with Kusanagi completely giving up her corporeal existence to live with the Puppet Master who turned out to be an advanced Military AI. The two fled to the internet fusing their individual consciousness. The second film furthers this evolution as Kusanagi aides her once colleague Batou in an investigation as simply a “Ghost”. Kusanagi takes command of various bodies to help her friend when needed to unravel the mystery of a robot prostitute who slaughters her owner.
With these facts, it would almost make sense that Kusanagi could be any race or even gender. I’ve even read it theorized that Kusanagi could be even be a man who chose the body of a woman to wield the sexuality and objectification it creates against those she encounters, which also makes sense. The character is intimate with both men and women and has a very masculine way that could literally play into either of these theories. So if you could have any body what would you choose? Given the fetishism of the American women and their look by the Japanese, it makes sense this would be a body that could possibly be designed either as a combat or even a pleasure model. (Did you see the creepy guy from Hong Kong who already made a Johansson robot?) With the international scope of the property this could also be an American make or model of cyberbody as well imported for the Japanese market – after all, we do make some of the best weapons.
So if the director/writer was familiar enough with the character and the world this could legitimately work very well with Johansson in the role. She has a very similar balance of force and femininity much just like Kusanagi, that we have already witnessed on screen in her role as Black Widow. Since there is more of a focus on the “Ghost”, if you will, we could even see her body or “shell” as a statement on the objectification of women and her struggle to overcome this by having being placed in a container that is rife with its own negative connotations and stereotypes. Part of Kusanagi’s charm is her joy in subverting the expectations of those around her based on her physical appearance. Don’t get me wrong; this could also be a be a completely shallow shit-show to justify the budget and the film could be a complete mess just like Lucy, but given Under the Skin, and the material, I think we owe this one the benefit of the doubt.