I'm not that comfortable with some of the accusations of whitewashing that have been made recently. There are many recent instances, but the key one I'm interested in is Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell movie.
There are certainly horrific examples of whitewashing from decades ago ranging from blackface to exaggerated Asian (Breakfast at Tiffany's!) or Indian affectations. These can be explained away as cultural gaffes of history, like an older person using an impolitic term. It's not great that they happened, but our embarrassment of them as a culture is a sign that we've grown. Recently though there have been very public discussions on and dissatisfactions with European whites playing characters of other cultures and cisgendered playing trans. I feel that the legitimate issue with whitewashing is when, simply, a crude stereotype or one-note character is presented. The stereotype is lazy and racist (*-ist (side-note: I've noticed the word "racist" used as a catch-all for social over-generalization w/r/t race or nationality or gender, and I kind of like its transformation into a catch-all)) and so is the easiest to spot and critically dismiss. The writer or actor doesn't care enough to understand the othered group, and so presents a thin, shadow of a character. What could be a dynamic secondary or tertiary character becomes filler with a check mark for "different".
However, and this is key, actors should be allowed to act. They perform as characters with advanced skills they haven't personally acquired, or with mental aberrations and manias they do not possess and could never acquire or as people that could never exist. Taking that into account, is nationality or gender so out of the realm? Though I haven't seen it, the show Transparent seems to be, critically, the canonical example of a cisgendered actor playing a transitioning character. With quality writing and performance observation, the specter of minstrel shows dissolves into an illumination into the lives of humans of the world.
Over the past few months, I've been watching pinky violence films from 1960s/70s Japan. They generally deal with female street gangs fighting aggressive male competitors, or corrupt government institutions taking advantage of the poor or female or both. In several (e.g. Sex Hunter, the Rica series), those who have mixed national parentage--"half-breeds"--are treated with focused brutality by the alpha gangs and a strong-willed female thug steps up to protect them. In Sex Hunter, the half-breed Kazuma is played by the Japanese/Italian actor--with visually uncertain heritage--Rikiya Yasuoka. In the Rica trilogy, the lead Japanese/American woman is played by Rika Aoki. I am uncertain whether the actress is herself multiracial. Nationality it seems is very fluid.
Back to Ghost in the Shell, it was pointed out in a comment from a recent Reddit thread that five of the seven other main actors are of distinct, non-Japanese nationalities, and I'm reminded that a main theme of the story is that of fluid gender, individuality, and consciousness. This seems key.
[ updated 17 Aug 2013 ]
Got the Japanese release of the first movie from YESASIA. The music fits perfectly. Good story and good start to the set. Can't wait for the rest. Preordered #2 due out December 25th.
Origin story being released as four 50 minute OVAs this year and next. Different look than the movies but similar to the TV series. Awesome.
Late in the movie our two protagonists, partners Batou and Togusa from an elite security force, case the inventively decorated mansion of a criminal hacker who's the main suspect for a recent stream of homicidal androids. As they walk down a hallway bordered on one side by tall, stained-glass windows, human silhouettes within the windows cast shadows against the opposite wall. The shadowed hands reach for doorknobs or various objects on shelves. This short scene is iconic for much of the movie's intent: intentionality can easily be simulated, and observers can be tricked into perceiving nonexistent consciousness.
Along with somewhat slow philosophical discussions, Innocence contains vibrant scenes of violence, moments of dramatic tension, and elaborately rendered tableaux that stand as unique expressions in cinematic art. Within the framework of police procedural, we're immersed in examples of how human society has detached from nature by replicating a false environment. The movie examines the extent to which we will be able to extend such an environment in the future. Similarly, rituals and ceremonies are depicted as reimaginings of that ideal we are attempting to attain.
The mix of action and contemplation, more believable and more subtle than from The Matrix, is well-balanced, and as with the first GitS the cinematography is outstanding.
Finished reading the Ghost in the Shell GN and Palestine by Joe Sacco.
GitS was well-drawn if a bit dense at times. In contrast to the spare clarity of the Star Wars Manga (unfairly compared with Chaykin's Marvel version), GitS's pages are crowded with imagery, image styles, and meta-textual references. Although arguably appropriate for seminal cyberpunk, when paired with the alienating foreigness of face faults it feels uneven. It may require a re-read. I was also swimming in an effort to discern what parts made it to the movie, what made it to Stand Alone Complex, and what made it to 2nd GIG. That was an unnecessary exercise on my part, and only added to the chaos since references had no thematic or temporal organization.
Palestine had a similar flaw with frequent "meta" comments from the author examining his impulse to examine the Palestinian's occupation. Although the stories were fascinating, his over-examination of self was nothing more that increased self-absorbtion. Still, it's shocking to see what those people go through and are put through. The capacity for man to inflict suffering on his fellow man, etc. Palestine looks like, I'm sorry, a German prison camp.
Live-action Ghost in the Shell. From Dreamworks. In 3-D. Gah. Expect Hanna Montana as Kusanagi and The Rock as Batou with the Tachikomas sounding even more kawaii than they do in the TV series.
Will he replace all the guns with walkie-talkies?
A little while back I started getting on an anime kick thanks to Robert introducing me to Ghost in the Shell when we went to see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in the theater. Then, I watched the first film on Netflix streaming and thoroughly enjoyed it. Netflix also has the first season of the TV series Stand Alone Complex. I soon purchased the first movie, the first season, and the second season. Photos of the wacky tchotchki that came with each DVD will be posted as soon as I get the final volume. Right now 3 tachikomas are guarding my desk at work. Word is that the DVD of the second movie is crap, so I'm holding off on that.
The next step is, of course, to find other anime that I like. I'm warming up to Cowboy Bebop on TiVo. Clips I've seen from the movie look awesome. I also watched Mezzo DSA on Netflix streaming. Cute/sexy teen chick fighting bad guys with goofy dialog in between. The overall mood of the series is a more hip Scooby Doo but with about the same level of maturity. I was shocked to find out that the source movie, Mezzo Forte, is said to be quite more mature. Extreme violence and hardcore sex. Fight scenes look good in the trailer. So, naturally, I purchased it and the director's other ultra-violent anime flick Kite. Should be interesting. These were probably some of the source material Tarantino was referencing in Kill Bill. The rest of the anime on Netflix streaming looks weak, or rather, it looks like what you think anime would look like. Absurd/cute/mecha.
I have a lot of notes that I don't think I can/want-to structure. Here they are:
I do recommend this to non-anime people (which I am). I saw the second film with Kabao when it came out in the theaters and loved its heady dialog and exhaustive animation. I was just as happy with the origin story.