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Watch: The Ghost in the Shell trailer has too many white people to be set in Japan

For all those of you who enjoyed the artificial intelligence angle in HBO’s new offering Westworld, be prepared to be blown away. The new trailer of Ghost in the Shell, featuring Scarlett Johansson, is about the future of artificial intelligence.

Based on a manga series written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow, the plot follows a covert ops unit for Hanka Robotics entitled Section 9 in futurist Japan. The unit specializes in stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, led by The Puppet Man whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka’s advancements in cyber technology.

The original series spawned a number of anime movies such as Ghost In The Shell (1996), Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), Ghost in the Shell: Individual Eleven (2005), Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society (2006) and Ghost in the Shell 2.0.

The film has already been the subject of controversy after its decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as the lead, Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has obvious Japanese origins. But action sequences and cyber-age technology are Johansson’s specialty. She has played the highly-trained unemotional assassin Black Widow in The Avengers, and the film Lucy had her playing a woman whose mind is affected by a mind-altering drug.

From the looks of this trailer, it looks like Johansson is in full-form as the cyborg Major.

But the trailer does look like the makers of the film were on a guilt-trip after the whitewashing controversy. The opening sequence of the trailer shows a geisha robot, and has plenty of white men being shot at (in Japan?) while Scarlett Johansson’s Major dives to the rescue past a neon sign reading ‘High Quality’ in Japanese.

What’s notable from the trailer is that Sanders and his team have also surrounded Johansson with a mostly white supporting cast, maybe to avoid drawing attention to the protagonist’s ethnicity; it doesn’t work well in their favour.

Looking for Asian actors seemed to be a too big of a challenge for the filmmakers, if the casting is anything to go by. The trailer might also give leeway to another controversy: The anime and the manga counterparts lean towards the feminist side, making the trailer tailor-made for the male gaze.

Case in point: Johansson’s skintight, breast-hugging outfit might be faithful to the original source material, but it looks exploitative in real life in a way that a drawn version doesn’t.

Why is director Rupert Sanders stripping the film of the Japanese culture element and feminism that made the originals a success in the first place?

While the imagery does look like it was borrowed from The Matrix trilogy and a bit from Blade Runner, but it doesn’t seem to rely on its VFX for its plot.

Hopefully the film will revive the existential philosophy that Masamune Shirow so brilliantly illustrates. Till then, there’s a long wait for this film, which releases on 24 March 2017.

Here’s the trailer, which is set to the very apt track ‘Enjoy The Silence’ (originally by Depeche Mode):

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