CNN has been reporting controversial complaints about Hollywood’s unwavering propensity to plunder Asian anime and cinema and recast all the characters as whites, quoting complaints that this amounts to “stealing the jobs of Asian actors and insulting their origins.”
In the US, anime enjoys much popularity and many anime works are being adapted into movies by Hollywood. However, in most cases the cast is repainted entirely white. Criticism of this practice amongst anime fans and civic groups is growing.
Warner Brothers currently has two such projects underway – one is an adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s [Yoshitoshi Abe illustrated SF] light novel All You Need Is Kill [which happens to be available in English], where the lead is to be Tom Cruise.
The other is Katsuhiro Otomo’s SF manga Akira, made into an anime movie in 1988. In this case, the entire cast consists of whites. In this case, lead character Kaneda will be played by Garrett Hedlund.
Professor Kent A. Ono of the University of Illinois says a great many Asian roles have been taken by white actors over the years, with such examples as Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese role in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Yul Brynner playing the king of Siam in 1956’s The King and I.
Some even replace the entire roles with Americans, such as the 1954 remake of The Seven Samurai into The Magnificent Seven. Recent examples are Dragonball Evolution and Speed Racer.
Professor Ono say that “the production staff likely maintain that as anime characters aren’t even real people, there’s no problem with changing their race.”
He is critical of the practice: “This doesn’t just steal the jobs of Asian actors, it’s an insult to their origins.”
In the case of Akira, the whole setting has been switched from Japan to Manhattan. Animation historian Jerry Beck says this is a major mistake: “The fans they are targeting all feel the Japanese elements to be one of the most appealing elements of the work, the producers don’t get this at all.” He fears this will merely “cheapen” the film.
As for All You Need Is Kill, the lead will become a young American. Director Doug Liman has said in an interview that the cast will be “completely American.” One site criticises this, saying “Even if you change the setting to America, there’s no need to replace the whole cast with whites. It doesn’t reflect the fact that there are many ‘completely American’ Asians.”
No less than George Takei himself has been complaining about the practice as well, not that anyone in Hollywood pays attention to such trifles.
Japanese seem practically resigned to having America routinely plundering their culture, although it might surprise some “Asian American” advocates to learn that Chinese, Japanese and Koreans actually consider themselves distinct nationalities:
“Who cares. America has no history of its own, so it is stuck making movies using material from other countries.”
“Hollywood just has Chinese people play Japanese roles anyway.”
“It might be interesting to see Kaneda played by some poverty stricken Hispanic.”
“If they don’t pack all their dramas with people of every possible race over there, they get accused of discrimination.”
“Cast them as whites. Every time they cast a Japanese role over there, it ends up being some dirty slant-eyed Korean!”
“Make it in Japanese with English subs!”
“What’s wrong with localising these titles?”
“Well, basically it would be best if the originating country made the adaptation, wouldn’t it?”
“There’s no way any American could understand Japanese history. It’s the same with China. You can’t really translate it into English. That’s why they can’t understand any of the subtleties. They can only reproduce the most superficial elements, which is why none of what they produce is any good.”
“If it’s good it doesn’t matter who you use as actors. In the case of Dragonball they just ignored the whole original work though…”
“It looks like we have another great adaptation to look forward to!”
“If it were made in Japan it would just end up like Gantz…”